Wednesday, December 04, 2002

I have been doing some thinking about the whole Consume Nothing Day, or whatever it is that those so inclined were calling it. I'll start with the way I live my life: I have never been one to participate in the rush to the stores on the day after Thanksgiving. I really don't like shopping, especially in malls. I so rarely go to a mall that I have to really work my brain to remember the last time I was at one. Big box discount stores are only a little better. I don't mind Main Street type shops but at that, going to them isn't my favorite past-time. I especially don't like shopping when it is crowded in the store and there are lots of cars in the parking lot.

I am a recycling fanatic. Not one bottle cap or scrap of paper lands in the trash that can be recycled. We both reuse whatever we can. Bob is particularly good at fashioning what some might consider unusable garbage into something great, like a trellis, a lamp or a bedside end table. His ultimate project was repairing a big retaining wall in our yard. Some of the railroad ties needed replacing, but the old ones created a new terraced garden in the back of the house. I make craft items - for example, a wall display of the Nativity - out of corrugated cardboard, fabric scraps, and buttons from old clothes. Add a glue gun, and there you go.

I try not to consume things I don't need. When we do work on our houses, we never rip things out and get rid of them, just because we want a different style. Our bathroom plumbing was shot, so we removed the fixtures, replaced the pipes and rotted floor boards, and put the old fixtures back. In our new house, our kitchen sink is an old one that came out of a friend's renovated kitchen, and our bathroom fixtures came out of my sister's renovated bathroom. The cabinets and counter tops were purchased used from Want Ad Digest. For a lot of reasons that I won't go into right now (and I admit not all of them relate to conservation), I don't drive. I wash dishes by hand, using a basin for the water. I have water and energy saver appliances. In the summer, we collected water for our plants rather than constantly running the hose.

I buy a few good clothes, and wear them out. Whenever I can, I purchase things I do need, and also sell them when possible, at yard sales or on ebay. I never throw something out if it is still good - I save it (which is why I have to walk sideways through most rooms of this house :-) or I donate it. When I buy over the Internet, if the company uses wasteful packaging, I never order from them again. I compost organics, and use the dirt that is generated to grow vegetables, herbs and spices.

Recently I have been much agitated about the destruction of the Defreest-Church House to make way for a Target store. I intend to never shop at Target. I also agree that there is no question we consume too much. No question the holiday shopping thing is totally out of control. No question many people have no belief in the true meaning of Christmas, so what are they celebrating? We should encourage manufacturers to make quality product, that won't break in a year and wind up in a landfill. We should fix what can be repaired instead of buying a replacement. At the same time, the Buy Nothing Day movement disturbs me. What is the message being sent? To hurt retail in general? (The numbers seem to indicate that sales were strong.)

I'll close with how I spent my Friday. I took the day off from work, and Consume Nothing exhortations aside, I did buy a few things. I was in Samsonville, very far from the malls, big boxes, and even Main Street. We went to Creative Spirit and bought an anniversary gift. It was a lovely pottery bowl, made by an artist. We presented it at a wonderful dinner out that evening with Bob's brother and sister-in-law, who we didn't see on Thanksgiving day. We also went to a gallery open house, where my niece was showing her jewelry. Bob committed to buying me a beautiful amethyst necklace that she had on display. I also contacted Consilvio's, a vendor we met at the Pride of New York wine and food festival in Albany. I wanted to order some delicious tomato sauce that they make. And in the mail, the great used Ameribag that I bought on ebay was delivered.

I don't feel guilty about these purchases. Actually, I felt rather pleased, and even a bit defiant. Like there were probably a good number of smug people who were so proud to consume nothing on Friday, but their automobiles will be in the Target parking lot before long. Oh, it's easy for the affluent to sniff about consumption, and to dismiss with an earthy wave the fate of clerks who work for wages in stores. I think the message might be more persuasive if a long term commitment was involved, and if there were some specific guidelines for what, how, when and how much to consume. Let's call it appropriate consumption: this involves choice, use, and disposal. For example, McDonald's food would never be in this category. Neither would styrofoam packaging peanuts. Buying a new toaster to replace the old one simply because the old one is the wrong color - inappropriate. Throwing glass, metal and plastic into the trash - no way. That sweater with the hole can be mended. Those pants that are new but too small can be sold at a yard sale, offered to a friend, or donated to Goodwill. And you simply don't need another, bigger, newer television.

However, consuming artist-made pottery or jewelry from a small shop, or a delicious local food, or some Annie McSpirit Handmade Soap is always a good thing!

Not the greatest picture (one of the wise men and the camel are cut off) but you get the idea.

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