What is Consumption?
The car in the driveway, table in the dining room, clothes in the closet, TV in the living room, and the food we ate for lunch — all of these are components of consumption. Often times, consumption is merely equated to the products we buy, a.k.a. all the “stuff” we have in our lives. But consumption is about more than just products. Services we pay for, events we attend, food we eat, and trips we take also factor greatly into our consumption patterns.
What makes consumption thoughtful is considering all of these different aspects when making choices, as well as who and what will be impacted by our decisions. It is also important to strike a balance between what it is we need and what it is we want. Then, once we determine what our needs are, finding out just how much we need to fulfill our everyday functions (ex: does a family really need one car for each family member?). Essentially, thoughtful consumption asks us to be just that: thoughtful.
The United States has 5% of the world population, but uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources to support our lifestyle. Americans are notorious for how much we consume in our everyday lives. The most striking way to look at this would be to consider that if everyone on the planet lived like we did (used as many resources), it would take the equivalent of at least four earths to support our lifestyle. To quantify your own ecological footprint, take the simple online quiz: Footprint Calculator.
Does five tons sound like a lot? Well, that is about how many pounds worth of belongings the average American family has according to the American Moving and Storage Association. Maybe that is because our homes are getting bigger — 2,657 square feet on average in 2014 compared to 983 square feet in 1950. More room for more stuff!
One thing those bigger houses do have plenty of room for? More food! Americans are currently eating 25% more calories each day than they did in 1970. Since the 1980s, our plate surface has increased by 44%. Additionally, we waste about 25% of our edible food. Food is generally the largest component of municipal solid waste. For more information about the wasted food issue and some household tips, see our Food: Too Good to Waste webpage.
Times have undoubtedly changed over the past 50 years, in many ways for the better, but being thoughtful about our consumption choices goes a long way.
We all have stuff in our lives and that’s ok! Looking to downsize, de-clutter, and make conscious purchases? You are not alone. Many folks are making the change, consuming less, consuming differently, and considering what they want versus need. Whatever happened to sharing, trading, renting, and borrowing? We don’t all need our own lawnmower, do we?
First, buy smart. Ask questions. Read labels and ingredients. Scrutinize and don’t be taken in by “green washing” if you are looking for an environmentally-friendly product. Where was it made, who benefits from its sale, is it over-packaged? What will I do with it at the end of its life? Consider products that are durable, repairable, and reusable instead of “throw away” and one-time use. Plan for longevity. Will you be able to find parts and repair this item? Take part in the sharing economy!
These questions and more are all great things to ponder when making a purchase, taking a trip, or even choosing a local business. The decisions we make every day have an impact.