Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Thoughtful Consumer

"Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind."

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

I’m basically a hippie at heart, so I’ve never considered myself a slave to possessions. Yet, in the process of "downsizing" over the past several years, I became acutely aware of how many things I owned that I didn’t need. I could justify holding onto the sentimental things I inherited, at least until I finally figured out that I didn’t even need to keep every single one of those very special items. But what about all those things I purchased? After I concluded that I needed far less than I owned, I started to wonder how much thought I had put into the buying process. Not much, it now seems.

I suspect that most of us are fairly oblivious most of the times we go shopping. Some of us may have decided that organic products are an absolute must, or green products, or, if money is a bit tight, inexpensive products. On the other hand, many of us may be most concerned about products that enhance our status. (I live in Los Angeles where status enhancing is a major league sport.) Since I still subscribe to the maxim that every act is political, it seems that shopping would be more meaningful, consumers more powerful and our purchases more satisfying if we took some time to figure out what motivates us before we buy. Advertisers certainly do.

I’d like to buy products that deliver what I need and what they promise, but I’d also like to shop with an old Iroquois Nations principle in mind: whatever choices I might make, I must consider their impact on the next seven generations. I wish I could say that I live up to that ideal, but I don’t. I fall far short in many areas. Still, it’s good to have a standard and it is with that standard in mind that I’ll be discussing all kinds of issues. And chatting with you, I hope, about letting go of things that we don’t need and trying our best to choose wisely when we make new purchases.

Engaging in making choices with some thought behind them doesn’t necessarily mean that we must sacrifice all luxury; it just means that we need to know our own definition of luxury – and necessity. What can we afford? Where can we indulge a bit? What do we need to know to make an informed choice in the first place? Should be an interesting adventure!

© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob

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