Can We Talk About Our Consumerism for a Minute?



Eeesh, that's an ugly word.  And it's one that's been on my mind a lot lately.  Can I tell you the ridiculous story of how it started?

Last week I noticed that the leaves, they are a fallin', and it's probably about time to unearth the rake and take care of bidness.  Unfortunately, the rake is no where to be found which means it's still happily sitting (sprawling? what do rakes do?) in the shed of our old abode in Texas.  So one morning I head to the thrift store with Moses to locate a $1 rake.  (I got our snow shovel there in July.  I know they're good for it.)

But alas, no rake was to be found.  And don't you think that I didn't look in the vintage books, kitchen knick knacks, and children's clothing because you just never know with rakes.  I purchased the boys some shoes that they did actually need and then slipped in a little somethin' somethin' for myself.

It's the orange one.  I will never, ever, ever read it.  I don't even know what kind of book it is.  I just like it, okay?

I felt too guilty about it to tell Eric and I still haven't, so if you're reading this babe.... hi.

I like to think of myself as a simple person.  A conscientious human being.  Relatively speaking, I don't buy a lot of things.  But when I do I put a lot of thought into where I make my purchases because I want them to be from ethical, responsible sources.  But this week I've realized something: I don't put a lot of thought into why I make my purchases.  And that's what's been on my mind lately.  That's where the concept of consumerism comes in.

I buy things when I'm sad.  I buy things when I'm bored.  I buy things on a whim when buying something else would have been much wiser.  As much as I despise our modern culture of consumerism, I would be the hypocrite of all hypocrites if I denied that it's in me too.  It's not about the stupid book (I can't say that I actually regret it.  I'm not sure yet, to be honest.) and it's not about whether I can justify any purchase with talk of "embracing beauty" and "finding balance".  You bet I can.  And not all purchases are bad, obviously.  But it's a fine line, am I right?

Last week a dear friend (and Alyosha's godfather) came to stay a few days.  This guy is quite a remarkable person in that he lives a radical life of sustainability that would make Wendell Berry* proud.  He had come straight from a workshop where people gathered to discuss sustainable farming and nonviolent communication, and on his last day at our place he told me about an interesting trend he sees. He said that often the people who show up to the kind of events he enjoys are people who live radically simple lives, people who never buy or sell anything and spend their lives intentionally opting out of capitalism.  And yet many of these people, without even realizing it, consume experiences.  They are always looking for the next thing, the next adventure, the next opportunity to travel.  My friend mused that it was one reason he enjoys hanging out with our family: that the vocation of parenthood, and particularly of adoptive parenthood, is a voluntary narrowing of options.

His observation was meaningful to me in part because it was a compliment to our family life.  But it also opened my eyes to the idea that consumerism can take many (often sneaky) forms.  None of us are fully exempt from it.  Our success in living apart from it may only be determined by our willingness to keep the question of it before us every day.

My husband Eric is one of the most low-maintenance people I know.  I swear the only reason he owns ANY clothing that doesn't have holes in it is because he has to have one foot in the professional world.  I always joke that he wants our house to look like a monastery.  He does not share my proclivity to adorn bare walls.  Yet he says that his biggest struggle with consumerism is the desire for food and drink (read: coffee).  It's a deep-rooted comfort in him that he's been battling for years.  It's not that his health has taken a toll- he's just as slim and muscular as he was the day we met, damn him.  But it bothers him because it's an area of his heart that is depriving him of contentment and furthering a throw-away culture that he wants no part of.

Because that's what it's about, isn't it?  It's about how it effects our hearts and how it effects our society.  Within us, it breeds a restlessness and discontent.  It breeds an inclination to neither fully enjoy or responsibly use that which we already own.  And around us?  Around us we see a culture that demands more products, more choices, at the expense of the dignity of human laborers and animals.  We see a culture that wants freedom of choice in relationships: boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, even children, are used and tossed aside routinely.  We see a culture that itches to move on when human life gets inconvenient; we see it in the womb, with the handicapped, with the poor, with the elderly.  We see landfills heaped with the remains of what we no longer want.  We see rainforests stripped bare from our insatiability.  Everywhere we look, we see demand for more, more, more.

I'm guessing you don't want to create that kind of world any more than I do.  But it's hard to feel like anything we do can really make a difference.  And maybe it won't, in the grand scheme of things.  But is that any reason to not follow your conscience?  Not to me.  And maybe, just maybe, our only hope is one life at a time anyway.  Maybe that's the only hope we've ever had.

I'd love to hear your reactions to this; how you've wrestled with this issue in the past or how today has sparked new thought in your mind.  I know it's personal, but if you're so inclined, please share!

*affiliate link... but you're only doing yourself a favor 

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)