I'm still thinking about scale.
Today, who determines scale.
Kevin is really good at taking stands, positions, setting goals. If it weren't for me, I'm quite sure he would have lived out of a van for a period of time. He may have settled into a trailer, eventually built a tiny house, or crafted a shelter from cob. All fine options, but I am fond of indoor plumbing. We have on-going conversations about consumption, often within our semi-regular State of Our Unions. During various moments he will shed all spending. He's fine with eating at home. Clothing purchasing is anxiety-riddled (Sweatshops! Dyes! Labor rights! Nudity it is!). He mainly enjoys buying experiences-- concert tickets, toys for the garden, tickets to travel.
In this we absolutely agree. Experience is far richer than tangible stuff, whose role in our life shifts from excitement at acquiring to often burdensome clutter. We certainly prioritize consuming experiences. I enjoy plenty of what Kevin does, but often skew towards yoga classes, workshops, music lessons, and various skill shares.
For years, we lived within our means. Recent decisions-- purchasing a house, furthering education-- have shifted our small economy. We're fine and working to feel fine. We do look to increase our individual and collective financial literacy while practicing mindfulness in our financial decisions. While Kevin would happily undertake an experiment to only eat what we grow or some other stretch of our budgeting imagination, I prefer to move gradually. Rather than experiment with deprivation, I want to understand what certain comforts, services, and purchases mean to me. In this way, I can often better assess what serves and what to relinquish. Case in point, neither of us gets much from cable TV. Years ago we dropped that and have been very satisfied with TV viewing online, via Netflix, or from library rentals. We still watch more TV than either of us would like, but our viewing is considered. There's no mindless channel-surfing, which feels good to both of us.
While it's not terribly costly, I do think about my addiction to purchasing a toasted bagel and iced coffee most mornings. It's better consumed at a cafe, than prepared at home. At home I'm less comfortable. I look at the dishes I should wash, the floor I should sweep, the garden I should harvest and feel stressed, or at least distracted. At a cafe, chores are someone else's concern. I'm free to daydream, read, or write. I crave that half hour of uninterrupted peace. The fact that it tastes both savory and sweet is gravy.
I've considered actively working to create that haven at home, but in my fantasies it requires major home renovation-- more consumption.
I actively recognize the benefits of simplifying, streamlining, limiting. More and more, I find that this practice of mindfulness and release lures me in. I'm increasingly aware of my problematic behaviors-- darting away for a half hour in a cafe most mornings, spending too much time in front of screens, or on social media. And yet, the balance hasn't yet tipped in favor of me letting go. Well, more accurately, I've let go of plenty of what doesn't serve, but there are a few last hold-outs.
The motivation isn't purely resentment towards clutter, debt, or the political costs of consumption. It's also the allure of the space releasing creates. In that space I know there is creativity. There's writing my own stories in lieu of consuming someone else's, finding peace instead of a mild headache and vague guilt, there's always the unexpected emerging when I offer it my full attention.
This past week I read Judith Levine's, Not Buying It. Kevin & I had fairly different responses to this read. He felt like Levine was a little wishy-washy in her pursuit of not consuming. I certainly saw her telling of her year-long experiment in not buying anything past essentials nuanced. Perhaps I related more strongly to her perspective. While acknowledging the costs of consumption-- labor exploitation, environmental devastation, cluttered minds and homes, waste-- she also charted historic relationships to purchasing and owning. Obviously, we don't buy simply from need but we don't buy simply from weakness either. Desire, community, and culture all shape and are shaped by transactions. Ultimately, I began to view consumption as less of a personal process, less to do with will and discipline.
Let me back-up and find a clarifying comparison-- I often cringe when environmentalism is painted as a project of individual choice. If you buy a certain light-bulb and support eco-friendly companies, you're an environmentalist. Maybe. And those are fine behaviors. They often spur on more and more environmental consideration. A person who takes the above actions may be compelled to compost and recycle. Ultimately, the most effective way to support the environment, and all who depend upon it, is to push back at corporations. Industrial devastation is the hugest threat to the planet. No matter how many light-bulbs I buy, I can't counter the impact of industry. But I can find ways to push for more strenuous regulation, educate others, boycott, or take direct action.
Consumption is very clearly related to environmental waste. Given that we live in times of unprecedented access, many people have the ability to accumulate in previously inconceivable ways. As Levine painted her portrait of consumption through the years I began to see that this generation in this region is not unexpectedly gluttonous-- there is just simply more access than ever before.
However, if we paid the real cost of goods, without industry subsidies, chances are, we would purchase more mindfully. If gas cost what it does in Europe, chances are, we would figure out another way to commute. If stores weren't lined with disposable goods, collectively, we would be far less tempted to wastefully spend.
I'm feeling better about myself. Consumption isn't solely about discipline and will.
I concede that I find it near impossible to imagine that the US government would regulate rampant capitalism. Obviously not. It is their holy grail. But it helps me to understand my personal place in the whole. I'm not a shallow, weakly-willed minion. I am actively working to make good choices in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Some of us can will ourselves towards limited access but behavioral control. For some, like me, it doesn't last. The dam bursts and I wind up consuming more rampantly in response to the self-imposed deprivation. However, understanding context, history, and myself, are slowly allowing me to supplement problematic shopping with mindful experience. And still fighting the man.