Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How Much is Enough?

WARNING- TWBAR:  translated "this will be a rant."  Not a big one.  Just a small one. From time to time, I ask your indulgence while I take out a topic and chew on it publicly.  There are just some things that need to be addressed.  For sticking with me, I'll reward you at the end with a single photo that reminds us why we're here--(thank you Boeing for stealing that phrase).  

So, while I'm getting the soapbox out and dusted off, check out one of my favorite blogs, At Home With the Farmer's Wife.  She has a wonderful "take" on the same theme today, but in a totally different way.  You'll love it--guys, too. Trust me.

And here's a takeaway maxim while I'm getting set up:
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without.


Let's face it.  We like our stuff.  Stuff and more stuff creates a type of dependency.  In the last couple of decades, shopping went from necessity-based to entertainment (as my mother predicted).  Think for a moment how television, for example, creates the many desires you never knew you had!  All those kitchen tools and foodie things you now just have to have, sporting vacations landing the big one, the lifestyle you aspire to but will probably never attain, consequently you spend your whole life being unhappy...the list goes on!

Maybe it's a senior thing, but when I go into Walmart--even with a specific item or even a list of needed--and I do mean "needed"-- purchases, I am immediately confronted by what seems to be a blinding wall of fluorescent lights, waving signs of specials, television monitors blabbing on about other "specials"...bright colors, lots more people than I'm used to seeing at one time (coming in off the mountain's one-lane road!), and I not only lose my train of thought, but I have trouble remembering at the moment what was on my list and why I even came in, in the first place!  I want to turn right around, walk back out and stay out!  It's as if I've been assaulted. But, it's what "they" have designed.

My solution?  Bury my checkbook deeeeep, grip my list and stare at it until I can re-focus and get past the wall of distractions, question the need for all my intended purchases again, go get them off the shelf --if I'm not led astray by other mind-grabbers on the way, and then get out as fast as I can.

We've all seen countless numbers of broken (or not) and discarded plastic toys strewn about yards as we drive past peoples' homes; the landfill is overwhelmed with them.  Actually, West Virginia is pretty good about recycling other people's unwanted items.  In fact, there used to be a snarky joke going around that went something like this:  "Why do West Virginians use only clear plastic trash bags?  Answer:  So they can window shop more easily.  To which I say, give us a round of applause. 

But I wonder how many people do shop at the secondhand store, not just for kids' things, but for everyone's things.  Do we give things away that we aren't using?  I received TWO LOVELY hand-knitted, wool sweaters recently from a dear friend who had worn them at one time or another, but could no longer use them.  Believe me when I say they delight me far more than any store-bought new ones ever could!

Do we question what things are needs--real needs-- and what things are merely spontaneous desires that may not have even been in our mind prior to walking through the store's doors?  Impulse buying is a killer of bank accounts.

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof  had an Op-Ed piece last Sunday entitled, "What Could You Live Without?"  It's well worth a read.  Like all good columnists, it gets us thinking.

American consumers have been called "the engine of the world's economy."  It's my belief that we're the "suckers" of the world's economy.  We're the dumb ones that buy, buy, buy!  (Incidentally, I love the Snob Specialists, Nieman Marcus's nickname:  "Needless Markup.")

I don't know about you, but I believe it's time for us to start putting those resources we're giving to China, to work for ourselves, here at home.  Right here...in our own homes. For that to happen, maybe we need to think about circumventing, or ignoring, the heavy-handed drumbeats for rampant consumerism. We don't need all this stuff.  We could probably go years without importing much of anything, before it got to the point of needing.

MM and I just finished watching an old PBS series called Civilization which we found at the library.  The final episode was entitled Heroic Materialism.  Sadly, Lord Kenneth Clark, the producer and narrator of the 13-episode series concluded that today, having gone through religion, nature and now, "heroic materialism" as a focus for living, we haven't yet discovered some other meaningful philosophy to guide our human endeavors. 

Maybe we need to be thinking seriously --not just tokenism--about simplifying, about sustainability, re-using, wearing things out instead of adding to the landfill; not having to have "new," making do with new-to-you.
So we've come full circle:  producing your own food is really no different from working at a day job of some kind and we need to decide how much we really need.  Yes, we all proably need some kind of income that the farm won't provide, but by reducing our wants, concentrating on our needs, and living close to the earth, we begin to take control of what often seems an out-of-control life.  

Duane Elgin (Voluntary Simplicity) sums it up: 

"To build a sustainable future will require dramatic changes in the overall levels and patterns of consumption in developed nations.  To change consumption levels and patterns will require a new consciousness and a new consensus among millions of persons--and this will require dramatic changes in the consumerist messages we give ourselves through the mass media, particuarly television."

We can't keep on destroying.  Isn't it time to begin building a sustainable and peaceful future?  Please give me your however-many sense-worth thoughts.  I'd love to hear from you...

Tomorrow...Back to the (Future) Land...


  1. We've had some very lean times in our lives and I've learn't to shop wisely for the things we need. Even now when things are not bad I really enjoy finding bargains and I do enjoy shopping. I'm quite proud of the fact that I rarely buy anything (from food to furniture) full price.First there is Freecycle and I have given away and recieved stuff through that. Then there is the recycling centre (dump), bits of building materials and furniture can be bought there very cheaply. Then we have at least 10 charity shops in town, not so cheap but at least the money is going to a good cause. I know when the local supermarkets mark down food and often drop in after work and buy fresh produce at 50% or 70% off.I check out the sales for bargains especially when they mark down the sale items. In the summer there are regular car boot sales locally where things are sooo cheap and of course there is eBay. I've bought a lot of stuff from ebay from wetsuits to books to leather sofas and I even sold my rusting too expensive to repair Landrover for £500 through eBay. This might all sound like I'm a real over-consumer but I'm the one who has to organise buying presents for about 15 friends and family members for Christmas and birthdays each year and it gives me great pleasure to do so. And of course I never buy on credit. If I want something (like my eyes), I save up or do without. Ruta M

  2. Great post, Elora, and it's where I've been heading for quite some time now. There are so many, many ways this country needs to scale back. Unnecessary diagnostic tests ordered by doctors covering their asses, new and improved drugs that cost an arm and a leg when older drugs worked very well, thankyouverymuch. The money spent on political advertising would feed millions of hungry people here and abroad, and of course that money will be ballooning thanks to our Supreme Court. I could go on, but I don't want to hijack your blog. Thanks, as always, for making me think, and thanks for your friendship.

  3. Well said Elora. As you said in an earlier post, consumerism is important, but it should not be such a huge chunk of our economy – around 70% the last I heard. I could not agree more. Another fact that really irritates me is that it is very difficult to find durable alternatives for something you do need because of planned obsolescence, which is the manufacturer’s way of hiding the true cost per use of the product. If folks knew this cost, they would not be willing to buy the product. Like burying your checkbook deep, one of my methods to curb my consumer impulse is to make lists of the things I think I need, and then leave it laying around for a month or so. In the meantime, I do a little research and thinking and almost always accomplish the task at hand without buying the product. The question I ask myself is “How did my ancestors do this before all these nifty products were available?” The really fun part is when I find these lists later in the year and get a little chuckle knowing I am doing my part to help bring about the change we so desperately need (not to mention the fact that my bank account is fatter).
    This is a very timely post for me. I’m currently reading a book by Naomi Klein titled No Logo – 10th Anniversary Edition, which is and an updated release of her international best-seller. In it she clearly explains the power of corporate branding, and how this practice is furthering corporate power over our lives and that of the millions of less fortunate people in developing countries who are exploited via sweatshops, labor, submerged identity, and subversive actions – all to provide the North with cheap goods and services. It is definitely an eye opening book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to fight back against the system.