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Spaces, Trash, Uncategorized

Breaking the Cycle of Consumption

This year, Black Friday sales start on Thursday evening, instead of waiting till Friday to entice shoppers to buy.  Each year creeps closer and closer to the holiday, with this year being on the actual day.  Some people have already started lining up for sales, content to miss out on Thanksgiving altogether so that they can get the best deal on an item.

This angers me. And it should anger you too, not only as an environmentalist, but as someone who values time with friends and family above shopping.

From HellImNik’s Flickr Photostream.

I’m reading an interesting article by Jeffery Kaplan entitled “The Gospel of Consumption, from the book Change Everything Now.   In it, Kaplan talks about how machinery that was meant to free us from the work place, has had the opposite effect.  We are more connected to work and products than ever.

Kaplan tells the story of Kellogg.  In that time, machines had just been introduced into the workplace, and business leaders were discussing what the impact of those machines would be. Many agreed that the problem would be how to get thrifty Americans (at the time) to buy enough to keep up with how much the machines could produce.  And so consumer culture was born.

Kellogg fought back against consumer culture, giving his employees shorter shifts with the inclusion of machines, instead of making employees work the same hours and demanding more product.  His employees found that with the extra time, they were able to take part in their community.  They were able to create community.  With that as a benefit, the lower wages seemed not to matter.

In the end, the longer work week and the heavier use of machinery won out, and we now live in a society that demands we keep our consumption level with our production.  So we are less happy, more in debt, and more stressed than before, yet we keep being told that the solution is somehow to buy more?

So what impact does this have on the environment? The removal from community also means the removal from a space that you feel connected to.  We feel disconnected by nature, and spend our days working hard so we can buy the next big thing — a car, a house, a tv, whatever it is.

A few years ago, I would have told you that reducing my life to a line of consumption and production was crazy talk.  But it’s not. What I consume during my lifetime, and more importantly, what I choose to get rid of to make room for more stuff, leaves an impact on this world.  I live in a society that demands that I continue to buy stuff that I don’t really need (Like the idea that women need to buy a million pairs of shoes.  I buy all different kinds of shoes, and then end up wearing the same three pairs all the time. The whole thing is a lie.  And I buy into it every damn time). It’s hard to resist the messages that are pounded into our heads at every turn.

The solution isn’t just to recycle, we also have to break the cycle of consumption. If we keep buying things, saying we can recycle them later, that’s not changing the issue.  If we don’t buy things because we realize that we don’t need it, that’s breaking the cycle of trash and waste.  So this Black Friday, think hard about what you’re buying, and what you’re giving up to buy it.  Are you giving up family time to stand in line for a new TV? Are you giving up a day spent with family to fight with crowds and angry shoppers? Are you giving up playing a board game because there are so many channels on your new tv? Consumer culture has more impact than we think. Break the cycle.




  1. Pingback: Wrapping up the Trash Talk Series « Redefining Eco - November 29, 2012

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