Our Complicated Relationship with 'Stuff'
In honor of Earth Day this week, I wanted to explore our complicated relationship with “stuff” and give some of my tips and philosophies on green living. I’ll admit it: I am a tree hugger. I have legitimate worries about consumption, materialism, and the negative impact that humans are having on the Earth. That is the stuff that keeps me up at night. So how do I reconcile that with owning a business that puts ‘stuff’ out into the world? Keep reading, I’ll explain.
What We Buy
With that tiny angel Marie Kondo gaining popularity, there has been a big focus on cleaning out and getting rid of things. I totally connect with her concept of sparking joy and respectfully thanking your items as you discard them. The part of the message I think we are missing, however, is that we are consuming too much in the first place. Marketing constantly inundates us, and shopping can become compulsive. By consuming inexpensive low quality items, fast fashion, and throwaway items of convenience, we are doing a real disservice to the Earth and ultimately to ourselves.
Rather than asking if it sparks joy while organizing, we should be asking ourselves the right questions before we buy. Do I really need this item? Is it useful? Is it meaningful? Do I expect to still have it in 5-10 years? If not, where will it be? If yes, where do I see it being stored? What is the impact that this item has on the environment? Is it worth it?
I’m in no way suggesting that we all give up all of our material possessions. But making more conscious, thoughtful decisions about what we buy will pay us back in dividends.
Where We Buy
The biggest impact that we can make as citizens is not only what we buy, but also where we buy. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, like politicians and big businesses hold all the power. The truth is though, that as consumers, we collectively hold the power in our wallets. If a business that we frequent engages in practices that are harmful to the environment, we have the ability to change that by demanding change or taking our business elsewhere. Our purchasing decisions will dictate the biggest societal and environmental changes.
One of my favorite little books is the ‘Better World Shopping Guide’ by Ellis Jones. In this comprehensive guide, you can find a ranking of businesses and products using a score that considers ‘environmental sustainability, human rights, community involvement, animal protection and social justice’.
You can also discover which purchasing decisions make the biggest impact (your bank, where you purchase gasoline, and your supermarket) and which companies are doing great things and deserve your business (New Resource Bank, Seventh Generation, Organic Valley). You may find some surprises, like which big corporation owns your favorite brand.
Another way to make a change is to take a close look at our everyday habits and work to make a positive change. It is the things that we do every day that will make the biggest difference. Be mindful as you go through your daily routine and look for areas of improvement. Some ideas: recycle; replace single-use water bottles with a reusable version; use rags instead of paper towels; be more mindful about water and electricity use; carpool or take public transportation when possible.
My personal goals for this year are to stop my morning coffee run, or at least to bring my own reusable iced coffee cup when I go, and to utilize my reusable grocery bags (or go back and get them when I forget them in the car).
These ‘small’ everyday changes will make a large impact over time.
A look at our overall impact and opportunities would be incomplete without considering our work life as well. If you own a business, you have the opportunity to make your environmental impact part of your mission and the decision making process. As an employee, you also have the opportunity to make changes. You can lobby internally for changes, start a recycling program, look into unnecessary waste and areas of inefficiency, and organize team building around environmentally friendly activities.
As a small business owner who cares deeply about the environment, I feel a great responsibility to run my business in a conscious manner. When I create gifts, I always consider if things are useful and meaningful. I value quality over quantity and support local artisans and other small businesses wherever possible.
To me, sending a cheap or thoughtless gift is just putting more waste out into the world, and in this sense putting that on to the recipient. It can be a burden. This is where I see the value of Sukeban Creative and my skills. I want to help people celebrate occasions and people that are important to them in a real and meaningful way, while at the same time eliminating waste and being kind to our environment.
Interested in learning more?
Books I love related to this topic: