Consumption Junction: 5 Steps Towards Reclaiming the Lost Art of Moderation

[Note: This is the second installment in a multi-part series reflecting on how a shift in our personal and collective perspectives can do wonders for achieving a new sense of balance within ourselves and the world. Read Part 1 (Perspective: Why a Shift is Needed and How You Can Do It). Read Part 3 (Imagining a World Without Labels). Read Part 4 (Interbeing: Why Seeing Everything in Everything is a Game Changer for the World).]

Illustration of person caged in a shopping cart

“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” — Elise Boulding

We are at a crossroads.

The signs are there. Few would deny that anymore. Our collective desire to consume is steadily pushing us to the brink of collapse: Ecological, societal, familial… The scales and scopes are both big and small.

Moderation is a lost art. Too much of a good thing is no longer something to be wary of. We must shift our perspective on how we view consumption and its effects. Consider the numbers:

  • Americans, at only 5% of the global population, produce about 25% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (1)
  • The average American home has nearly 3 TV sets (2) and simultaneous use of the TV and Internet grew 35% in 2009 (3)
  • Anywhere from 31-40% of American children aged 2-19 are considered overweight or obese depending on race, ethnicity and gender. (4)
  • In 2010, heart disease will cost the United States $316.4 billion in health care services, medications, and lost productivity. (5)
  • The rate at which species are becoming extinct is outpacing the rate of evolution, causing a net loss of life on the planet (6)

Our consumption takes many forms: Material things, thoughts, ideologies, media, (unhealthy) food… the list goes on. Over consumption of anything is bound to have a negative effect, whether it is on our environment, our health, our productivity or our relationships. But we have been conditioned—especially over the past few generations—that more is better. To not pursue more is sacrilege to the American Way.

But there is a strong and growing movement challenging that. More and more people saying NO to more and YES to less. People are recognizing and embracing the soundness of mind, body, and planet that less brings.

If you think you might have the inkling to pursue that LESS, here are some simple steps you can take to foster that:

  • Take a break from the digital tethers. We spend way too much time in front of all those screens. Commit to at least one TV-free day. Only check your email once or twice daily. Even better, take a few days off from the computer. The Magic of Consumerism likes to spew its enchantments through these things. Cutting them out makes their spells fall on deaf ears – which is a good thing! It’s hard at first (I know!) but with time it becomes easier.
  • Don’t add to the clutter. If you have to purchase something, commit to getting rid of one or two existing things in your home. Strive to slowly reduce your possessions. You won’t miss them. In fact, at the end of the day, you will probably wonder why you held on to all of it for so long. The less you own, the less you are tied to their upkeep and replacement. Attics, basements and garages are your enemy!
  • Eat mindfully. There is a reason why obesity, diabetes and heart disease have a stranglehold on Americans. We eat too much bad stuff. From over-processed to super-sized we are becoming what we eat. Slow down and think about what you put in your body. As Michael Pollen says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” My wife and I have been vegetarian for seven months now and we’re not turning back.
  • Seek inspiration from others. More and more people are embracing the benefits that a minimalist lifestyle brings with it. It’s not about hermit-like living, rather it is about eliminating that in your life that distracts you from the elements of true happiness. So many great blogs out there are chronicling the journey: Becoming Minimalist, Far Beyond the Stars, Rowdy Kittens and Zen Habits are just a few.
  • Teach your children well. Starting to teach the mantra of less=more early in our children’s lives will only benefit them and society in the long run. The adult population, so set in their ways, is a difficult target to try and change the behavior of. But of course, children mimic what they see the adults in their lives do. Walk the talk and we begin to turn the tide — slowly but surely.

If this post was helpful and you’re on Twitter, please consider taking a few seconds to re-tweet it using the button at the top of the post. Facebook and other network users can share using the button below. Many thanks!

Be well,

[ Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]

[Image: Ben Heine via flickr]

8 Responses to “Consumption Junction: 5 Steps Towards Reclaiming the Lost Art of Moderation”
  1. Overall I agree with this. The only thing I would add is that it isn’t just what we eat that is making us so unhealthy it is the lack of exercise. Let’s face it to the average American if you do not own a car and drive somehow your not a mature responsible American adult.

    Peace and true freedom

  2. Thanks for the mention! Keep up the awesome writing! :)

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Tammy: Any time. It’s the least I can do to help pay it forward! Thanks for swinging by! Be well.

  4. Bill Gerlach says:

    palmdalehermit: Great point. Exercise — or just anything in the opposite direction of being sedentary — is important. I’m not out there lifting weights or running, but I climb stairs and walk (and chase kids!) a lot. I say this not to showcase what I do but to rather get folks to understand that you don’t have to be a gym rat to be fit. It helps to spice up your exercise routine, but not necessary. Eating right and exercise is a great one-two punch. Thanks for the comment! Be well.

  5. denise says:

    i am really enjoying your site (via zen habits). i have forwarded this link to you:

    it is a short (13min) talk on contentment from the local buddhist centre on ‘contentment’. an elusive element it seems!

    true words of wisdom i think (even my 13 year old son enjoyed it). i hope you get the opportunity to listen, i think you may find it worthwhile.

    in any case, i will following your site with interest and thanks.

  6. Bill Gerlach says:

    denise // Thanks so much for reaching out and sharing that Dharma talk. Ajahn sounds familiar to me for some reason, but I can’t piece it together.

    Contentment can be an elusive thing because we are so conditioned for pursuing more of everything. It is through that quiet reflection though that we can begin to take a new perspective on things — our life, our world, what is essential, what is not — and realize that what we REALLY need in this world is already within and around us. That awareness lays the foundation for deep contentment and happiness.

    Thanks again. Feel free to join the “conversation” again! Be well.

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