Affluenza No More
October 24, 2016
I can honestly say that my exposure to the Fundamentals of Sustainability course at CBU has been eye opening, to say the least. I find myself questioning myself daily on usual habits, such as reaching into my overflowing closet, using sandwich baggies for lunch, and looking at my iPhone for the fiftieth time. The consumer habits we face are part of a social phenomenon known as affluenza – basically the desire to keep up with the Joneses with the assumption that acquiring more and better “stuff” will increase happiness and give the perception of affluence. It actually has the opposite affect with relationships suffering, bank debts rising and people exhausted from overworking in an effort to pay for their increasingly complicated lifestyles (Mathison, 2012). I know we all could do better, and I plan to. I really do.
I started reducing my ecological footprint, also known as my environmental impact, before these journal entries began (Mulligan, 2015). My first goal was to stop buying so much stuff! And I mean, a lot of stuff. Each week since October 8th, I resisted buying simple things like another lip balm or more clothes for my already unlimited supply. It’s still a work in progress and I’ve been successful thus far. Many advertising images, emails, alerts and radio commercials still bombard my day and so I’ll make a conscious change to alter my settings, unsubscribe from retail emails and play my music playlist instead of the radio. These may seem small, but I hope they make a difference.
October 27, 2016
Unsubscribe. This is want I want to do. In fact this is what I have done to all of my retail email subscriptions, yet they keep on coming! I suppose it may take a week or two, but I am hopeful to see a change in this very soon.
The more difficult mail to stop is the letter mail containing advertisements highlighting pre-sale events, special customer only days, and one day only door crasher sales. I found one such advertisement when I opened a letter from the car dealership where I bought my car five years ago. Much to my excitement, I opened up the letter to see an offer to trade in my slowly rusting car for a brand new one with a special rebate only for me (and a few other ‘special’ customers). How exciting! I would be crazy not to take them up on their offer! Wouldn’t I?
You’d be happy to know that I didn’t rush down there or jump on the wagon the next day or week to trade in my car, but it seems that many of the other “special customers” might have. Afterall, we are bombarded by advertisements daily to buy the next best thing so that our lives may be better (Porritt, 2011). According to Mulligan, this is part of the consumer issue that is enveloping our communities and world. Planned obsolescence and addictive consumerism both have had negative ramifications on the sustainability of our world’s resources (2015). Planned obsolescence leaves the consumer with a product that is sure to reach it’s demise sooner than ever before, thereby creating a cycle of consuming even more products since the recently purchased ones end up in the trash (Mulligan, 2015).
It would seem my parents really did know what they were talking about when they’d argue that they didn’t need a new couch (even though they’d had it for over 20 years). After all, the products of the past were meant to last for generations before malfunctioning or breaking down. The products of today can be obsolete as soon as the next, improved items appear, causing another dimension to the over consumption cycle (Mulligan, 2015).
Way Back When…
October 30, 2016
I recall my parent’s stories of growing up, having much less and surviving all the same. My mom would walk to the corner water pump to retrieve fresh water when needed, much to her admitted embarrassment (she hoped desperately for running water in their home). I only experienced this form of reduced access to water when I used to camp in a tent or a camper with no additional hook-up options available. I imagine their water consumption would have been limited and used wisely, for the heavy trek was not my mom’s favorite past time. I know it was for us during those particular camping trips, where filtering and boiling water for each use was a greater chore than simply turning on our taps.
My dad shared Christmas stories to help pass on the feeling of gratefulness. Each year he and his siblings would receive an orange and a toy of some sort, be it a wooden car or truck. They would be so excited and grateful and head outdoors to play and delight in their new toy. In this day and age, a piece of fruit and one toy would likely leave many children feeling deprived and heartbroken. We know they aren’t born to think that way, yet they learn it from the consumption habits we portray in our homes and those of the world around them. How do we get back to the simple life? Voluntary Simplicity is one way, and is a conscious effort to live with less, thereby reducing waste and complexity in life (Mulligan, 2015).
These memories of days past came up with the realization that Christmas is approaching. My children basically start talking about Christmas shortly after their birthdays (summer and fall), and it stems from the never ending pursuit of the next best gadget or object of desire. They simply want what they don’t need (Etzioni, 2012). I have often waited on purchasing any of these must haves, and gladly so. You see, once the days, weeks and months pass, they have forgotten all about that much needed item, and have moved onto others. This makes buying their gifts a very time and thought consuming effort because I need to think extensively about what they actually need and what would be a meaningful, appreciated gift. I hope to model the voluntary simplicity quest with each day so that my children will notice and begin to see the happiness and value in living with less.
2015 Mantitoba Excellence in Sustainability
November 1, 2016
Walking into Sigurbjorg Stefansson Early School in Gimli, MB feels like I’ve walked into a spa retreat. Each day I have the privilege to be a member of the school community, as the guidance counsellor and resource teacher, that is not only so inviting, but so ecologically aware as well. As the recipients of the 2015 Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability award, let me explain what this looks like. It starts with a nature playground in the making outside the school doors. Once in the hallway, you notice children’s art of varying genres displayed without any extra paper bling (no bulletin strips and borders necessary). The continued hallway has natural elements displayed, such as tree cookies, stumps and rocks, along with rich children’s literature enhancing social justice and equity.
Once I go into any classroom, nature is in abundance. From pine cones to mini fairy gardens, the students are learning to appreciate, love and take care of nature. They talk about being kind and caring citizens and about harvesting in a careful manner when on nature explorations. They reuse writing journals and documentation books each year until the pages are full and a new one is necessary. Essentially we use paper with purpose and have made a drastic reduction in our overall paper consumption.
Compost and recycling containers are in every class and staff room, with each person playing a role in taking care of our school and our environment. The compost is then distributed to our raised garden beds where we grow our own food. The crops are planned, planted, nurtured, harvested and shared with community in mind. Families help water and weed during summer holidays and they join us again for the preparation and sharing of our harvest throughout the year. Technology is seen as an avenue for growth and learning and students are taught to be digital citizens with lessons on using Twitter posts as meaningful sharing of learning, rather than random posts of pictures that have little significance for the group as a whole.
Essentially my school has had a tremendous impact on the way I view a work environment. I see it like my home, where I take care and help it to feel like a place I want to be. I make sure to compost food and recycle where I can, thereby reducing my level of waste. I explore the outdoors with my students and bring more natural materials into my classroom versus plastics. In doing so, the school has become a special place for all of us to be. The students and staff feel happy and safe- they essentially want to be there. They feel they are valued and important contributors of sustainability for our school and home community. I’m in a good place.
November 3, 2016
I had a grappling feeling that my cupboards contained more items shipped from around the world, than those of local producers. As such, I took inventory and found I was correct. My food selections were mostly bought at the local grocery store chain, and sometimes at the larger shopping venues outside our community.With this in mind, I read the labels and saw the names of places from across Canada to across the oceans.
Sumners was on point when she said, “The grapes that sit upon the shelf are mute; we cannot see the fingerprints of exploitation upon them or tell immediately what part of the world they are from” (2005). The last thing I want to do is to support exploited labor and the corporations that benefit from it.
The June to September months usually lend way to my more sustainable purchases. For example, I visit a local market that supplies fresh vegetables, homemade wares, and baked goods – all from just down the road. The market is not only sustainable for our environment, and health, but also for the social/ emotional wellness that accompanies it. I run into friends, co-workers, students, parents and essentially converse with several other friendly marketers. All of these interactions leave me with a sense of belonging and community and are part of what builds into the sustainable civil commons, namely the social aspect (Sumner, 2005).
I plan to look closer at the labels of food products as I move forward. I can look for Fair Trade items and seek out local groups for products that are produced near to home. This will take extra time, I’m sure. However, the implications for the betterment of the environment as a whole will surely be ones of positive growth and sustainability.
We Will Travel Hopefully…
November 5, 2016
I must admit that my fiance is wondering who has invaded my very being, as he watches my transformation and listens to my stories of the environment and the very nature of the materialistic society we live in. After all, he knows I love to shop (or should I say, used to love to shop)!
I must also admit that it fits perfectly with his already formed interest in consuming less and living simply, but happily together. We picture a just right-sized home in retirement, possibly a “tiny home”, as so often advertised. Oh no! I am still influenced by media…, but I am humble enough to realize and admit that I will not be perfect at this. I will fall into error and perhaps buy a shirt because the color is perfect, or purchase the oranges, even if they did travel a ridiculous distance because I need fresh fruit for lunches and I have less than ten minutes to buy them and get home.
Despite my failings, I can say for certainty that my efforts will be sincere, meaningful and with purpose to achieve a sustainable community and future. You see, I don’t want the rest of my life to be one of endless consumption, without consequence. As for my children, they should not have to grow up endlessly searching for the good life and competing with the Joneses. Instead they should see the value in working for the greater good, supporting local business, finding happiness and wellness in the simple things, love and nurture the beautiful nature encapsulating their world every day, and take a stand to be a change agent in the ever changing world around them (Mulligan, 2015).
Essentially I want them to travel hopefully, and perhaps just wave at the Joneses as they pass them by. Robert Louis Stevenson’s statement poetically captured it when he said, “To travel hopefully…is better than to arrive” (Mulligan, 2015).
Written By Kelly Milne, B. Ed., Post Bacc. in Ed. Couns.
Etzioni, Amitai. (2012). You Don’t Need to Buy This.
Mathison, M. (2012). Emancipation from Affluenza: Leading Social Change in the Classroom. Unpublished dissertation Antioch University.
Mulligan, Martin. (2015). An Introduction to Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Personal Perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge.
Porritt, Johantan (2012). The Trap of Materialism.
Sumner, Jennifer. (20o5). Sustainability and the Civil Commons: Rural Communities in the Age of Globalization. Toronto, Canada: Unverrsity of Toronto Press Incorporated.
The Story of Stuff: Film and Website. http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/