To Consume or to Conserve

Egg basketEgg basket

by Paxton Johnson

We are in the Wal-Mart era of history: buy cheaply, dispose eagerly, repeat. We are the quintessential consumer – we consume. Literally, we devour, we eat up, we waste. In fact, the average American throws away 600 times his/her adult body weight. That means each of us leave behind over 100,000 pounds of garbage. That’s a scary number, and a disgusting legacy.

Many of us are torn by conflicting desires. We want to save the planet and her resources, but feel overwhelmed by people telling us we need to do 927 things daily to conserve.

Now there’s a good word – conserve. To use carefully, avoiding waste; to protect from loss or harm. Pretty much the polar opposite of consume - which might explain why we are trained to think of ourselves as consumers, not conservers. Better for the economy – at least better for those who are doing the selling!

But what’s best for us? Yes, we have a tendency to accumulate stuff – maybe more than we need. But how do we determine need from want? And really – don’t we deserve the things we want? Where does it end?

We’re in need of some serious middle ground.

What would happen if we chose more carefully – if we didn’t buy quickly, without thought or focus? What if we waited to find something we actually loved? What if we ensured that our financial support would go to individuals or small businesses, rather than huge faceless corporations? What if we took the time to consider the ramifications of our choices, rather than spending blindly? Would we then care more deeply for our treasures, and protect them?

I think so.

I recently bought a broom, a simple straw broom for sweeping my floors. I had needed one for some time, but hadn’t found one that fit into my hands. But then I visited historic White’s Mill and Mercantile Store in Abingdon, Virginia. There, in a corner of this country store, stood a straw broom handmade by a local Appalachian. It had a gnarled stick handle with a small carved face. With my $30 purchase I supported a local artist AND the restoration of White’s Mill. And I love my broom. I now sweep my floors gracefully, feeling connected to countless generations of women who have kept the hearth.

I believe that careful choices will help us be better conservers.

But what about the “stuff” that now fills our homes? We don’t value it, we don’t really want it, and being surrounded by it causes our stress levels to rise. But we also don’t want to throw it away – for one thing, our landfills are already overcrowded!

We need to get it out of our lives – yet remain conservers. How?

1. Sell it! Try ebay, Craigslist or the local newspaper!
2. Freecycle it! Most areas have freecycle lists on yahoogroups – it’s a great way to get free stuff or to bless others with things you no longer value!
3. Donate it! Local shelters or Goodwill will always be happy to help you de-clutter!

You can also find your own treasures through these programs, while still reducing landfill waste! Need a lawn mower, a digital camera, fencing material? Consider “pre-loved” items. I’m always on the lookout for used Le Creuset – cookware that I adore, but don’t have to buy new!

Speaking of kitchen-ware, my girlfriend and I recently visited some local antique malls. She found an assorted collection of glass/pyrex food containers from the 60’s and 70’s. They are lovely and decorative, reusable, and much safer for food storage than plastic containers. She was thrilled.

I had been searching for an old, wire egg basket. Our baby chicks arrive soon, and I want to take pictures of them around the antique basket they will eventually fill with their lovely brown, blue and green eggs! I searched through the nooks and crannies of different antique malls and rejected the first two egg baskets we found – I didn’t love them. I finally spied a corner of black wire, hidden under a chair behind several large pots. It was my chicken egg holder – and cost an entire $8.00!

What could be better? I knew what I wanted and rejected those that did not measure up. I experienced the thrill of the hunt, and basked in the glow of success. Best yet – I absolutely love my egg holder!

I believe we can all strive to be conservers instead of consumers. We can use things and resources carefully, avoiding waste. We can protect our planet from loss and harm.

It’s our world, our future, and our choice.


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