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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Conscious consumption

I've written about it before, but it's not about the stuff. You can own nothing and still be miserable. We all need possessions to survive. They bring us our most basic needs - shelter, warmth, ability to cook - and they also bring us enjoyment, education, experiences.

We now need to move from conspicuous consumption to conscious consumption.

I truly believe that things can bring us happiness if used in the right way. A good meal can't be cooked without the right equipment, you can't go surfing without a surfboard or you can't watch a film among friends without a TV.

I believe the things we need to cover our basic needs should be utilitarian at least. That is our cooking equipment, our beds, our clothing to an extent. There is a place for design and 'fashion' within these categories but not to the point where you should feel they have to be updated once a new model or line comes out. There are always 'classic' items that will stand the test of time.

We must escape the "new = better" message that is constantly fed to us. If an item still serves its use there should be no reason to get rid of it.

Once our basic needs are met, then we can spend our money on experiences. Experiences are much more likely to bring us happiness. In his book Stuffocation: Living More With Less, author James Wallman outlines a host or reasons why experiences are better choices. My favourites are:

  • Experiences are much harder to compare than material goods - it's much a harder to compare going for a walk to reading a book than this new phone and that new phone. This matters because you're less likely to regret your choices afterwards or worry about making the right decision in the first place.

  • Experiences contribute to our identities - think about the last holiday you went on or the last film you saw. Each one has has changed or adapted who you are more than the last thing you bought. And if you had to give one up, surely you would much rather give up the souvenirs you bought on holiday than the memory of it.

  • Finally and most importantly, experiences bring us closer to people - as social animals, that's sure to make us happy.

Even when buying experiences I would still argue we need to think strongly about how our actions impact the environment. Taking a flight produces far more emissions than buying a book say.

How can you limit mindless consumption? Ask yourself these following questions:

  • Will I want it in a months time? - put items you wish to buy on a list with the date and if after a month you still want it, you can reconsider it.

  • Will I ever need to buy this again? - buying a higher quality item may cost more but will be more valuable over time if it will last longer or can be repaired.

  • Do I want to mess with this? - by mess that means use, repair, clean, find a space for. Am I willing to pay for this garment to be dry cleaned or protecting this white rug from stains?

  • How was this made? Things made cheaply come at a price. It's not always easy to tell if something is made sustainably or ethically but personally, I would suggest your better off without.

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