Monday, August 24, 2009

Consumerism and Non-Attachment; An Eco-Confession

In the spirit of honesty and up-frontness, I feel I need to share this with all of you, my eco-yogi/nis. As much as I am ashamed to admit, I am at least a quasi-shopaholic (pregnant pause).

This problem isn't quite so nilly-willy in that I buy whatever I see. I suck at Frenchy (thrift store) shopping, I don't buy something just because it's on sale and I have a terrible time actually buying shoes or purses. In fact, I only own two purses (both Canadian and handmade). Nope, I'm definitely WAY beyond that fluff-head from the Shopaholic movie, I only own one credit card, the limit would only buy a K-car (IF that) and I have zero shopping debt... lots of student loan debt though. (I couldn't even make it past the 20th page of that book, thank goodness the movie was more entertaining with beer and a slight buzz). (my Tree of Life painting that I painted last summer... with gross non-eco paint).

However, I'd be lying if I said that this whole non-purchase, keep what you have 'till it rusts off, eco strategy was easy for me. I adore sparkly things and buying new clothes. When I'm down my first urge is to go buy something pretty. The M.A.C. store, specifically all those colourful eyeshadows, makes me so happy that it even overpowers Crazy Shouting Eco-Anal voice. I KNOW. To make matters worse, as the environment is so important on an intrinsically moral and political standpoint, justifying paying more for local, handmade, made from eco-friendly materials, organic, sustainably harvested, "no goliath beetles harmed in the making" is easy.

So much so that my wedding dress (down payment PAID two Fridays ago by moi!) cost three times what my budget allowed. No regrets, and I will re-evaluate and be fine, and it's BEAUTIFUL (hand made in Canada without synthetic fabrics!).... but a year ago I would have told you it was crazy to spend THAT MUCH on a dress for one day. Until I researched the ridiculous, polluting, slave labour intensive industry which calls itself "The Perfect Dress". As weird and crazy as it sounds, Ms. Eco-Anal Voice shouted things like "babies made that dress!!", "it only cost that much because they pay their workers shitty wages to work ALL DAY", "you are wearing a black sludge spewing dress". Ok- so seriously, maybe my problem is that voice and not the shopping- but the result was my easily justifying buying the dress. I know there are other options, which I looked into, like buying a second hand dress, buying a dress on Etsy... But I didn't LIKE any of those dresses.

And to be honest, I wanted mine to be... new and special just pour moi. Oh that sentence is shameful. That, my readers, is where the root of this "dress" conundrum lies: I am a consumer, brainwashed into thinking I NEED pretty new things.

As a former psychology grad, a sensitive Type A (lower rung though! I don't label all my stuff!) and stress-induced IBS gal, yoga has been essential in keeping my sanity and health. I am a firm believer, though, that simply doing damage control when it comes to "managing" stress isn't enough. Our culture is an overworked, stressed out, go go go, culture. It irks me to no end when I read about how to "manage" stress or ways to "help stress". A good example: working overtime, saying yes to all demands at my work stresses me out. As a result, my IBS comes out to say "bonjour!". Doing restorative yoga and changing my diet will help.... but it won't fix it. The root of the problem is my work. Until I go home on time, say "no" to preparing tons of home programming, let go of my need to do all projects myself and delegate, I will always be managing and never living. I need to "be" not "become". Non-attachment, an essential part of yoga, is beaming it's zen-light this way.

The same goes for consumerism; until we let go this need to have more, achieve more, go more we will never be content. Buying more things, regardless if they are "green" or not does not help support a world that can no longer take another "birth" of stuff in this world. My green product that I buy will still contribute to the neverending pile of material stuff. No matter how many times I re-use it, re-purpose it, recycle it, unless it biodegrades (and we know how sketchy THAT term is!) eventually when I am 90 years old and pass unto the next Circle, it will beautiful add to the mountains that we call "trash".

Believe me, I have been making small mini eco-yogini steps in this area, despite the "dress blurp". We have so far resisted the pressure to buy a cell phone, no matter how much well-meaning friends, family members and co-workers inform us of some "consumerist culture" reasoning. We also stored away our TV and do not have cable and to Andrew's chagrin, as a result don't play the PS2 (katamari is SO MUCH FUN). I haven't bought the same amount of "summer clothes" this year and Andrew has still resisted buying a new mat, even though his continues to slowly flake away. I've stopped buying pump soap even though I KNOW for a fact that it encourages men to wash their hands in the bathroom (ok, the men I know). We only have one vehicle and I have not bought a new bicycle that fits me, since Andrew's old bike will do just fine (as long as I don't have to step down suddenly and damage some of my girl parts...).

This article is my way of officially stating that my goal is to buy less and I shake my fist at thee; Consumer Machinations of Western Society and my conscious part that I play. This is my first true step back- very dramatic, but then those sparkly handmade earrings are pretty darn alluring...
Andrew, my friends (bloggy and not) and my family complete me. I could not be happier in my life. Well maybe if I found an Anusara teacher around Halifax...

How have you tried to 'stick it to the consumer man'?


  1. I agree. When we moved I gave tons and tons of clothes to Good Samaritan. It felt so good. I also consigned some of my more expensive stuff so I could use that money to invest in yoga props for my home classes. I know, I know. Got rid of something to buy something new...yikes. But, I have been really good since. I haven't bought ridiculous bags or shoes. I haven't even bought new yoga clothes in 4 or 5 months. I thought it would all be so hard and it is, but I feel a tiny sense of pride. I'm HAPPY with out a ton of new summer and fall clothes. So what if I wear the same jeans everyday :D Anyway, just want you to know you aren't alone! And you are doing a fabulous job.

  2. I have a pretty simple solution to the temptations of our modern consumer culture: I do not make enough money to buy anything! Unless it's something I need (like the new headphones I reluctantly bought so I could make it through the work day without taking my own life) I don't amass a whole lot of new stuff. It probably also helps that I develop weird irrational attachments to old things I already own (they have character!) such as duct taped sneakers and broken umbrellas..

  3. It seems Andrew subscribes to the same shoe philosophy as my own darling husband...his sneakers are disintegrating off his feet and yet he persists in wearing them...

    Does resisting consumerism include books? Does it count that I buy secondhand whenever possible? Which is mostly...these days..


    I understand the whole retail-therapy thing....I surely do...

    I am currently spearheading a MASSIVE de-clutter/purge of the olde homestead...throwing out such broad statements as "There will be no more crap in this house!! I am banning all manner of crappity-crap...." etc. etc. Two big bags of toys and children's clothes away to the women's shelter and more to come. I also just bought the kids' *new* snowsuits (I know, *shudder*) from my favourite second-hand children's clothing store..trying to go used, always...

    Still...I covet new and shiny things...:( (see my latest post - *hangs head in shame*)

    You are my hero...

    PS. Rock out that dress, dahling....'tis your day, after all...

  4. I think it's all about finding a balance. It's important to make do and be thrifty when you can, but if you never indulge your desire for sparkly new things, you'll end up feeling miserable and deprived. Just make those new purchases as green as you can.

  5. I work in retail, and I have to admit that I have a tough time coming to terms with consumerism and my role in it. I keep telling myself that the clothing/accessories that I sell are all durable, well-made and will last our customers a long time. That doesn't really matter, though - they'll keep buying new stuff, whether they need it or not.

    One good thing is that all the handbags that my company makes are hand-made and made in Canada. I can't tell you how many times I've had to fight with people over our repair policy, though - a few stitches come out, a broken zipper, and they want a WHOLE NEW BAG. I'm like NO IT'S OKAY, THEY'RE MADE IN TORONTO, WE'LL REPAIR IT FOR FREE. I find it unbelievable how many people just plain aren't interested in that.

    The good thing about my store is that it has a yoga studio upstairs, and I get free classes :)

  6. You're swimming against a consumerist tide, so of course it's hard, and you're going to be pushed backwards by it all every now and then. That's normal.

    Don't beat yourself up about it. Enjoy the day; enjoy the dress.

    As the song says "you're only human; you're SUPPOSED to make mistakes!"

    Relax. You'll look and feel beautiful and special and wonderful. Just like you're supposed to!

  7. babs: the same happened in BC! when we moved back we gave away SO MUCH STUFF and I felt great. It never takes long, though to accumulate more... yay for not being alone!

    Andrew: your sneakers with duct tape are gross. But I still love you.

    Mel: LOL I think crappity crap crap is an excellent way to encourage purging! weird how we both wrote about money-materials hey?

    Erin: yes- balance is key. I think that I am much easily swayed into "replacing" some of my things with greener options, though, before they need to be... which is kind of the problem lol. you are right though, all about balance.

    Annabellie: hmm, so interesting, people don't trust stores to fix them exactly right- newer is better right? SO cool that you have a yoga studio upstairs though!! no wonder you go to classes all the time- LUCKY :)

    daharja: so true. I think what surprised me was how many companies that are green are still marketing stuff... like the DivaCup encouraging us to replace our cups every year... so we can buy more.

    lol, you are right- i will simply relax and enjoy my beautiful, non-sweat shop dress :)

  8. oh god, clothes are my downfall. Although I wash my hair with baking soda & vinegar, use a diva cup, use bs&v for cleaning, make my own laundry powder, use dr. bronner's bar soap for dishes...I can't resist a cute new shiny outfit. I'm trying to let go of the vain 13-yr-old inside me, but to no avail sometimes.

  9. i do stick it to the consumer man by trying not to buy new things. i don't buy clothes very often, have pledged to always look first in thrift/consignment stores/craigslist when i need something before buying new, don't wear make up, etc. i kinda wrote about that here of course we spent a bunch of money at target the other week to get stuff for the new house and i felt guilty about it, but what was i gonna do when i needed all that stuff like garbage cans and brooms and house stuff immediately? sounds like your wedding dress is totally worth the cost. i think i'll wear a used dress to my someday wedding, but that's just me and everyone has to make their own eco-choices that are right for them.

  10. Great post...I always try to right an eco wrong with an extra double dose of right :)

    Amen on finding a local Anusara teacher!


  11. Oy. I used to have a SERIOUS shopping problem. (and no, it wasn't "Shopaholic" serious either, but it's all relative, right?)

    It takes practice, my friend. The more you practice walking out of a store before you buy, the more you realize it's not a disaster if you don't own it. Keep repeating this mantra "I can like it, even LOVE it, without having to OWN it".

    Also, kick your guilt out of the door. Guilt makes us feel bad, and when we feel bad, we resort to our comforting (yet often bad) habits. If your bad habit is shopping, guilt will only (paradoxically) make you shop more! Next time you buy when you know you shouldn't have, MOVE ON! (or return it) It's not about denial, it's about acceptance of your actions, and progressing forward no matter what.

    Good luck Ecoyogini! I know you can do it! (because I did too :)

  12. We're pretty good but not perfect. Sometimes temptation is difficult to wrestle to the ground.

  13. You go!
    I agree with all of this, and also that it is easy to get really caught up in "I want this and I want that" without even realizing it is happening. These advertisers are good at what they do! One thing I think can help is to take a media break here and there.

    As for wedding dresses, I am also preparing for a wedding. I wanted a beautiful dress but couldn't imagine paying so much for it. I found a great shop here in Seattle that markets itself as a green shop, they do consignment on designer gowns that are just up to 5 years old OR have recently been restored. So it is quite like a dress boutique, but so much variation in style and really quite good prices. I found an amazing dress for $200 and feel good that I bought something that normally would be sitting in someone's closet! Also, it is a sheath dress so chances are I can wear it again after the wedding too because it isn't really obviously a WEDDING DRESS.

    My side of questioning consumerism has come out a lot in my wedding planning. With the dress, also eating natural organic foods in the reception. I also recently thought to scrap the programs since it is a small wedding anyway. In this department (weddings) being budget and environmentally minded is rather tough because there is so much information to inundate a planning bride and also lots of tradition and pressure to do things a certain way.

    Great blog. I'm glad I stumbled onto it. I am gonna link it to mine!

  14. Ah yes something that rotten environmentally unfriendly snake rears its ugly head. LOL Enjoy the dress and make it an Heirloom :D as for the pump soap Just buy one bottle then put a few marbles in the bottom add the slivers of soap that are left over (you know the ones you try to cram on to the new bar ^^ ) add some water let sit till the soap gets melty and shake up TAH DAH liquid soap ;D

  15. April thanks for that tip about the soap! I think I'm going to try that. I got my bf to switch from triclosan soap but he still won't use the bar...this may be the next step.

  16. underbelly: WOOT DIVACUP!! :) sounds like you are doing a fantastic job. I must confess, i bought new work shoes tonight... as i needed them... but RESISTED new clothes. An improvement from prior shopping trips for sure.
    plus my shoes are sensible and will last a long time.

    Julia: you are awesome, i think buying house stuff is essential and i was totally impressed by your previous post! :)

    Mandy: hmm, i've been looking, i think i found ONE :)

    Alex: Thanks!! And you are right, i was very proud of my "I don't need new work clothes that aren't on sale right now" moment. YES

    Barry: thanks for visiting! you are right, temptation is a tricky one, especially when it's less about money and more about the Earth.

    Bluebird Megan: LUCKY that you have a dress boutique like that. i would have definitely considered it if i could actually try some dresses on, as opposed to ordering online.
    I've also thought a lot more about waste after starting this wedding stuff...

    April and Julia: cool! that is a fantastic idea. I was also thinking of melting down handmade bar soap in a pot and adding water...but this would be easier!

  17. It's taken me a long time to get back to this! First, it made me really think about what I wanted to say. Then when I came back to say it, I found your Sigg post, and flipped out! ;)

    Anyway...I'm tempted to say: It's your WEDDING! Go ahead and indulge. And on the one hand, I think that's valid. are right...we still need to work on that cultural training that automatically gives us this permission. It's such a tough balance!

    I recently had a similar struggle. My cell phone contract came up for renewal...and it comes with a discounted new phone. After much debate, I decided NOT to buy the new phone. Even though mine is ancient and doesn't have a camera or any of those cool toys that my friends have. I don't know how to use that crap anyway! :) And mine works fine, despite how old it is.

    So much to think about...but it's good that we're thinking!


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.