I want all the things: Materialism and the Planet

Thanks Hyperbole and a Half
Thanks Hyperbole and a Half for the image

I went to a party the other night, looked around, and liked everyone’s clothes more than I liked mine. I liked this girl’s jeans, I liked another’s scarf. I was in the same green jeans I’ve worn 3x a week for the past 2 years and the same boots I’ve worn 4x a week for the past 5. I wanted a whole new wardrobe: I wanted to look like a fancy lady, like something out of a magazine or a catalogue. On Sunday, I met a friend, and when she stepped out of her car, with her long coat, shiny hair, and sparkly earrings, I gasped. I wanted to look exactly like that: so dolce!

Always, I look at the clothes. Someone’s sweater dress, or another’s earrings. At night sometimes, I cruise clothing websites just to see what’s out there. I’ll think about these shoes or that dress. I’ll agonize about what I’d wear this sweater with, or those pants. I’ll worry that if I wear a burgundy shirt with forest green jeans, I’ll look like Christmas. (For the record, I have worn that and no one said: “Ho ho ho”, as feared.)

Luckily, all this thinking means I usually end up psyching myself out before I buy anything.

This is good for two reasons:

  1. I don’t spend a whole lot (ol’ bank account)
  2. (Ahem!) The planet

I’m going to come right out and say this: I’m an environmentalist. In elementary school, I learned that “reduce, reuse, recycle” was put in that order for a reason. The last step to green living is recycling: the first step is reducing. I think about this every day.

I try very hard not to buy things.

I fail, often. I’ve forgotten reusable grocery bags more times than I can count. I buy coffee in throwaway cups (which I berate myself for), and I have things that I don’t need. Lots of them. Unopened board games, unburned candles. We have more than one bike pump, and a drawer full of old electronics. All things I promise myself I will either use or dispose of properly: there are just more of them than I need.

I didn’t grow up in an environmentalist home. My parents weren’t particularly conscientious: they’re not wasteful people, but they hardly worried about carbon emissions or waste reduction. And now, I worry about it enough for all of us. Maybe it’s having been in school, maybe it’s loving animals, maybe it’s all those walks in the woods: whatever it is, somehow I got the make-your-ecological-footprint-smaller bug.

Getting married has made it worse. Before we started dating, a friend described M as a “minimalist”, and I thought: “Ooh, sexy!” Now, we are minimalists together. The one thing he had was his car; he sold it and rides a bike. I used to buy clothes thinking I’d wear them on “dates”; now I wear an old pair of sweatpants I got from my sister while we eat black beans off plates we inherited from my aunt. Fun times.

This is not to say that we don’t splurge: of course we do. I’m not a monk, I’ve taken no vow of poverty. It just means that I try to be minimal, at least when it comes to acquiring material goods. I try to only buy what I need, and not more. To have fun, but within responsible limits. (Sounds more depressing than it is, I promise!)

I want more, of course. I want the goods. I want pretty plates and bowls and napkin rings; new furniture, matching wine glasses and fancy clothes. I think about having a whole house – maybe even two whole houses – and filling them with beautiful things that I’ve bought brand-new.

But I won’t, because I remind myself: “reduce” means don’t take more than you need; “reuse” means use it again if you can, which means thrift store shopping and Craigslist; and “recycle” means dispose of it carefully, if you must.