Every challenge is an opportunity. The recession is a perfect chance to create a shift in your family's values; a chance to move from want-based, status-based, and impulse spending, to sustainable consumer choices.
Of course, the first step is to make that reframe in your own thought process. In this article, you'll see that in many cases the eco-conscious, green, sustainable choice, and the financially sound choice, are one and the same.
It's not always an easy leap to get from habitual, reflex, pattern spending, to more conscious choices. Here are some simple steps to get you, and your family, thinking from a more resilient and ecologically sound perspective.
Reframe Lessons Taught by the Recession to Lessons that Will Last a Lifetime - Or Even Generations.
To begin with, instead of jumping to the blanket statement, "we can't afford a new (insert-item-of-the-moment-here)!" address the question - first in yourself and then with your child - do we need a new (insert-item-of-the-moment-here)?
Need is a complex idea. It might take a while to rebuild your, and your family's, thoughts, feelings, and ultimately values, regarding the question of what constitutes need. It's not as simple as just need vs. want. There's a spectrum.
Here are a few things that can help in the process of creating a new valuation of the concept of need within your family structure.
- Casual conversation with your family about what need really means. Using examples of less consumer-driven cultures can be illustrative.
- Age-appropriate documentaries of truly impoverished cultures can help a child ready for a more global picture to understand the scale between need and want.
- With younger kids, pictures books, folk tales, and songs can help in redefining.
- Philanthropic acts, couple with conversation. (See my article 5 Ways to Engage Your Kids in Grateful Giving)
- Volunteering at a local soup kitchen can bring it home that there's trouble, right here in River City. (Again, see my article 5 Ways to Engage Your Kids in Grateful Giving)
Little steps your child can take to help make the world a better place, even as simple as boxing up a few items and offering them to a local charity, can go a long way in allowing your kid awareness, without overwhelm.
Also important is consistency in word and deed.
During the past holiday season I asked my 12 year old to seriously consider her use of the word need. She did, and we talked about it. We then boxed up lots of unused household items, toys, and gifts, and contributed them to a local "free store", and to a local family in need as part of a holiday project a women's group I'm part of with had taken on.
A few days later, I casually used the word need in a conversation with my husband. My daughter overheard it, raised an eyebrow, and said, "Need, mom?" I quickly retracted. She was right. I truly only wanted what ever the now-forgotten item was.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -it's actually a pyramid!
The slogan "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is in that order for a reason; it makes more sense to envision it as a pyramid than the circular form it's usually imaged as.
Reduce is the base of that pyramid; the foundation. Reevaluating and reducing our consumer habits is the best thing we can do to decrease our planetary impact.
It's also a softer on the checkbook.
Reducing can be an easy step, or even many easy steps, that add up to a big change. Some of those steps will happen naturally, as a response to the tightening of belts that occurs in times of financial uncertainty.
When gas prices shot sky-high in the summer of '08, my family reduced our number of shopping trips per week. We live rurally, so we planned better, and made each 30+ mile drive to and from the nearest place of commerce really count.
Yeah, it's tiring as hell to go to five stores in one day. But we saved a lot of money (and time), and reduced our use of gasoline by about 3/4.
Even though gas prices have dropped for the time-being, we've more-or-less stuck with the newly-learned habit of 1 - 2 shopping trips a week. And it feels great to know that we're simultaneously saving money AND decreasing our use of petroleum products.
Buying in bulk reduces post-consumer waste, and often helps you save some pennies in the process. In some areas, there are buyers cooperatives that you can join, and go in on true bulk ordering. This saves, again, both money and packaging waste.
Perhaps the most comprehensive way you and your family can foster the "reduce" piece of the puzzle is to reconsider the desire to keep up with the Joneses. Don't get the next gadget that comes along, even though your kid might beg, kick, and scream for the newest of the new of the e-game-component du-jour.
Ideally, as you begin changing your habits, and educating your kids about the reasons why, they will be less inclined to see disposable culture as they once did. Based on your modeling, and the new information they'll receive through family conversation, they're likely to be less prone to emotional response to acquisitive desires.
But in the case that attachment does arise, here are some things to remember, and to remind about; not only does the new thing create future trash, but the old one instantly becomes waste in the process.
And, your wallet gets that-much lighter every time you give in to the consuming-for-consuming's-sake urge. It's up to you how much of that part you want to share with your child. There's a fine line between honesty and over-sharing. You can figure out where yours is.
Finally, remember this; just the process of asking the question, "Do we NEED this?" will in many cases lead to a substantial decrease in purchases.
Reusing is the second-best option; once you've purchased an item and put it into circulation, the more times that item is used, in a sense, the less the overall impact. This is just as true for a plastic bag, a yogurt container, a t-shirt, or a computer.
Of the four items mentioned, only the shirt is biodegradable. And, at that, only truly biodegradable if made of organic material such as cotton or silk. So reuse it! (Or, Repurpose it - the fourth R. Stay tuned for my next How To Celebrate Earth Day Every Day article for more on repurposing.)
The plastic bag can be reused - as a sandwich bag for your kid's lunch, a container for left-overs like pasta, or even a hair cap for dying your hair. But once it's done with, it's landfill - no ifs, ands, and buts.
The yogurt container is a sturdy alternative to Tupperware™ (and basically free, if you bought it for the yogurt, right?). Or, if you're starting your own "Victory garden" this year, you can use it for starts for your veggies.
Once the container begins to fall apart, it goes into the recycling - that is, if your town has a recycling program that accepts that kind of plastic.
Of all the items mentioned, the computer has the most problems with waste - much of it toxic, from batteries in laptops, to the metals used in the construction of the insides of the machine.
There's a new term that's been created in recent years; e-waste, or electronic-waste. Your phones, TVs, and computers all fall into this category.
Instead of being a benefit, the well-intentioned act of offering our older technology to countries where there was less available has become a liability, and in a sense, an inadvertent sort of "off-shore dumping" program.
This article goes so far as to say that once you buy electronics, you should consider them yours for life.
The longer we can keep any of these items in use, and better yet, in use in our own household, the better for the environment - and our pocket.
So use your electronics until they're totally unusable - and then make sure they're either disposed of properly, or refurbished for further use.
There's a line-up in my house for my coveted machine when I eventually upgrade, but if your kids are too high-falutin to take your old laptop, there's always someone who would be glad to get a few months use out of that outdated computer, or even your "beater" of a car.
(See my next How To Celebrate Earth Day Every Day article to read about freeecycle, for a nearly effortless way to spread the "reuse" love.)
Recycling is probably the most mentioned, but least effective of the three Rs. Of the four items mentioned above, only the yogurt container can be recycled. And at, that, only at some recycling centers. The shirt and plastic bag are landfill. Over time, the shirt will rot away. The plastic bag will not.
Of all the items I mentioned, the computer is most problematic. There's a new term that's been created in recent years; e-waste, or electronic-waste. Your phones, TVs, and computers all fall into this category. Ne recycling here!
But even with items that are recyclable, the value of the recyclable item as a measure for decreasing waste is variable. It's complex, and I don't even begin understand the level of math that goes into figuring it out, but it takes energy to recycle. In some cases more (soda can back into soda cans), in some cases less (post-consumer waste like office paper into toilet paper).
But, more or less, recycling uses resources. Don't get me wrong - I'm not telling you to give-up on recycling. I'm just saying that the other two options, reducing and reusing, are the ones that are going to be softer on your pocket, and gentler on the earth at the same time.
And that's something you, and your family, can feel good about. Twice!
My next article on How to Celebrate Earth Day Every Day: The Fourth "R" - Repurposing! Freecycle, Exchanges, and More - The Art and Science of the Give and Take