“our way of life”

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”
— Victor Lebow, Retail Analyst, a few years after WWII

Extraction. Production. Distribution. Consumption. Disposal.

That’s how industry experts describe how we get our “stuff” in America. Problem is, this model is linear, and our Earth is finite, rendering this model unsustainable.

I just watched a fascinating 20-minute movie called “The Story of Stuff.” You need to take a break and go watch it … it’s Web-based and very engaging, not to mention informative. As consumers, we’re only given one tiny (but unbelievably powerful) bit of information with regard to how we get our stuff: The stuff you have is useless, so get more. We are rarely, if ever, told how the stuff is made, distributed, and then disposed of when we’re done with it. (shocking stat: in America, 1% of the stuff we purchase is in use after 6 months.)

Truth is, the process damages individual lives and souls, communities, the air we breath, and our future resources. Remember, linear model on a finite Earth. Not sustainable.

There is another way, of course. There always is. What if we drastically reduced the “consumption” part of the equation? In a supply-demand economy, when demand is diminished, supply is also decreased, or so one would think. What if millions of Americans began to opt out from participation in this system as much as possible? For instance, for the last year, we’ve committed with some friends of ours not to purchase anything “new.” This commitment has been tough, but it has gotten easier. When we think we want or need something, it causes us to do a couple things: First, we are forced to reflect deeply on whether our need is in fact a need; Second, we are forced to find creative ways to meet that need outside of just running up the street (or subway line, in our case) to Target; Third, we end up wanting less “stuff” over time. That’s right, we begin to find our fulfillment and joy not in the stuff we buy or in wandering around a store, but in the things in life that really matter. We thought we’d only do this for a year, but our “not buying it” pledge has been so rewarding that we can’t imagine going back to the impulse buys, the big-box stores, the instant gratification of purchasing new stuff. Why would we?

Which brings me to my final point. The movement of people re-thinking their participation in the linear “stuff” model is largely led by those who are not actively following Jesus. Why is this? Where are followers of Jesus? At Family Christian Stores or Lifeway buying more stuff? Jesus was clear that when we try to gain too much, we’ll lose our souls. That when we seek our treasure on Earth, he’ll deny us our treasure in Heaven. That we shouldn’t worry about what we will eat, wear, do in the future — that is in His hands.

Why haven’t we believed this?

I’m confident that this is one of many areas of life where those calling themselves Christians have joined the ebb and flow of society without question. We defend our spending and consumption with tired political rhetoric, but the reality is that most Christians just don’t think that this conversation has any bearing on their lives in Christ. Maybe because for many, “life in Christ” begins when they die? Folks, Jesus is calling us into “life to the full” NOW. Today. This minute. May we throw off all that hinders — beginning with our stuff — and follow.

[if you have questions about the specifics of our “not buying it Compact” or anything else, you can leave them in the comments or e-mail me directly at steve (at) thebostonwriter (dot) com]

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Steve,

    great post

    you need to read two books, i give them a very high recommendation which, as you know, i don’t give very freely.

    the first is Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things by McDonough and Braungart. while i agree with the concept of consuming less, i also agree with their assertion that consuming things that are helpful to the environment rather than harmful is also good.

    the second is Deep Economy: the wealth of communities and the durable future by Bill Mckibben. i think you’d really resonate with his ideas that consumption is not inherently evil, it is the consumption of goods not being produced by our neighbors but by far off peoples that causes the problem. if we consume goods that are produced by our neighbors and they do likewise then a community prospers together because the resources stay local. he isn’t so naive to believe that this is completely doable or that it comes without some sacrifice but that the sacrifice is ultimately worth it.

    give ’em both a shot…

    they’ve really contributed to my thinking about how Jesus followers are to live among their neighbors in this world.

    peace

    Reply

  2. Posted by Steve on December 14, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Thanks, Miller. McKibben’s already on my “to read” list. Cradle to Cradle just got added.

    Totally agree that demonizing all consumption isn’t helpful, but instead reframing what and from where we consume. Local is key. Low-impact is key.

    Since we’re suggesting books, I ran across this one a few months back: A Year Without “Made in China”: One Families True Life Adventure in the Global Economy (watch a preview here). Haven’t read it yet, but plan to — it’s about a family that attempts to stop buying anything made in China, and the difficulty in doing so. Sounds fascinating.

    Heard about the movie coming out called “American*Dream”? Check it out.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Steve on December 14, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Oh, and Chrissy read Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping (which, ironically, you’ll see advertises a “Bargain Price!” over at Amazon.com…). She really liked it a lot.

    Reply

  4. funny, we’ve decided that in addition to buying way less and buying used and local if possible, we’re not buying chinese either.

    very interesting experience. its a good thing legos are made in the netherlands or something like that. we went through a store the other day looking for something girly for Sarah, couldn’t find a single toy not made in china. we wound up buying some american made fingernail polish…

    she was delighted with that!

    i’ll check the links

    peace

    Reply

  5. yeah, it looks like all these “don’t buy it” folks would make their stuff open source…

    peace

    Reply

  6. Posted by Daniel Gray on December 14, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    I don’t know guys, you sound a lot like the overly political “buy-American-made” nuts… just kidding.

    Great post, though. It’s challenging to live in such a consumerized society. Amazing how times have changed over two generations — my grandmother could make just about anything from anything. She was probably the inspiration for McGyver (no no, I’ve never watched the show).

    Reply

  7. Posted by Chris chris on December 14, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    iiiiiii Invest your savings and you will be wealthy when when you retire, compound interest, you know.

    youyou

    Reply

  8. Posted by Chris chris on December 14, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    iiiI have trouble with the margins on your blog.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Steve on December 15, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Chris – ?

    Everyone – We saw What Would Jesus Buy? today. I liked it. It was one of those “you’re not telling me anything new” documentaries, but I was rather impressed with how genuine Rev. Billy seems, despite his faux televangelist persona. And their mission is admirable: to help Americans (through humor and song, mostly) slow down their shopping, especially around the holidays, lest they be consumed at the “shopocalypse.” Seriously. If the film is in your city or is coming to your city, it’d be worth catching a matinee of it (we paid $5 each today in Harvard Sq). And take a friend who still spends $900 on Christmas gifts … make it an “evangelistic” experience.

    Hunkering down for the snowstorm tonight…

    Peace.

    Reply

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