Eight Ways to Consume Less
Our enthusiasm for consumption in modern life is matched only by the level to which it is unsustainable. Throwaway culture encourages us to buy more and more, while messaging from media and advertising encourages us to purchase things to ‘be happier’. But with a few key practical and psychological adjustments you can drastically reduce the amount you consume, using fewer of the earth’s resources and even becoming more content in the process – research indicates that those who consume less are even happier than those who buy strictly ‘eco-friendly’ products. So, embrace your inner minimalist and follow these eight steps to living more lightly…
Readjust your priorities
To consume less you have to first change the way you think. Consumption is so ubiquitous in modern society that it can be hard to step out of the dominant mindset. List the things that really matter to you in life – and consider how many of these are things you consume. Not only is excessive consumption damaging to the environment, it is something that keeps you locked in a cycle of wasted time too. If you are investing more and more hours of your life in earning money to buy more and more things, then you might question if it’s a worthwhile investment. Could you spend fewer hours earning money, buy less and use your time to do things that matter to you instead?
The truth is we can all get by on a lot less than we have. Our houses, wardrobes, drawers and bags are full of purchases, many of which – if we’re honest – we needn’t have made. And along with wasted money we are wasting resources – and playing into the idea, peddled to us by advertising, that consumption ‘makes our lives better’. Changing the way we shop is vital – buying second hand, investing in quality and so on – but ultimately the most powerful thing we can do is just…not consume as much. And to do that we need to shop less. Don’t be always ready to spend your money – try limiting yourself to one or two shopping trips, online or off, a month and don’t buy anything else outside of this.
Pay now, and with cash
It’s all too easy to blip another contactless purchase onto your card, so resist the urge to carry it around with you and resolve to pay with cash instead. Switching to a cash-only budget is a move recommended by many financial experts and psychologists to allow greater transparency in the flow of our money through our hands. Decoupling from ‘decoupling’ – the term for the way in which you get to enjoy your new pair of jeans weeks or months before you actually have to part with your money if you pay on credit – and paying in the now will make you naturally more conscious of your spending and help you to reduce your consumption.
Make do and mend
Cheap, throwaway consumer culture has made it all too easy to get rid of things and buy new ones but taking care of objects is a central green tenet. If possible (and economical), mend what you have rather than buy a replacement – from clothes to shoes and furniture to toys, most things can be brought back to life with superglue, a glue gun, a needle and thread or a spot of paint. Up your game further with a course in something useful such as upholstery or carpentry and you’ll gain a new hobby too.
Practice one in, one out
Confront your need to accumulate with a ‘one in, one out’ policy when you buy new clothes, shoes or jewellery. It’s a simple process, whereby you sell, donate or give away one thing for every new equivalent that you bring into your house. Want that new skirt or jacket? Then you’ll need to find something to ‘pay’ for it with in your wardrobe. By doing this you remind yourself to think carefully when buying something as to whether you really do want it and whether it is a decent investment, avoiding impulse purchases that can hang around in your closet or end up in landfill.
Take a packed lunch
Research has shown that the average person can save up to £1300 a year if they remember to take packed lunches with them to work or on a day out. Buy yourself a decent lunchbox and possibly a thermos for hot food and you will not only save money but drastically reduce your plastic consumption, avoiding things like snack packs, prepacked sandwiches and fruit in individual portions. Buy a decent thermos for coffee as well and you can say goodbye to both overpriced syrupy lattes that can rack upwards of £60 a month if you have just one a day in the working week, as well as non-biodegradable takeaway coffee cups.
Try to buy things that have taken time to create, are well made and that will last. Conscious consumption means looking carefully at the provenance of things – not just what they are made of, but who made them, under what conditions and how much they are benefiting those who produce the materials. As such, things created by the hand of someone who has worked under good conditions or through someone’s creative agency will likely have more individuality and inspire you to cherish them – as well as supporting small, ethical and local enterprises.
Grow more, make more
Grow some vegetables or herbs on your windowsill or in your garden, make some jam from windfall apples or hedgerow blackberries, learn to knit, learn to sew, paint your own greetings cards and make your own bread. Whatever you can buy, there is usually a way to grow or make it and half the fun of doing it is finding out how. Returning your sense of creativity to your everyday life will be much more satisfying than just forking out for another this or that – and while it might not be practical to make or grow everything in your life, even replacing a bit of mindless consumption with practical effort will be a powerful psychological reminder that nothing comes for free.