My thoughts on consumption

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to the way I have been living my life.

When I was a small girl, there were things that we did differently as a family than what seemed to be the norm in America. We did not eat out, we did not buy new things, we were generally pretty frugal. My mom took us to the thrift store before it was trendy of course. My friends parents would make comments about my attire, noting how awkward it was. My mom cut my hair until I was old enough to demand that she stop making me look like a boy. My sister and I would get excited to go “out to eat” which entailed getting a burrito supreme with guacamole from Taco Bell. Rarely, did we actually frequent an established restaurant, in fact I’m pretty sure we were under the impression that Taco bell was a restaurant.

Socioeconomically, we were not all that well off. In middle school I worked in the cafeteria serving my fellow classmates their meals and cleaning up after them when they were done so that I could afford lunch. I remember trying to quickly consume the contents on my plate because by the time I was finished working in the cafeteria I only had a few minutes left before class would start.

My fondest memories from my childhood are not in any way connected to money. Cruising down hills on my bicycle, the wind against my skin and the feeling of weightlessness that followed. Catching frogs and snakes in the undeveloped sections of my town. Riding my bike to the library with a backpack full of books. Once there, I would replace the contents with more of the same . I spent countless hours there in the summertime, daydreaming about having a different life.

Don’t get me wrong, I remember the yearning feeling I had when we would drive in the direction of the Westminster mall. A magical place with all sorts of colorful and glittery things to play with, plastic flowery smelling “my little ponies” or brightly outfitted barbie dolls. Trolls with bright green hair and jeweled belly buttons. Sure I was materialistic like any other kid, but it was in the wanting that I didn’t find any solace. There wouldn’t have been enough toys to fill that need, that desire. It was insatiable, and luckily, we would drive right past the mall more often than towards it so I never developed any expectations that I would acquire the objects of my desire.

Being that my family wasn’t from this country, we didn’t engage in a lot of the traditions most kids in middle class suburbs were a party to. Allowances? I wasn’t sure what that was. In our household, everyone contributed. My sister and I were in charge of making dinner so that it was ready by the time my mom came home. We cleaned the house until it was immaculate, every day we had chores and every week, we deep cleaned. We scrubbed the walls, we periodically took all the contents out of the fridge so that we could take out each shelf and scrap off stains and hardened food debris and many other related tasks.

Our reward? The action was the reward. Im realizing the competency is the reward. (Or so I’m learning now, as I have yet to meet anyone with my stringent standards of cleanliness) At the time, I didn’t know what a valuable set of lessons I had learned by not having anyone cater to me and my needs, instead, I was expected to carry my own weight. I started working at 14 years old, having obtained a permit to enter the workforce earlier than my cohorts. Obviously I took care of all my wants. New clothes, my car insurance, gas, drivers ed class, these were things I needed to support financially so I worked for them. I think my consumption started when I heavily involved myself in a circle of friends who didn’t think twice about going out and spending money on fast food or sodas or cigarettes at the corner store.

But really when it happened was my first relationship. I guess things that people like to do together, is go out to eat, spend money at the movies and for the purposes of entertainment. I remember thinking to myself, I have never met anyone who likes to go out to eat so much and I wondered why he felt that he deserved it. In my mind, you earned the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of going out, it wasn’t something you deserved or were simply entitled to. And so I started to oblige and participate in this type of “engagement” and it was really easy to assimilate into this culture of consumption.

So I got used to it. In fact I adopted it quite enthusiastically. Something switched, the script flipped and I started to become a consumer. And at some point, I became a hoarder. And at some point even further down the road, I detached myself from the value of my sweat equity and lost sight of the fact that working is an exchange of time for money that can never be retrieved. I took out student loans to go to school because as far as I knew, it was the next step on my path and the only option I had since I couldn’t afford to pay for each semester as I went.

I think that is where the real disconnect took place. Instead of loaning out the amount for which I was due to pay with regard to actual tuition, I accepted additional loan money to help pay for my life as I couldn’t work enough while going to school full time. So I did that, I fell into that trap. Am I proud of my decision? Absolutely not. I’m ashamed of myself. But here it is, and I have a load of debt in front of me, and it forces me to make decisions out of necessity instead of opportunity. You know, the situation we are all in, taking jobs for the paycheck vs. being able to apply your passions and finding meaning in one’s work.

And that is ok, I will live with the consequences of my actions, I must. But how am I going to do this in a way that will be quick and painless?

I have a 2 year plan. By the end of 2014, I will have paid off my credit card debt. It is lofty goal, and I’ve been playing the rob Peter to pay Paul game taking out 0% interest rate cards and switching my bills between them all, but I know I can do it if I can manage to reprogram myself. And if I can do this, I plan to pay off my student loan debt by the end of 2015.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about debt and most of them are very apathetic on the topic. One of my old co-workers told me he would just pay the minimum balance on his student loans until they died. I argued with him that if he could manage to pay them off earlier, it would be an extra $200 a month or whatever the figure was, towards his income that he wasn’t taking into account. Some extra cash to cushion or put into savings or to play with if you are into that sort of thing.

Another person mentioned that everyone is in debt and to worry about it wasn’t doing anything to help my situation, so just accept it and move on. I can see how it would be easy to think like this. Sometimes the obstacles we face appear so insurmountable that we are tempted to just throw in the towel. Not only are we tempted to give up, but we continue to perpetuate the problem by doing what it was that got us stuck in this situation in the first place. And that is by getting further into debt!

I know if I can eliminate both my credit card debt and my student loan debt, it will be a game changer for me. The first step is to stop getting in more debt!

So I’m done using my credit cards for superfluous purchases. Aside from my bills, I will only make cash purchases and I will only spend a finite amount each week & month. It is like giving yourself an allowance, once I’ve exhausted my quota, I simply will not have any means to purchase anything else. Simple right?

Not as simple as it sounds. It is hard to fight the impulses I have acquired to go and quickly grab a coffee, or to easily spend $50 on drinks at happy hour with friends because I feel like I “deserve” it. I am now growing so much food that I can’t even keep up with it. I purchased a meat share, it is a commitment to having a season of local free range meat delivered to my home so that I don’t have to compromise on quality but I will be forced to cook at home. It was a one time investment and I don’t even think twice about it because I’m going to be doing what I know is good for me. Now here I am, I have plenty of food at my disposal and the next step is to get creative and learn how to cook it and cook it well.

I’m constantly tempted to go out and eat and splurge, but I know that I will not reach my goals if I do that. So I’m making some serious adjustments to my attitude and to my lifestyle. My friend and I hung out and she wanted to grab lunch, so instead I asked if we could just do a picnic. After all, it would just be stupid for me at this point to eat out when everything I have is at home waiting, to be created and consumed.

And this is where the difference lies between being a consumer and a producer. When you are  faced with the choice of absorbing the efforts of someone else’s sweat, or of your own- out of convenience and laziness we typically choose to just let someone else do the work.
But are we not doing the work?
Exchanging our time for the money that we use to get the end product is work. When all is said and done, you spend more money than you would if you just did it yourself. It’s not convenient because now we are  all  working such long hours and we are exhausted when we get home, so it seems equitable to simply choose to spend our time letting someone else do the work. But i just I don’t think it balances out. If you spent one night a week, preparing a meal that would last you that entire week, (or if you are one of those picky people who can’t eat the same thing everyday, 2 days a week making 2 meals that you split up and freeze so as to alternate dishes) then it makes no sense to eat out. Of course, if you are not in debt and you have the extra liquid capital, you are probably not interested in this course of action- this is my part of my plan to get out of debt and this may not apply to you.

I guess what I’m trying to say is yes, it is a sacrifice and it is a commitment to make these harder more cumbersome decisions, but it is my hope that I will become more efficient as I learn this new style of non-consumption and start to produce my own goods.

I’ve already made a lot of headway. I am utilizing the crock pot, and getting a meat share has introduced me to new cuts of meat that I don’t really know how to cook. So I’m finding recipes and I’m making enough servings to last a week or more and if there is too much I freeze a portion of it and if anything starts to go bad, (which makes me feel intensely guilty) I just feed it to the chickens and recycle it into eggs.

I’ve started to dehydrate a lot of my produce and I want to build a solar dehydrator because I find it rather nonsensical to use electricity to dry something that the sun would do much more efficiently on a larger scale. That will take some creativity. One of the ideas I had was to create dehydrated food packs and sell them instead of fresh produce out of my farm stand. One it is less subject to food regulations and rather easy to store if you are smart about it. I will have to look into it further to find out whether I could do it on a larger scale, but for now, I’m thinking of the future and saving myself money by preserving my current harvest. It is a win win situation, and I’m not that far ahead that I can start to think of monetizing because right now I’m just learning and in the infancy stages. I have some simple goals, and when I’m no longer in debt, I feel I will have the luxury to pursue other opportunities of revenue accrual.

Side projects, maybe starting to create a residual income using some of the principles I’m learning right now, because I know I cannot be the only one struggling with these types of challenges.

What is nice about this whole situation, is that the reprogramming is taking effect, as minuscule as it may be, the changes I’m making are starting to impact my perception and attitude. I’m finding the satisfaction in creating new dishes, and in seeing how the work in establishing my back to eden garden has not only paid off, but done so in abundance. I’m enjoying harvesting my own produce and then cooking it up fresher than you can get at the farmers market. Its practically alive on my plate!

I’ve been biking everywhere, which is the only respite I get from my sedentary job and a way to enjoy the summer that takes me back to what I loved to do as a kid, and doesn’t cost money. I’ve begun to think outside the box on a great many things about ways to add value, share what I have with the people I love (so satisfying) and find creative ways to enjoy myself without focusing on what I can consume and absorb from my surroundings.

Not to mention the bigger implications of what our consumer economy represent. I didn’t want to get into that because it is firstly depressing and secondly, there are others who have already covered those topics much better than I ever could. So on that note, I’m going to leave you with two links, to two documentaries. One is an expose that explains very plainly how our economy works as a result of the consumer debt cycle. The other one is more inspiring and talks about a shift in our values and culture that is already taking place, but highlights what we can each do individually in our own homes to make a difference in the larger scheme of things.

If you made it this far, hopefully you will enjoy these resources, I thoroughly appreciated them.

The Four Horsemen

Money and Life





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