If gross consumerism is feeding the beast of climate change and post-consumerism is the solution, what the heck is post-consumerism exactly? Post-consumerism is a complete paradigm shift of thinking for capitalist consumer cultures. Its approach is to put the well-being of others and the environment before material success. The core value is to be satisfied with what is enough to sustain a life for today rather than mass accumulation of goods that are unnecessary and solely for the purpose of vanity.
Does this mean we would all live in crappy looking homes, wear crappy looking clothes and not bathe regularly? Will we be tilling our backyard gardens and lugging firewood and reading by candlelight with no more Internet? Will we be trading our home-grown tomatoes for a bar of soap from our crafty neighbor? The gringa wants to know the details. It’s all well and good to spout humanitarian “isms” that are noble and high-minded, but, the reality is, if it is too uncomfortable and crappy, spoiled people are just not going to be interested.
Well, first of all post-consumerism is not interested in ridding the world of commercial businesses. It does expect businesses to be held accountable to the highest standards of social, economic, and environmental responsibility. A post-consumer will only engage in trade for goods and services with businesses that operate this way. A post-consumer uses their dollars to hold businesses accountable. The gringa’s on board with that one, however, I would like more options. I would prefer if more businesses operated ethically in the world. Right now it’s kind of expensive for me to live true to a post-consumer standard where shopping is concerned. A $3 Starbucks coffee is a little steep compared to McDonald’s coffee on the 99cent menu.
For post-consumerism to become more affordable, more businesses have to operate ethically creating more competition that will drive down prices. But how can this happen? The same way it always happens in a capitalist system. The market responds to consumer demand.
Consumers underestimate the power of the dollar in bringing about change. We don’t have to miss a few days of work to attend a mass protest demanding corporate accountability. We don’t have to end up losing our jobs after getting arrested and thrown in the slammer for a couple of days at said protest. We simply need to recognize that in a capitalist consumer culture, the dollar is God. It has the Almighty power to make or break a business. And little ol’ you and me wield the power of God in a consumer society. Wield that power wisely and a society can redirect a business culture toward social, economic and environmental responsibility. That is how post-consumerism works. If enough people signal to a market what it is they demand in goods and services, the market will respond because they want your money. A concerted effort of consumers collectively rejecting unethical business goods and services, while at the same time supporting ethical businesses, can change the world.
How to live the powerful life of a post-consumer:
- Minimize and use less “stuff”
- Repurpose and re-use as much as possible
- Shop ethically as much as possible and when you can’t, if possible, shop second hand
- Embrace and practice any level of self-sufficiency or off-grid lifestyle that you are capable of where you are right now
- Consider “first-world” luxuries you enjoy and the possibility of living without them or at least opting for energy-efficient models, alternative energy models, etc.
- Minimize exposure to marketing campaigns
- Expect to feel uncomfortable and perhaps a bit like a crazy radical when transitioning, embrace it and accept it
- Reach out and begin to build community around you with your neighbors through projects such as swap meets (surely you have a few neighbors who are crafting away in the seclusion of their homes) or establishing a community garden that can supply everyone’s kitchen and maybe earn the community a bit of change at the local farmer’s market, and don’t forget to bond over some fun with a block party every now and then
- Begin with the youth by starting up a local children’s book club and help children grow up with a sense of community responsibility fostered by the literature they read
So, how does the gringa measure up? Am I practicing what I preach? I am trying and it is not easy. There are just not as many options available for the goods and services I need. But, I try. A few examples based on the above listed recommendations:
- Minimizing & Repurposing – We have the furniture that we need for our household (2 beds, 1 sofa, 2 chair dinette, 2 dressers, 2 file cabinets that serve as bedside tables, 2 desks, 1 bookcase). Our luxury furniture is rather minimal (2 TVs with TV tables, decorative entry table, 3 decorative side tables, 1 recliner). We also have furniture that is not necessary but either functional, can be argued to be “emotionally” nurturing, or sentimental (craft table, grandmother’s cedar chest, patio furniture). And then there are the wall decorations which are either family photos, my own art, or things we have picked up on our travels
- Shop Ethically or Second Hand – We do this faithfully although there are still goods and services that we need and have no viable options, such as getting the oil changed in our car, certain grocery items, etc. I buy almost all of my clothes and furniture second hand.
- Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Lifestyle – I have a patio herb and tea garden and a few vegetables. We have no cable TV/Wifi service. We have an antenna to get local news channels on the television and I use a mobile hotspot with my cellphone for Internet on my laptop when I work. I have to budget my online time. We do not use a clothes dryer. I have a laundry line on my back patio. We live where I can walk to my necessities (post office, bank, small grocery) so I only drive one day weekly when I go to the big market and I do all of my other “away” errands on that day. And I make some “stuff” we need like fabric softener. I save all of our vegetable clippings and waste and brew “compost” tea every week for plant fertilizer.
- “First World” Luxuries – We have an energy efficient washing machine but I really want one that operates when you pedal a stationary bike (one day it shall be mine!). Living in a rental apartment, we have no control over whether or not our refrigerator, stove or dishwasher is energy efficient.
- Minimize Exposure – This is probably the key to converting to post-consumerism. We simply must accept that marketers and advertisers know their craft and regular folk are no match for their techniques. We quickly become brainwashed into believing we cannot have a happy life unless we have this, that or the other. I do not look at magazines, watch television or go to the mall just to walk around and “look”.
- Reach Out – I reach out beyond my community in an attempt to build literacy. I participate locally with local reading programs and occasionally stick my big nose into a political demonstration if it’s local and an issue I agree with. I KNOW my neighbors, engage with them regularly and we share over-abundances we have with one another whether it is food, patio plants, or a bulk bag of socks for kids.
Although what the caveman and I do is very little, it is changing our way of thinking. Each time we change a little something, we awaken more. We realize there is much more we can do and are willing to do but transition is slow and gradual. Sometimes something is staring us in the face and it just takes a while to realize because we are so conditioned to accept things the way they are.
For example, I have a netted enclosure on my back patio for my parakeet, finch and dove. Most of the year the gulf coast is the perfect weather for them to enjoy being out of doors in a flight cage. My dove usually lays an egg every now and then. We just realized that we have room for a few more dove and could be enjoying fresh eggs, albeit tiny ones, practically every day. So, change is gradual but in the end, it is still change. And if all people living a gross consumer lifestyle begin the process, the overall impact can be world changing.
The reality is that, although faithful recycling is great, waste is really not the heart of the problem. Accumulation of more and more “stuff” is. Higher demands of certain types of services is another part of the equation. Urban living makes post-consumerism more of a challenge but not impossible. The gringa is open to radical change and the caveman is resigned to enjoy the ride because his little gringa’s crazy ideas often save him a nickel or two.
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