How to become a non-consumer
I’m not going to buy anything new for a whole year. That was doctoral researcher Carys Egan-Wyer’s promise on New Year’s Eve. How did it turn out? ”It’s been life-changing,” says Carys.
Overconsumption is a huge threat to our environment. Human beings currently consume about one and a half times what the earth is able to provide us with every year, according to the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization.
“Consumption can be a good thing for people who really need more stuff, but most of us in the West have far more than we need. Not only is this disastrous for the planet but our obsession with material things may also be harming our relationships, which have been shown to be the biggest factor in our happiness,” says Carys Egan-Wyer, who is a researcher in consumption at Lund University School of Economics and Management.
“We spend so much time working to buy things that we don’t really need. Then we spend more time taking care of all those things. We end up with no time left for nurturing relationships with friends, family, our neighbours and our communities,” Carys Egan-Wyer continues.
“I wanted to try to reduce my consumption of new things and move to a more circular way of consuming, so I pledged to buy nothing new for a whole year! My plan was to buy less and have less in order to have more time to spend connecting with others and creating memories.”
Carys’s pledge has not only drastically reduced her consumption, but has also changed her habits and the way she thinks about shopping forever. If you want to have a positive impact on our environment, follow Carys’s tips and make your own non-consumption pledge.
Your own non-consumption pledge in 5 steps
Photo: Louise Larsson
1. Make your pledge specific
What exactly will you and won’t you allow yourself to buy? Most people couldn’t last long without buying food or hygiene products, so it’s a good idea to allow those. Maybe it’s clothes and shoes that you want to focus on reducing, or electronics.
“I put no limits on food shopping, but did a full audit of all the half-used bottles that were lying in the bathroom cabinet and promised to use all of them before I bought new products. I also allowed myself to buy things like clothes and furniture as long as they are second hand. That reduces our consumption of new resources and saves used items from ending up as waste.”
2. Make your pledge time-bounded
A month? A year? If your pledge doesn’t have an end date, you are setting yourself up to fail.
“I think most of us would struggle never to buy anything ever again. If you have an end-date, you can just delay your purchase, which is psychologically so much easier than telling yourself ‘never’. I have made a mental list of things that I will buy when my non-consumption pledge is over but, to be honest, I have lost interest in most of those must-have items after waiting a while anyway.”
3. Make your pledge public
Tell people. Share it on social media. Wear a badge! Telling people what you are doing makes you accountable. And support from other people will help you through those times when you are really itching to shop!
“I have found a fantastic community of like-minded people on Instagram and have gotten tons of great ideas from them.”
4. Embrace alternatives
There are lots of ways to get the things you need without consuming stuff. Second-hand is not only a substitute for buying new, but can also be a meaningful way to shop. You can find unique items of clothing or furniture with a story. Some second-hand stores donate profits to worthy causes, so your shopping can help instead of harming.
“I like repairing and upcycling things I already have. I have also learned some new skills during my year of non-consumption by making cards and presents to celebrate my friends’ special occasions! Giving handmade gifts or shared experiences can be so much more meaningful than just shopping.”
5. Accept and acknowledge failures
It’s really tough not to buy anything at all but, if you fail, don’t scrap your whole pledge. Instead, think about why you failed and whether you can do it differently next time.
“I’ll confess that I haven’t managed to stick completely to my non-consumption pledge this year. For example, I have bought new shoes for my son, when I couldn’t find second hand ones that would work. But I think that’s okay. This year has been a journey on which I have learned a lot about myself and about my consumption habits. For me that is much more important than getting it exactly right first time.”
Photo: Louise Larsson