Social Innovation

saying no to consumerism

Buying stuff in America is a way of life, it is an end unto itself, it’s a sort of hobby, and it’s hard, if not impossible to acclimate to. The whole economy rests on it, and it’s an ever-present pressure to purchase. It’s the Purchasing Power Pressure, not Parity. I’ve actually started finding it difficult to buy food…just because I don’t want to shop for one more thing. And when I decided I wanted to get a tea kettle, I went on e-bay to see if I could just…get it used, and get it mailed to me. I’m winning the bid, for $2.95 at the moment, for a “top-of-the-line” (it’s ridiculous, I know, but I have a thing for tea, and tea kettles that are nice) $50 tea kettle, and I only have a few hours to go, but what I’m starting to enjoy is that I’m not buying it NEW.

A friend of a friend who is visiting told me a funny story about a group of Americans who got so tired of consumerism they decided to exit out of it. And decided not to buy anything new for one year (aside from food, underwear and hygiene products). I went online and found them: they’re based in San Francisco and are called Compact.

“We’re people for whom recycling is no longer enough,” said one of the members of the fledgling movement, John Perry, who works in marketing at a high-tech company. “We’re trying to get off the first-market consumerism grid, because consumer culture is destroying the world.” (read the article here)

Why this made sense to me, is because I’ve also been thinking of waste…slowly but surely, coming here where all the cars are new, where people buy as entertainment and dumpsters are full of heaping, quality trash, and where perfectly functioning items are orphaned on the side of residential streets, all of this gets to you eventually, and recycling isn’t doing my part enough.

So reading about Compact was inspiring. One of their main goals is to show that we’re not “powerless over our purchasing”. And I relate to their feelings of being relieved from the pressure of having to buy new things, the new gadgets, new clothes. Having started earning money less than a month ago, and being surrounded by ads and a society where you just buy to buy, my first thoughts were “what should I buy?” new clothes, new shoes, new everything, I started planning the demise of my salary. Then, as I did nothing about it, I started asking myself, “how do I want to spend my money?”

Wouldn’t I rather use it to learn something (as a friend was remarking, she prefers to spend money on classes and learning rather than on things) to see a new place…Why does the only sound investment have to be (or seem like it is) real estate?

I think that’s basically what these people are doing, along with popularizing the idea that “we need to be more gentle with our resources”, which means not buying new THINGS when there are the same things already in circulation, already bought and used on e-bay, craigslist, thrift stores. It’s interesting to empower the purchaser into making conscious decisions, do I really need this? do I need to buy it new absolutely?

The compacters have a blog, and I looked up the origin of their name, which comes from the Mayflower compact, and my American history being not so great, I looked that up too.

Anyway. I’m not saying I’m ready for the year-long committment but I like thinking about being more gentle on my environment and questioning why I do certain things. It bends my brain in ways I like.


7 thoughts on “saying no to consumerism

  1. V! Beth and I were talking about this yesterday, sort of. Help me out here: I have a toaster oven, 4 years old, but broken. I’ve tried to fix it, to no avail (I’m no toaster repairwoman, but I gamely took the thing apart and poked anyway, in case the culprit was just an errant crumb). I called about estimates to get it fixed – $50! More than a new toaster. Which also seems silly. So I don’t know quite what to do. I don’t want to just throw it out, since I’m sure it -can- be repaired, but it doesn’t make economic sense to do so and I feel very frustrated just going out and buying a new toaster. Like I’m giving up.
    So Beth suggested that I screw the whole thing and use the broiler function on my ancient stove/oven to toast bread on one side (as a quasi-English-resident, I guess this is fitting). But what of this dispoasable culture where things are -made- to self destruct in a year or two anyway?
    And I’m not even going to start on my 3rd dead iPod… designed to self-destruct in a MONTH or Two apparently.
    /end rant

  2. Okay, V, I totally get this, having been raised (in the US!) on secondhand products and heading to the library to learn how to repair broken driers, but, umm, I find that the guy being in marketing to be a bit hypocritical, no?

  3. Just this weekend I went into a consignment shop, where they were having incredibly good sales. I’m not much of a shopper to begin with, but I was in need of some office wear, so I dared to go in. I loved it! Here were used clothes that were in practically new condition, and most things I bought were 75% off! I bought a few blazers, some sweaters and tops, and I spent $34 for clothes that probably would have cost me $200 or more if I bought them new! I was amazed! So I saved a whole bunch of money AND I was getting clothes that are used that were perfectly good. So I was a very happy, if reluctant, shopper that day :)

  4. Well this is my very first blog comment and I choose you, Violetta, to be the receipient of my wisdom! Please do not stint in your admiration of my technological wizardry in figuring out how to leave a comment!!
    Ok. I completely agree with your observations and those of the persons cited. It is all too easy to get caught up in the giddy rush that comes with the purchase of new and shiny things. It takes a whole lot of self-discipline and vigilant responsibility to buy only what we really need when we really need it and then treat our possessions in such a way that we maximize their utility. I’m trying very hard this year to practice thrift (I cannot promise not to buy ANYTHING new) and to make thoughtful purchasing choices. Of course, not having much money does make it a little easier! :)

  5. Hiiiiiii!

    Kathy, Im honored that you chose to comment on my blog for your first ever comment. I hope you make it a habit, it’s lovely to see you here!

    Mara, yes…it is a bit ironic that he’s in Marketing, but then again, who more than a marketer would get sick of consumerism? I kind of understand the dichotomy, not being the most coherent person in the world. Most of us are walking idiosyncrasies, but, I have to hand it to you: “touche!”

    Kelly…I can’t agree with you more. Those hi-tech breaking gadgets are annoying! They’re designed to keep us consuming. Wouldn’t we NOT BUY the same product that’s broken three times? I guess not…that’s the magic of “MARKETING” (wink, wink, Mara) where we’ll just replace it with another one because we were satisfied enough with the positives of the purchase/customer service/packaging that we’re willing to put up with the possibility of its replacement eventually breaking down….

    As for the toaster oven…I would get rid of one more kitchen utensil and revert to the gold old un-breakables: burner toasters. In Europe they have these flat hollow pans that trap the heat and grill bread (they’re rudimentary, but like improved flat pans, you just lay your bread on top of them). Barring that, since I don’t own one here and none of us eat enough bread to buy a toaster, I just grill it in a frying pan, which I actually quite like and doesn’t take that long. I’m glad not to have an extra kitchen appliance.

    Plus, you could donate it to some place that repairs them? It could be a connector/fuse/thingie inside that just burned, and could be quite easy to repair…

    I’m glad you all responded. That idea just struck a chord with all of us. I don’t think being that strict is enviable, but I am all for putting more thought into things we do. It’s a gentler way to live.

  6. I am on my way to ebay to buy a tra kettle….
    oh wait… i am doing it bc you are doing it therefore falling into the consumer-mind way of thinking where things are bought without need of them…
    umm… but i want one… what to do?

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