How To Consume Less And Practice Lowsumerism

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Consuming should be a well-thought act according to our own needs, not a replacement for our lack of time or affection

by Fernanda Franco Cannalonga translated by Aline Scátola

Every so often a warning sign lights up in our minds when we read an article or a news story, or when we watch a documentary film that questions the way we consume today. The recent study “The Rise Of Lowsumerism” investigates the expression of a new consciousness toward consumption, which refuses excesses and may have impacted you. When such uneasiness emerges and turns into inner change, it becomes the first step toward a life with more purpose (and consequently, fewer things).

You don’t have to be super engaged to have had thoughts of reconsidering some habits. We are in debt to the planet, so we all need to make an effort to change. We cannot put our source of survival (water, food, fresh air) at risk for false conveniences we are offered.

Consumerism is encouraged all the time in advertising and mass media. That lure is as common in the offline world as it is online, and sometimes the message is not very clear, yet it is kind of sugarcoated. Trying to reduce those influences in your life could mean stop visiting a website or decide to go to a park on the weekend instead. There are many possibilities beyond the shelves of a supermarket and the stores of a shopping mall.

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But truth be told, we don’t buy so much just because we are constantly bombarded with visual stimuli. We also buy because we are insecure, to feel more fulfilled, less sad, to replace the affection we cannot give our families because we work so hard. Consuming should be a well-thought act according to our needs, not a replacement for our lack of time, health, or dedication.

It’s ok to feel lost when you want such a big lifestyle change. That is why this article will show you some possible paths to start living a lowsumer life.

Educate yourself and question everything

question what you know to make your own choices, instead of letting others choose for you. If you’re going to consume less, it’s time to pick better products for yourself and the planet. That goes for food, fashion, technology, and any other products.

Learn to read more than just slogans, stamps, and marketing claims on brand labels and websites. Read the fine print, composition, ingredients, and also what’s not clearly stated. For example, a product made with cotton from India with American design, made in Peru, and sold in Brazil has a long chain of production, and it’s very likely that the control over the workforce or environmental impact of that product may have been lost in one of those trips.

In addition to learning about production chains, understand what goes into the price of things. A cheap product may not pay for due social, labor, and environmental costs, bringing its price down artificially, because society will have to pay for that eventually. British economist and writer Raj Patel claims the real cost of a hamburger should be US$200 if we take into consideration the environmental destruction and social damages of its chain of production. High prices are no guarantee of sustainability, but an ethical product will probably cost more, because it respects its chain and all the people in it.

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All this information will help you answer some questions, such as: “Do I really need this?,” “can this add value to my life?,” or “do I agree with the way this product was made?” Additionally, we have to ask ourselves if the item we want is really better than what we have right now, or if we are just used to never being satisfied with what we own.

Simplifying helps to cut down

The questions from the previous topic will make you think about living a simpler life, but first it’s important to realize how much we consume. Keeping a journal of what you consume, such as what you eat and the cosmetics you usually use, is an important self-awareness exercise to help you identify your priorities. Remember to look for answers, not flaws. After a few days or weeks, you will be able to tell what has to change and what you are going to focus on.

Little by little, you will start to get used to the idea of owning and wanting less things. And that will help you live much better, as one of the greatest sources of anxiety for human beings is desire. You will also feel your relationships improve, you’ll have more experiences, you’ll learn more, and for that, you will have to slow down for everything, not just at the cash register. Balancing work and quality of life is essential, but checking your corporate email on your phone during a Sunday family lunch is a waste of precious time in life.

In the job market, more and more professionals are realizing they don’t have to give up their lives for their paycheck, and that slowing down is possible, even if it means making less money (and if you’re into minimalism by now, you can probably live well with a little less). Some people decide to reduce their work hours, while others choose to venture into having the flexibility the market can’t offer.

Refuse the idea that you are a consumer: you are not! Everyone is a human being with so many unique characteristics, it’s not fair to put everything under the “lifestyle-consumer” umbrella. Refuse all preconceived ideas. You don’t need to get a plastic bag at the grocery store or the plastic straw at the restaurant. The Menos1lixo project, for example, encourages people to replace disposable plastic cups with a reusable version. Their folding aluminum cup that fits any bag helped the project’s creator, Fernanda Cortez, save 1028 cups in 2015.

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A new relationship with things

Trading and renting are concepts that have always been around, but now they come in a new guise, more appealing and modern. It gets easy to imagine fulfilling your needs without having to buy new things. Sharing economy is in vogue, proposing we should share with others, not only things, but also knowledge and work. That is the case of Café com Costura, a Roupa Livre project that teaches how to sew while also making textile products that are then donated to projects that really need them, like Preto Café and Pimp My Carroça.

While we are talking about sewing, Ateliê Vivo is a studio where you can make your own clothes using patterns that are donated by great designers. But that movement is not just about sewing. You can do a lot with not a lot of room, but a lot of knowledge and planning: grow food at home, cook your own meal, design and make furniture, paint the house, etc.

This new dynamic of consuming less requires a little bit of effort and adaptation.

We have to see beyond the current state of an object to conserve it and make sure it doesn’t have to be replaced. Those who do that are more aware of how much work goes into it, and therefore are more willing to preserve it and make it last. But you don’t have to do that all by yourself. In over 800 places around the world, you can find a Repair Café, a meeting to fix things and share knowledge with other people.

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If you were touched by this reading, try a little test: don’t go on social media for one day, don’t buy for a month, put that into practice and see how much you learn with the experience.

Did you get excited about all that? So start right now! Just be careful not to go all in at once and get bored afterwards. Changing is hard, while procrastinating is easy and painless. But taking action is an exchange: you give energy and receive answers in return. When we decide to live more and consume less, the world around us changes too, and then we make room for a wave of purpose and awareness. It’s not just good for the environment, relationships tend to become more laid-back and interesting as well.

Don’t underestimate your power of transformation. Just see how big global changes take place: they usually start with small actions that then start to be replicated and spread.

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