Shortly after I had my green epiphany in November, I found myself wandering around in Wal-Mart. I looked around me and saw aisles and aisles of boxed items, plastic items, clothes, shoes, and toys for young and old. Each shelf was packed with stuff and the aisles went on and on and on. The store was huge. How much stuff was actually in here anyway? Who is going to buy it all? Where did it all come from?
Standing there in Wal-Mart, where I had been at least a hundred times before, it hit me. How are we ever going to change as much as we need to, when this Wal-Mart represents our consumption culture? I looked at all the people around me, pushing carts full of stuff. Consumption is all around us, it is what we do. How can we stop? It is just not sustainable to consume as much as we do. The resources are going to run out. We are pumping too much carbon into the sky to produce all this stuff, to ship it. At the end of the day, most of this stuff just ends up in the garbage anyway, as we reach for a newer, shinier option. We like to buy things. It makes us feel happy. It makes us feel like we deserve it, that we have worked hard for our money and that this is our reward. Sometimes it makes us feel like we measure up to other people, or worse, that we are better than other people.
The sad thing is that we buy all this stuff without appreciating what part of the Earth it came from, how far it came, and the people who were involved along the way. Where did the tree grow that was cut down to produce the cardboard box? Was the place they mined the metals a safe place to work? Did the workers who made the plastic have proper protection from the chemicals? Were the people in China who put the item together paid a fair wage, enough to feed their family? Do they even get to see their family or are they migrant workers from rural areas? Often Chinese migrant workers will leave their children behind to work in the city, only seeing them once or twice a year. I can’t even imagine having to do that.
This all happens so I can have a new toaster, or a nicer coffee maker. I want some new dishes – I want to switch out the ones I have, I am sick of them. I want to buy a few new lipsticks, even though I have a dozen or so at home, I just want some different colours. I should also get a new stapler, since mine only staples 15 sheets at a time and I would prefer if it stapled 20. Hmmm… How about a new clock, this one looks more modern than the one I have. What else can I get while I am here?
So standing there that day in Wal-Mart, I began to feel panicky, anxious. What was going to happen to our world, how would we ever change?
In that moment I resolved that I would not purchase things recklessly. I would make do with what I had. If I needed something, I would try first to find it used. I decided then and there to put myself on a shopping ban in 2011 to see how it felt.
Now it is February, and it feels good. I have not purchased any toys for my kids, no clothes for anyone. I have not purchased any cleaners or shampoo or hair gel or moisturizer. I am making do with what I have, and in some cases, making homemade stuff to compensate. It is challenging, yes, but also fulfilling. I feel like I am pushing myself to change, in hopes that others will change too. I want to tread lightly. I don’t want to hurt our world more than I have to. To quote Colin Beavan from his excellent book, No Impact Man:
If I treated the resources that pass through my hands as if they were precious, might I also begin to feel like this very life – the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment – might be precious too? And excuse me for generalizing – I don’t mean to preach – what if instead of just me, it were we? By this I mean if we, as a culture, treated resources as precious, might we not begin to act and feel as though this life we lead together – the one we live when we look in each other’s eyes – might be precious, too? And might this planet be precious, too? (page 46)