Consumption has a few different definitions: (i) to buy, (ii) to use up, and (iii) to absorb all of the attention or energy of (someone). When I talk about consumption, I’m referring to buying, or using up. Ironically, when we reduce consumption in that sense, I think we also reduce the other kind of consumption - the absorption of attention and energy of ourselves.
When we buy less - whether it’s a plastic, aluminum, or paper product - we are producing less waste. We may choose to purchase a higher quality product, one that’s more natural, or maybe no product at all. It’s intentional or conscious consumption - or lack thereof.
Greg McKeown, CEO of a leadership strategy and design agency in Silicon Valley, wrote a book recently called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” about a “less but better” mentality that, quite frankly, changed his life. He talks about how to slow down (and why it’s so difficult), why we should consider our options thoughtfully - and only pursue paths that thrill us - as opposed to saying ‘yes’ to everything.
Two guys who call themselves The Minimalists, similarly, talk about their path to less through their podcasts and books. Their message is that we can focus more on the important things in life, which aren’t really things, by reducing the physical (and mental) clutter in our lives.
For me, absorbing Greg’s book and The Minimalists podcasts has made the idea of ridding myself of that which I don’t need strangely addicting. I try to remind myself to reflect on what’s essential, but it’s not an easy, or necessarily natural thought process. Admittedly, though, the feeling of reducing (by selling, giving away, or donating) my material possessions gives me a sort of natural high. I can’t get enough. Couldn’t I recycle this stack of magazines that I haven’t touched in weeks (er, months)? Wouldn’t it make sense to donate some socks/jewelry/shirts that are still in solid shape but I no longer wear?
And from a slightly different perspective: do I need to take that long shower? Must I buy a face/body product that’s full of chemicals I can’t pronounce? Do I need that cheap but not well-made plastic product? Maybe there’s a cleaner or more intentional option. Considering whether you need something while also weighing the environmental impact and material/quality takes time and demands careful consideration.
I think there’s important overlap between environmentalism and minimalism/essentialism. It’s the awareness of our human involvement and connection to the earth and the desire to reduce our effect by living and consuming more deliberately.
What is essential? I’ll be here, slowly learning.