Book of Eli, consumption, meno mosso, moving, omnivorous, packing, productive thinking, stuff, will rogers
I’ve come to think of myself as a kitchen sink philosopher. Not because I want to cover every topic, but because the kitchen sink is where I do some of my most productive thinking as I’m stationed there clearing up after dinner or prepping ingredients beforehand. With the demands of our recent move, however, I spent much more of my time hovering over boxes as they were either getting filled or emptied and I found that my thoughts wandered, accordingly, beyond the kitchen. The topics for meliovore are ostensibly centered around eating, but there is another facet to these –vore words, like carnivore and omnivore to explore. Vorare, in Latin, means to consume/devour and I want to open up the breadth of my topic to cover our complex relationships with consumption in general.
The definition of the word omnivorous according to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary is 1: Feeding on both animal and vegetable substances 2: avidly taking in everything as if devouring or consuming.
It’s this second definition that I’ve been thinking about – how our culture, call it U.S. call it Western, has systematically encouraged us to be avid and avaricious in our consumption of everything, not just food. Big portions, big closets, peace and security equals filling up and acquiring. As Will Rogers famously said, America will be the only nation in the history of the world to go to the poor house in an automobile. (Bring that up to date with, and tweeting the news from a smartphone.)
We know our level of waste is out of whack with the rest of the world, it’s been said so often I’m not going to dig up statistics. Disposable is not sustainable and it’s certainly not the way our great-grandparents did things. But deep into a lifetime of buying, half-using, and tossing, what a hard habit to break!
I think I know why people hate moving: they have to face their stuff. Why did I buy this? I hate to give this away but it hasn’t fit me in 3 years. Am I ever going to get around to reading this? Confrontations, revelations, admissions of guilt and self-doubt. Purging is painful. Though to some it can be joyful too. It’s supposedly healthy to pare down when we move, certainly practical to let go of stuff we’re not using, and yet, I’d think again and again of that gulp moment from the movie The Book of Eli where Solara (Mila Kunis) asks Eli (Denzel Washington) what things were like before the unnamed nuclear holocaust:
Eli: People had more than they needed, people didn’t know what was precious and what wasn’t, people threw away things they kill each other for now.
Can you hear the echo? People threw away things they kill each other for now…..
And boom, I’m a hoarder all over again. I might be able to save the world or my family, at least, with a food dehydrator rack and a gross of soy sauce packets. How could I think of giving those away? How will I know what item will be most desired for barter with a post-apocalyptic overlord like Gary Oldman? or what will be critically useful as I redefine commerce with my daughter’s only slightly expended art supplies in a post-carbon world? You see my problem with throwing stuff out?
But no. There are too many ways to live in fear – fear of want as well as fear of doom. And I don’t want any of them as a chosen path. I want to progress as a meliovore – one who strives to consume better – and for the concept to contain the thought of consuming less. A menovore? In Italian, the language that dominates musical notation, meno mosso means with less motion or speed. In our terms, it could mean ‘hit the breaks on the acquisitiveness, tutti.’
Be well read and set goals. Hey, I’m prescribing my own blog as a job well done for my beloved readers! High fives all around! As for me, I will start to periodically visit the zero waste home blog of the woman who lives across the Golden Gate Bridge in Mill Valley who is something of a pioneer in this area (though my hub knows folks in Duluth who were doing this 20-30 years ago and getting hassled by the city for not having enough trash). Looking at what other, more full time eco-warriors are up to will get me thinking about the next reasonable step I can take to consume less stuff and reduce my carbon footprint.
Habitually recycling, composting, walking or biking instead of driving when possible, making daily decisions about stuff we need and don’t. Accent on the word habitually. My daughter is bombarded by tv commercials about stuff she wants to buy and her desires seem to reflect the 9-year old mentality or our national consumer profile. Gotta have that, it looks cool! I’ll be less bored/more happy if I have that thing! We try to remind her that the ads are designed to grab us in an emotional place and make us want things beyond the impulsive reasons the ad shows.
Living within our means is an act of bravery in our culture I think, and it has helped us through tough times. I’ve been in debt before and I hope never to be again. Living within your means doesn’t always make us popular with the young ‘un when we say no to so many of the trips she’d like to take and shoes she’d like to wear, but I sleep better at night. Sustainability ought to begin at home! (Talk to me again when we have to pay for her college somehow…)
Face your stuff. There are closet consultants and self-help groups out there if you can’t face it alone. Send underused things to the many charitable organizations that can turn them into revenue or job-creation programs. When you can’t even remember what you have and aren’t intimate with your belongings, can they really enrich your life? I know my grade school age daughter can’t fully understand this yet, but we are supposed to be more mature than she is. I’m not a model citizen in this area, but I believe in the possibility of a life without clutter.
So without judgment, without a call to flog ourselves for our shortcomings, I ask that we give these issues some thought and move toward only surrounding ourselves with stuff that doesn’t overwhelm us or the proverbial straining stream of resources it takes to produce it. Dare to examine your m.o. and status quo – be it at the level of a cyclone of consumption or kitchen-sink complacency. I know it is a struggle to change and think about how to make it happen, but isn’t struggle good when you compare it to life on autopilot? We can certainly gain strength from news of each other’s efforts and experiences in this area, too. If we are struggling then we are thinking and that is a great, great start.
Tara N said:
Very interesting dilemna to have to choose between between hoarding (“that might come in handy some day”) and purging (“If I haven’t use it in five years, I likely never will”). I agree that not having the item in the first place may be the best way to avoid this decision. How to avoid disposing of things because they are made so shoddily these days? In the past two weeks I found a hole that appeared in a new shirt after one wash and discovered a loose heel on a pair of shoes less than one year old.
Grrr to the misbehaving shoes and shirt! Plus you’re faced with the annoying issue of having to decide if your consumer ire is strong enough to go through the hassle of complaining and returning something or whether you’ll just punt. I hate mending (and refuse to learn darning, no matter how old school I get!) but have waiting my attention a pair of my daughter’s stretchy pants with a ripped seam that she hasn’t worn once yet. But shoddy goods stink – there’s way too much ‘shoddy’ going around.
Joe O said:
My parents grew up in the Depression. Despite being well off later on they still saved string, rubber bands, twist ties, paper bags and anything else that seemed like it might be useful.
Yes, great point, Joe. My folks too, and you can really see the impact that living through the Depression had in spurring that saving-of-stuff instinct. I wonder what time and distance will call this little double dip thing we are in now, and will our generation’s wiring be altered by it too?
Lisa Mansfield said:
Thank you for this excellent reminder. Not sure if you have seen “The Story of Stuff” but it really hits home on this topic, especially on the over consumption in the US that is contributing to the depletion of resources in other countries. Also, I appreciate you are teaching your young daughter about this now. Thanks again!
Hi Lisa. Thank you for the kind comment and for the recommendation. I actually just came across reviews of the book The Story of Stuff as I was searching images to go with this post. So with your added endorsement, I’ll make a point of seeing it. No Impact Man is a documentary I recommend that touches upon this too, as Colin Beavan tours the city dump in the South Bronx. Wow, we generate a lot of trash!
Vinny Grette said:
You are inspiring me, as I round up my paper bags in anticipation of spring cleaning. Look out junk – you are soon to become someone else’s useful objects! Don’t you love garage sales?
Well, it makes my day to hear that. Thanks, Vinny! And yes, seeing people go away happy from your garage sale with the special something they’ve just bought for a screaming deal is a big part of the joy. It’s a win-win-win. (buy/seller/planet!)