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Being a non-consumer... Is that a thing?

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Part 03 of the Becoming the Alternative series

by Asher Bowen-Saunders

What an incredible time we are passing through. How inspiring to see people using it to reflect on and refine their roles as consumers. Just by reading this, you implement a level of critical thought, regardless of whether you’ve been recently interested in conscious living or have a lifestyle dedicated to sustainability.

Unconscious Consumption ~ when we buy/ use/ operate in the way we’ve been trained to.. before we’ve established how we want to live.. or realising that we can connect our actions with our value systems. Many of us have been here, and may still be in some regards. To be an unconscious consumer is to walk the well-worn path of societal norms and conformity. It is an easy, convenient life with little thought beyond what we want and how to get it, not out of our own negligence or carelessness but rather due to the fact that we aren’t really shown or taught an alternative way. We are rewarded and accoladed for consuming, reinforcing this idea that a highly consumptive lifestyle is prestigious. Our consumer economy operates by sweeping the ugly stuff out of sight, allowing us to shop without having to involve our conscience, never knowing or feeling the impact of our decisions.

To be a Conscious Consumer is to choose with our hearts by voting with our wallets; to be aware of the highly influential and powerful role you play in creating further production demand for the things we use thus perpetuating the practices involved in creating them. This understanding gives you the ability to choose to use this power to shape the way the world operates. It is a language where we speak with our money by deciding with our compassion and deeper states of being. It takes a gradual acquisition of knowledge to see beyond the products themselves and question the ethics involved. The levels and layers to which one can consume consciously are limitless, however it is a journey and we must approach it as such otherwise we can overwhelm ourselves and end up despising the knowledge we have gained. This process is nothing to downplay; it is basically the undoing of a lifetime of conditioning and years worth of habit and ritual. When we begin digging deeper into products, practices, companies and processes, we can begin omitting things from our lives that don’t resonate with our value system. The result; a life filled with things we believe in while strengthening collective movements toward social and environmental justice. Again, this way of thinking takes time and practice to cultivate.

So how on Earth does one cease consuming completely? Pick a bunch of leaves for toilet paper and convert to a diet of only what I can grow in my garden? Or just meditate until I no longer need food? A reminder of our reality ~ we will always consume ~ to grow, to function, to be healthy, to be comfortable, to enjoy. Yet we can do so with the utmost consideration, expanding our awareness and critical thought with the aim of becoming a Conscious Non-Consumer. For years this has governed many, if not all my decisions. The greatest thing it taught me is just how much I can strip back and live simpler and still be well nourished and incredibly comfortable. This process allows us to discover and refine how to live a modern, natural existence as enjoyably and consciously as possible. It feels so wholesome to live with consideration of things beyond our needs and desires.

In this era of heavy product turnover, scientifically formulated marketing strategies, obsession with exponential growth and our love of shiny things, the line between what we consume through necessity and all the other stuff has dispersed into a muddy soup. By embodying societal habits picked up over many years, we have normalised this wildly consumptive way of living. We buy 2 for 1’s because of the “savings”. We replace old or broken with new because it is more convenient and repairing is expensive. We overwash our hair, skin and homes because we are convinced that it is good for us. We are just doing what we are taught, what may “save us money” or what we have learned is “best”. I believe we don’t deserve to feel guilty for how we have lived, but rather commend ourselves for the openness to change that we carry in this moment.

Ignorance is a lovely silky blindfold but it doesn’t beat the feeling of making a measured, informed and ethical choice. Standing at the entrance of the rabbit hole and realising how deep it goes in terms of what questions to ask, what considerations to address, and what not-so-general knowledge to hold in our heads can feel wildly daunting, making that blindfold feel tempting to pull back down. We must remember it is a cumulative process. And as we become comfortable in the changes we have already implemented, it will get easier and easier to incorporate more.

The first step towards conscious decision-making is to be interested. Foster the desire to be involved and know what you’re taking part in. Next, question whether your purchase is truly necessary; can we be happy without or with less of it (understanding that some things serve us in different ways, and that we can be fluid in our approach depending on where we are at).

An idea of my general thought process and some examples:

  • Who am I buying it from (local/ independent vs. large monopoly corporation)

    • Eg. I will not support giant supermarket chains. I shop at markets, independent grocers/ bakers/ nurseries/ service stations, local businesses & artisans and ALWAYS prioritise second hand

  • What is it made from (sustainable/ organic materials that will naturally break down vs. unnatural materials that won’t for a good while)

    • Eg. My dish scrubber is a dried luffa that I compost when retired, tooth and hairbrush is bamboo, clothes bought new (basically only Sea Shepherd attire) are natural fibre like cotton or hemp, I do not use products with palm oil

  • Where does it come from (what is the carbon footprint of getting it here)

    • Eg. For products, I look for things made from materials grown/ produced in Australia. For food, I shop local at markets, supporting the farms I know are within a close distance of where I live and for dried bulk goods I focus on things that are grown in Australia

  • Is there an alternative product I can swap to or a process I can implement that will mitigate the need for this item?

    • Eg. I mitigate the need for plastic wrap by storing things in jars or using a plate over a bowl, I use strands of old silk cloth for floss, I make my own plant milk to avoid tetra packs and my own sauces and pastes from fresh ingredients

Focus on expanding your positive handprint while working to reduce your footprint. It’s like our own personal carbon offset program and could be as simply powerful as starting conversations. As you deepen your thinking and interest, the bandwidth of considerations that guide your decisions will expand, and the influence the consumerism industry has on us will diminish. We may never become an absolute Non-Consumer but we can definitely make conscious, informed decisions that come from us by feeling into what we know to be right and choosing with our hearts.

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