Saturday, July 31, 2010

Consumerism and Moi

Living on a tight budget can be challenging for a person like me who grew up in the height of consumerism. It was in my lifetime that “disposable” became a desired trait to promote in advertising. No more fixing or making-do with the old stuff.

World War 2 came on the heels of our Great Depression and with all the servicemen returning to civilian life, there was an urgent need to employ them. Many of those servicemen, like my uncles, had come from the farms and had no desire to return. They liked the action found in city life. The economy needed a jump-start to get us back up to speed, too.

Enter the true age of manufacturing. All the materials that had been so closely tied to the war effort were now free for use here at home. The chemicals that had been used to create bombs became cheap fertilizers for the food industry. Plastics developed during the war were now available for any creative entrepreneur that had the wherewithal to put it to use.

To drive this manufacturing, the customer had to be enlightened on how great these products are. Why, no more waiting weeks to get that toaster fixed by the little bent man in the back room of the shop! Throw out that old one and buy new. Automobiles were cheaper. The ballpoint pen and TV dinners with their throw away containers arrived. Loans and revolving credit were easy to get so you could buy all sorts of items to consume your money and landfills.

We continue to do the same with cell phones, computers, PDAs, video players, fast food wrappers, and the list goes on. I challenge you to look in your trashcan to see what else qualifies. It gets ridiculous when you see what all you throw away.

Knowing all this and thinking about its impact on my life has made me decide to be a smarter consumer. I started with fountain pens. Unless I use cartridges, it will take quite a while for any part of that “hobby” to end up in the landfill. Bottled ink goes a whole lot further than a ballpoint pen and its cartridge.

Next, I’ve started reading about household life in the 1930s and 1940s before we became brainwashed. I remember Grandma saving sheets of aluminum foil, wax paper and plastic wrap to reuse until it couldn’t function any longer. When one of the sheep died giving birth, Grandpa fed the lamb from a washed out 7-Up bottle and a rubber nipple from the farm supply store. Grandma used a stopper with holes in it for another bottle to use to sprinkle her clothes with water before ironing. (I still remember how good it smelled.) Food scraps went to the farm dog, pigs and chickens. We had gardens and we processed vegetables for canning and freezing.

This is my challenge: how can I not only cut back on my spending but also make a smaller footprint in my world? Even with all this complaining about the modern mindset, I have to say that the Internet will prove invaluable in my quest. It’s free (so far) and full of great information and ideas. So using this technology, I send out my call. I need ideas and information from you for ways I can be a better user of this planet without spending a wad of cash to be fashionably “green.” (There’s paradox for you.)

Thanks in advance.