16 Simple Ways to Practice Mindful Consumption in a Hyper-Consumer World

bottle caps arranged by color, mindless consumption, mindful consumption, the new pursuit“Mindful consumption is the way to heal ourselves and to heal the world.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

For some time now, I’ve been talking about mindful consumption as a pathway for living deeply and restoring our balance with the natural world. But practically speaking, where do you start? What do you do? How do practice something that sounds great in concept but challenging in execution.

In retrospect, while I didn’t have the words ‘mindful consumption’ to point to, I’ve been spending the better part of the last few years practicing this kind of day-to-day living. My reasons have always been about sustaining our environment and leaving it a better place for my kids. But after discovering the concepts of mindfulness, the dots of living deeply were connected for me. All of this has become a kind of backbone for how I approach each day.

Orient Your Consumption Compass

There are really two ways to approach being mindful of what we consume day in and day out. On one level, there are steps we can take to orient ourselves better; to help change our perspective; to give our hearts and minds a solid foundation.

  • Experience Life Through Your Heart. See with your heart. Hear it. Feel it. Smell it. When you let your heart of hearts lead you in this, you are tuned in to the world in a different way. You won’t immediately default to what is the most convenient or easiest. You’ll see the interbeing — the interconnectedness — of all things. For inspiration, reflect on the Fifth Mindfulness Training of Thich Nhat Hanh.
  • Learn. About how the stuff we consume each day is made; how it makes its way from a field or factory to your hands. Understand what goes into it. Often, we just see the end product (a TV, a car, a pair of jeans, a bottle of water) with little sense of HOW it is put together: the raw materials, the manufacturing, the distribution. All contribute in some way to either the degradation or sustaining of our planet. A good jumping off point is The Story of Stuff.
  • Slow Down and Single-Task. When you focus 100% on what you’re doing right at that moment, you eliminate distractions and their influence on you. You can pause to reflect on where this thing you’re consuming came from, what went into growing, manufacturing and/or putting it in front of you.
Simple Steps on the Path

On the other level, there are the practical things we can do each day to actually practice mindful consumption. And the great thing is: It’s not hard or complicated; nor does it require us to live like a hermit. These are a great way to get started (or continue your path):

  • Watch less TV (or ditch it altogether)
  • Spend less time online
  • Eat more vegetarian meals
  • Take shorter showers
  • Hang dry your clothes
  • Eat food produced locally (or grow some of your own)
  • Compost
  • Bike or walk to your next destination
  • Freecycle or donate what you don’t need
  • Buy used goods when you can
  • Purchase goods in glass or aluminum containers, not plastic (and recycle!)
  • Pause before you buy something; come back to it at a later time and see if you still need it
  • Get resourceful and learn how to fix or repair what you already have

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it helps you with your practice.

Do you have other ways that you are practicing mindful consumption? Any other strategies for not getting caught up in our hyper-consumer culture? Maybe a different question altogether? Please feel free to leave a comment and share.

Be well,

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[image: stevendepolo]

11 Responses to “16 Simple Ways to Practice Mindful Consumption in a Hyper-Consumer World”
  1. Jennifer says:

    I like your well-rounded approach. I know my tendency is to go straight for the rationalist path (learn) and then wonder why it doesn’t work to change deeply ingrained habits that have the force of emotion and culture behind them. I see your first step (experience) in a slightly different way: I figure I have limited time, money, and energy, and I can either use them up buying things or experiencing things (taking a class, spending a morning at the pottery studio, going for a walk, volunteering at the cat shelter). The latter is, without any exceptions, more satisfying than consuming things for the sake of consuming them. And a lot more sustainable, too!

    Oddly enough, I find so-called chores like hanging up my laundry relaxing. The repetitive action leaves my mind free to flit, wander, and settle on thoughts that might have otherwise never been developed.

  2. Thanks for the nice summarizing post with some great resources. I’ve been thinking a lot (on my blog and in my head) about how to teach my children many of these non-consumerist lessons. Something that worked better than I thought it would recently was watching the Story of Stuff with my (7, 10 and 12 year-old) kids.

    They loved the Story of Stuff. I think the cartoon part hooked them. We’ve watched it more than once and they seem to get something new out of it each time. Recently I was watching her Story of Cosmetics (for my own learning) and my 12 year-old son came by, watched over my shoulder for a bit, and got hooked on this one. Annie Leonard is one of my current-day heroes.

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Suzita,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I love the idea of watching The Story of Stuff with kids! Ours are a bit younger, but I think it still useful. I’m always amazed at how even younger kids can understand “adult” things sometimes.

    Teaching and empowering our kids to rise above our consumerist culture is one of THE most important things we can do. It is truly akin to planting a seed that will hopefully bear much fruit in the future. Couple that with helping them connect and appreciate the natural world early on and it’s a one-two combination for ensuring we can turn all this around.

    Be well!

  4. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    You’re right — experiences should always trump stuff.

    You also bring up a point that is a stickler for me: People so caught up in reading/watching/listening to “stuff” instead of using that time to just get out there and DO it. Is reading/watching/listening safer? Do you avoid the possibility of failure? Of embarrassment?

    When it comes to helping yourself, your neighbor, the world — we have to move from talking to doing. In response to Raam Dev’s latest post I tried to offer some advice here:

    Based on my experience, we often see and feel so much heartache and uncover so many opportunities for change, that we often succumb to a kind of paralysis of action.

    Then again, you could take on too many activities of action and never move the needle in any significant ways.

    A strategy that I have been forcing myself to follow more and more is to focus on ONE SINGLE THING at a time. Pick that issue that makes your heart race/ache the most and start there. Do it for 3 months, 6 months, 1 year… whatever. When you have made a difference you will know it. At that point, move on. There will (unfortunately) be something new for you to work on.

    As for the relaxing nature of chores — I totally agree! I find hanging our laundry on the clothesline early in the morning to be a highlight of my day.

    Be well and thanks for stopping by.

  5. Vanessa says:

    I think you’re recommendations are spot on. I do all of these except for spending less time online…which I really should. Actually, less time sitting in general! Though I find it very convenient to sit inside all day when it’s so COLD outside! :P Learning is probably the biggest catalyst for me in changing my consumption habits. Through documentaries or researching online (and The Story of Stuff for sure!), my eyes have been opened to devastation I didn’t even know about. Honestly though, we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in the bad — as I often do. I also try to seek out those who are making positive change with green tech. I’d say knowledge is your best bet in fighting the consumer/green-washing monster.

  6. Lynn Fang says:

    Hi Bill, wonderful list! I too practice these things, but haven’t quite owned the term ‘mindful consumption’ yet. It seems like such a dry term. Not fun, too ascetic. When the real purpose of ‘mindful consumption’ is exactly to stop spending your time consuming for the sake of consuming, and start doing things, experiencing things, that really bring you peace and happiness.

    I really love your suggestion to ‘experience life with your heart’ – this is really the path to experiencing interconnectedness!

    One of my goals this year is to spend less time online! Less time sitting around. Of course, I’m also not living in the most nurturing of environments, and am getting ready to move to a new apartment, where it’s just me and my bf. There, I’ll have the solitude to really pursue projects I care about, instead of escaping my reality by hanging out online. We have been living with an old friend of mine for the last 6 months, which turned out to be a bad idea, as I’m currently undergoing an inner revolution of sorts, and that hasn’t meshed so well with my old relationships. I’m very sensitive to my environment, as I think many people are. Living with someone who is a mindless consumer, and doesn’t live consciously, and is always spewing negativity, is death to my personal creative freedom. It makes it so much harder to live consciously. Thus the move.

    My bf and I have already talked about all the projects we’d like to do when we move – we’ve got plans for a collective painting, a vertical window garden, solar oven, herb garden, and more. So we can finally walk away from mindless consumerism. :)

  7. Jeanie says:

    You know, I bought 3 pairs of pants today at Wal-mart. This saddens me on one hand….but, on the other hand, this will enable me to bike to work even when it is frigid outside.

    I’ve been thinking of pros/cons, yin/yang balancing….and on one hand I’m angered at how easily I choose the convenience and “cheap” things, while wanting to support the (currently) more fiscally expensive sustainable options…

    I sincerely hope Michelle Obama is able to reverse decades of conditioning and support for major agribusiness in favor of CSAs, subsidies on fruits and vegetables and increased support for natural ways of producing food.

  8. Bill Gerlach says:

    Jeanie — Funny you mention trade-offs. My wife and I got into that discussion the other day about living in suburbia. I was lamenting about the inability to walk places (e.g., to the store to get some milk) and she countered with the fact that we have the space to build and maintain our big veggie gardens. Wanting it all is human (I think); having the wisdom and insight to accept what is — now that’s something to shoot for.

    Don’t be yourself up about it. You are doing what you can. And your heart and spirit are in the right place. (Being able to ride my bike to work is one of my ultimate goals!)

    Be well!

  9. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Lynn — Thanks. ‘Mindful consumption’ resonates with me given my interest and exploration of mindfulness and insight meditation. The words are not important in the grand scheme of things. If you are experiencing with your heart and connecting the dots between what you consume (material or otherwise) and its impact on the world, then you’re headed in the right direction.

    So glad to hear about your next chapter. Fostering that environment of support and creativity is so important — and like you point out can be a challenge. Can’t wait to hear more about what you’re cooking up! Be well!

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