I recently decided I needed to squeeze my material footprint into a smaller shoe.
At a muggy mid-summer craft fair, I realized I was sick of stuff. I deluded myself into believing that my indie business was eco-friendly because I tried to use recycled materials and minimize packaging. My wares were definitely a conscientious choice compared to the Made in China junk sold in big box stores, right? I aimed for a life of honorable compassion, filled with uncomplicated creativity.
Instead, material goods engulfed me. I needed so many things to run my business, and my lovely, uncluttered studio heaved under the piles of stuff. Sure, I made my products locally, but my materials came from very far away. Even the components I purchased from local sellers still had the shadow of Made in China somewhere in the production chain. I may have collected beach glass in Michigan, but the wire I used to wrap the pendants journeyed from overseas. Likewise, I stitched dresses of upcycled fabric together with sweatshop thread.
So, on that sweltering day, I was already weary of my indie materialist’s life. I had schlepped plastic tables and crinkly, cellophane wrapped goods out to a field to convince folks that they needed more. A mom stopped in with a stroller overflowing with snack bags, sippy cups, toys, and shopping bags and diaper bags stuffed with even more stuff. Her toddler daughter wanted a necklace but couldn’t decide which one. Of course a major meltdown ensued. The mom frantically purchased both necklaces and slogged off dragging a cartload of consumerism.
I thought to all the times I had been in that mom’s shoes: In an overstimulating world full of irresistible marketing, even the youngest humans feel compelled to acquire. It’s so easy to feel powerless when faced with colorful advertising, and I had also often placated my child with more. The choice to buy another thing for my daughter often made me feel a little guilty, and now my guilt was magnified because I felt like part of the problem.
In my indie, feel-good business, I was still just a stuff hustler. I was at a point in my business where I was making affordable things that I could produce quickly and sell cheaply because that’s what buyers consumed. I wasn’t making heirloom goods or practical everyday items. With a booth full of cute and tiny things, I was like a locally made Claire’s pushing more cheap, colorful junk on fledgling consumers. I didn’t feel like some important part of an alternative economy anymore. I felt like a niche shop in the mall.
When I researched just how much Americans buy, I decided that I wanted out of the cycle. We love to talk about recycling and reusing, makers in particular love to re-purpose old things, but what about the less glamorous act of reducing? Acquiring less really is really the simplest and most effective way to reduce our impact on the Earth.
Every American throws away up to 82 pounds of clothing in a year, and 185 pounds of plastic! I dug deeper and learned that we waste even more when you look at the production waste for our possessions. According to an article on Mongabay, each American consumes over 50,000 pounds of raw materials per year. That’s almost as much as 10 elephants worth of waste just to make the stuff we buy!
I was so busy worrying about my carbon consumption that I completely ignored my material footprint. All my hoofing it around town and recycling meant very little under the cloud of a business where greater success led to a bigger material footprint. We are consuming goods so quickly that materialism is consuming us. Looking back, the compassionate choice would have been to distract and entertain my toddler shopper with a fun story or song instead of placating her with a new possession. I could use my creative power to break the mold of consumer culture instead of simply clocking in every day on the assembly line.
So, I decided to make some simple changes in my life to bring me peace and to refocus my priorities with my year of nothing new challenge. I’ve been cutting back slowly since that fateful craft fair, and on October 20, 2016 (my birthday) I’m going to stop buying new things for a year. Of course, I’ll still buy food and other consumables, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to buy consumables with minimal packaging. This isn’t a license for a year of thrift store shopping sprees, either. My goal is to prioritize activities that don’t include acquiring stuff.
This will radically alter my maker business, too, as I won’t be able to buy the bulk materials I need to be a 1 person factory anymore. I’m going to take the time to reflect and refocus, shifting from the mass production mode I’ve been in back to more meaningful creativity. I’m excited and a bit apprehensive, and I hope you’ll stop back by to cheer me on. After all, since I won’t be out shopping, I’ll have more time to chat, too.