If you think about it, being stressed and overworked is directly related to our high tech, fast paced demanding society and that society has a HUGE carbon footprint and cannot be called anything like “green”. More, it’s suited to black and gray. Soot in the sky, sadness in the soul. Retreating to a simpler, easier lifestyle is looking more and more inviting to folk. Even those among us who cannot stop buying stuff and love to shop at China Mart. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just give yourself permission to SLOW DOWN?
Well, a first step in this direction is to go green. It gives you a valid reason for changing things. And in the process, you can simplify. This means slowing down and smelling the flowers. Literally. Ignoring the planet, racing around in carbon spewing vehicles, chasing the next big thing is part of the reason we are in this mess to begin with. So start thinking “s-i-m-p-l-e”. And in truth, this is green. The less you purchase, consume and dispose of, the better. In fact, the greenest thing you can do is make things last and find new uses for old items. We (and I mean myself, too) are taught to be consumers; advertising pounds us day and night and we measure success by the things we buy and own. This is a free market society at work and it is conducive to wealth creation. But it is also conducive to waste.
Each and every one of us has to take a look at our consumption habits and learn to do more with less stuff. We don’t think about it but if we added up the true cost of everything we own, we’d be shocked. Do you realize how much goes into owning a simple item? From raw materials to manufacturing, to shipping and marketing, stocking the store, staffing it with cashiers and managers, disposing of unsold items and defective items, etc… etc…. it goes on and on. And all of this creates pollution, waste and uses up untold amounts of energy. And there is no difference, on this level, between a simple toothbrush and the 12 pc Home Theater System you wish you had.
Do you realize that most people in America have a storage unit somewhere and many have more than one? This is to store stuff they don’t use but can’t bring themselves to throw away. My own dad is a prime example of this. He has a unit, I’m not kidding, to keep a bunch of stuff that he has no current use for but imagines someday in the future he may have. On top of spending money for this clutter to begin with, he now adds insult to injury by paying a monthly rent on a storage unit to keep this stuff! I guess it’s better than the landfill, but it’s crazy. Soon enough he will need another unit because he cannot stop himself from buying every “good deal” he comes across, whether he needs the item right now or not. I fear the day he passes on and leaves me with these storage units full of rusty tools and old clothes. By then they will have no resale value and I will be forced to surrender them to the earth. I shutter when I think of that addition to the now enormous carbon footprint we are all creating.
Simplifying seems like a wonderful concept and most of us leap at it when we hear it. But this is going to be hard. I mean, really hard. Americans (including myself) have become so overwhelmed with money making and care taking that we just don’t have time to dwell on things. How much thought can you give to your purchases other than you need it NOW..? But how many things do you not need anymore very shortly afterward? How many things have little usefulness but were just attractive or seemed to be fun? And how many other items did you buy that you just didn’t really want… there was just something that made you do it? Like my dad, it was a bargain and you may find a use for it.. someday? This all happens to me and I know it happens to you. But there are ways we can get off this hamster wheel and get back on the ground. Here are a few ideas of what you should think about before you buy another item that you really don’t need:
Stop and ask yourself, before you put it in the basked, “Do I need it?”. I know this seems obvious and you think you already do it, but you should put your mind to it. Seriously. I cannot tell you how many times in the past that I just got excited over something and convinced myself on the spot that I needed it.. just to find out in short order (after buying it, of course) that I truly did not. My drawers are full of gadgets, especially kitchen gadgets, that I have only used once. The trick is to be ruthless and realistic about it when you ask the question. Don’t let impulses or advertising stimulus dictate your buying choices. Just because it’s shiny or bright red (my favorite buying cues) does not mean you have to have it.
Then, after you have decided you do need it, slap yourself with the next question: Will I use it often.. or more than just once? If it’s a gadget or trinket and the answer is that you are not sure, then leave it. If you find later you have a great need for it, you can always go back. Most often, it will leave your mind and you will never want it again. But if you do need it but only for one application and it’s a large item like a hedge trimmer or hydraulic jack, the consider borrowing it (if you have a friend who has one already) or renting it. Even stereos for events or parties, TVs for the super bowl, yard furniture for a BBQ can all be rented. Save yourself a storage unit! And keep the rusty old stuff out of the landfill. And this is truly simplifying because someone will bring it to your home and then come and take it away. What a time saver! You can do it with a phone call while you’re watching TV.
The next question you should ask yourself when looking at that shiny new goodie in the China Mart is: can I get it elsewhere already used? Can I get it on ebay? Can I get it at a thrift shop? Thrift stores usually collect money for charities and end up helping needy families. People like you, who have the money to buy goodies for convenience or enjoyment, can benefit those less fortunate by buying a used item at one of these shops. If there are no thrift stores around there, then are there consignment shops? These stores are usually stocked with nearly new stuff that other folk, like you, bought and did not need or used only once. You’d be amazed at the condition of a lot of it and the cost is awesome. And when you’re done, you can bring it back to resell it and get most of what you spent back. You should also consider checking out yard sales and flea markets, where many of your neighbors are disposing of their unwanted purchases, too. Or you can just bypass all that shopping and fussing and join a swap. This is where people, online or in your neighborhood, get together to trade off their old stuff for other old stuff they think they need. What a money saver! And it’s good for the planet, too.
I know, now you’re thinking, what about this is simple? But, if you begin thinking this way, you will see that it really is. For instance, if you choose to buy used at ebay or Amazon, you can get online at any time you like and not have to get into a car and go shopping at the one store that is open late at night or before work in the morning. And, then, of course, if you decide to not buy things after all, this is the ideal level of this exercise. Nothing is simpler than just not doing.
When you finally decide you do need it, you’ll use it more than once and you are going to buy one, try then to choose the most sustainable option. This also means choosing the item that is organic, natural, cruelty free or recycled.. whatever is an available option that appeals to you. I am a fan of both cruelty free and recycled. I am an animal protector and won’t tolerate anything that comes from cruelty, either through testing or in the way an animal is housed or killed. You will have your own causes or issues that affect your heart and conscious and these should be on your mind when you shop. We are not mindless robotons who just buy, buy, buy… even if we have all seemed that way before. You don’t have to drive yourself further into stress with this, just think about it once you’ve gotten to the point that you are going to buy something. It will make you feel good and in the process, do some real good, too.
You should get your purchases down to the stuff you really need and limit or end the purchasing you do on a whim. We all fall prey to advertisers, who have us thinking we’re fat and need to eat cereal. They also have us thinking that if we don’t have the newest movie, the shiniest cellphone and the biggest TV, everyone will know we’re losers. If your friends truly judge you in this way then you need some new friends. Don’t be a Pavlov’s Dog and drool when you hear the bell; you can resist it. Just think about it first. Think about the true value of what you’re buying, how useful it will be to you and whether or not it is just another pollution device. This is a lot to think about when you haven’t been thinking this way at all but once you get there, it’s a wonderful, comfortable place. It is also simpler because you are not sitting in a pile of waste that you have to manage, store and dispose of. Less work always means more fun.
And then once you have lowered your consumption level drastically you can start changing the way you buy. I already have you started thinking about recycled, cruelty free and organic items but there are other things you should consider, both for yourself and for the planet. Ask yourself: is this a quality item that will last a long time, perhaps even so that my kids could use it? Is it repairable? Can I fix it if it breaks? I no longer have a car but my last car, in the early part of this century, was an old jeep. I mean, over 10 years old. And you ask why would I buy an old junker like that? Because when I lifted the hood I knew where everything was and I could fix most small problems myself. Seriously. This is the reason I bought it. I felt safer in a car that I could get started if I had to. It was also lightweight and short so it was easy to push off the road if that situation arose. Mechanics and tow trucks are hugely expensive and way off my budget. But each of you will have your own measure. Remember that quality items that last are worth the money and are a greater signature of your “quality” to others than a mountain of Chinese toys. A singular painting by a Master is more admirable than a room full of Kmart prints. And it will last a lot longer.
And then the last thing you should consider is one of the first that comes to my mind. I’m a crafter and I love to make things that reflect my vision. It’s a little egocentric and controlling but it’s a large part of who I am. I love my world to reflect “me”. So when I look at something that someone else made I always think, “could I make it myself?” Every single thing I find attractive and worth the money in my wallet is also worthy of my imagination and craft. So if you are like me and want your world to meet your imagination in reality then consider making the things you desire. Personally, I love to buy used bar stools, chairs, end tables and whatnot so that I can refinish, paint, cover or decorate. So, in the spirit of saving the planet and your money, too, consider redesigning your world from scratch. Instead of buying baskets, wreaths, placemats, tote bags, candles, etc… consider making your own. With candles, for instance, you can take the ones that are burned down and melt them down to make new. I know this sounds a lot country and bit hinky to many upscale Americans and inner city folk but it is truly for a greater cause. The planet is choking under all this debris and a little conservation on our part will go a very long way.
So get started making the shift. It isn’t easy, as I already admitted. Although I have always been fairly thrifty, I never gave too much thought to what I bought beyond whether or not I could afford it. I never worried about whether I’d need it for longer than one day or if it was recycled, eco friendly or even cruelty free. In fact, I was stunned to tears when I was shown how fur is obtained. I used to love buying fur lined boots and trimmed leather jackets. I was actually a leather freak and had a closet full of dead cows. So I am just as guilty as everyone else and I’m not preaching from some pulpit. I’m just trying to go green and save some money like everybody else. I’m going to take this list with me when I shop. I hope that you might do that, too.