Mindful consumerism and the joys of precycling

The Story of Stuff – pass it on and watch it with your kids! We saw this short ‘n snappy number last night in an instructive meeting of the BCSEA, on the topic of The Mindful Consumer.


But first, our speaker, Michael Nation, talked about spending a year of trying not to buy anything new – that is, new consumables, like clothes or gadgets or machines. He repaired, improvised, bartered and did without; he darned his socks, had his shoes resoled, borrowed books from the library, mended his garden tools, replaced the damaged cord on his iron instead of buying a new one; and at the end of the year his bill for personal consumables was in the neighbourhood of $700, including a flight to Calgary to be at the ceremony of a friend who became a Canadian, and a pair of new shoes (he’s a runner).

There was some discussion then about the irony (or do we mean madness) of governments telling us we must buy our way out of the recession, when surely this of all times is the moment to change our values and give up on consumerism, which is a dead-end road if ever there was one. Though nobody uttered the word, we were deep in the territory of precycling, where you simply don’t acquire packaging and disposable items, including recyclables – particularly wise strategies nowadays when even the recycling industry is in crisis.

Throughout the evening, others shared their mindful consumer ideas: buy everything from clothes to building supplies at thrift and salvage shops or at ReStore; bring thrift store china and cutlery into the office kitchen instead of paper plates and plastic cutlery; take tupperware or other refillable containers with you if you buy takeaway foods; cut off television service; explore Transition Towns; refuse bags and packaging at grocery stores and demand to have your meat wrapped in paper instead of embalmed in styrofoam; buy your new stove from a second hand store (the new ones are designed to be replaced rather than repaired if they short out); recycle junk mail as computer paper, shopping lists or usable envelopes; use washable fabric ( “family cloth” for toilet paper (or for pity’s sake, at least recycled paper brands!); replace shot zippers on otherwise usable clothing (the replacement zippers are usually better quality/longer lasting anyway)… and on and on it will go.

Someone did mention the need for people to regain lost skills in food preparation. One start might be in learning to deal with leftovers. Or take some notes from this article, about San Francisco chefs – and chefs are under more pressure than most of us to throw away all but the best bits of anything – trying to be more conscientious in the kitchen.

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