Thoughtful Consumption and Its Beneficial Consequences

The last few weeks, I’ve been hung up on the idea of thoughtful consumption. I’ve heard echoes of it everywhere, although it’s rarely mentioned by name. But the idea of paying close attention to what we truly want to spend our time and our money on provides a clearer picture than putting together a general budget or creating a to-do list a million miles long.

Consumption is a Good Thing

I have something of a soap box I get up on whenever I hear someone make a broad sweeping statement like ‘driving is bad’ or ‘we should all buy less plastic.’ It’s tempting to think of consumption in black and white terms, to get caught up in the belief that Westernized countries consume too much of everything. But consumption of anything is not inherently wrong. Consumption of gasoline revolutionized our ability to transport goods, people and even information around the world — without it and other fossilized fuels, we could easily still live in a world where a failed crop in one town guaranteed starvation for that area.

It’s only when consumption is unconsidered — when we hop in our cars to drive to the corner store — that there is a problem. And it’s a problem on both a personal level and a societal level. On an individual level, it becomes so easy to forget that the little things add up. Buying a little gas here, eating out an extra night there — unconsidered expenses are what tends to get many of us in trouble. On a broad level, we have to eat and work and do all those things that make up our days. We have to consume certain things in order to take action, as well. But when we employ thoughtful consideration… well, things can change dramatically.

I’m not saying that we should only consume those things that we specifically need, as well. Wanting a luxury here and there is not a bad thing. As long as you are aware of why you want that luxury and you know it won’t get in the way of your other wants and needs, wanting more isn’t bad. If it were, we’d all be living the lives of monks quite happily.

What Do You Need? What About Want?

Have you ever gone to the store with shopping list of just a few things and wind up with a packed cart by the time you reach checkout? It’s happened to me more than once: I see something along the first aisle and wind up tossing it in the cart. But that item means I need a few other things and, then, something else catches my eye and reminds me that I’d been thinking about buying something else. Mentally, most of us are set up so that we want to acquire things. Back in cavemen days, that wasn’t a bad thing: there were few enough things that could guarantee survival that stocking up on anything you could simply made sense.

These days, though, a good store manager can use how we think to make sure that we go home with things that we neither need nor want specifically. They appeal to our need to have things ‘just in case.’ It takes a major shift to change our habits so that we can put more thought into our purchases. If we can think about our needs and wants to a point where we can articulate them, we can make a world of difference in our spending, our consumption and even our health.

Strategies like waiting to make certain purchases and sticking to a shopping list religiously can make a significant difference in our spending and similar strategies can help with time management and other parts of our life. But the greatest step we can take is simply sitting down and thinking about what we want to do and what we need: just thinking is enough to start getting our actions in line with what we desire, as well as our long-term goals.

Image by Flickr user epSos.de


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