|New Years Resolution
Fill 2001 with More Fun, Less Stuff
by Martha L. Blume
If you are like most Americans, you'll spend the first days of January feeling overspent and overtired. You'll have lots of new gizmos for the kitchen and home - things that you don't need and don't have room to store, given as holiday gifts by friends and relatives who received more of the same from you. Next year, you'll do it all the same way again. Our consumer-driven society will tell you that you don't have a choice.
You do have a choice. From the gifts you give and receive at the holidays to larger lifestyle issues, your needs affect your quality of life and the quality of our environment. For example, does the size of your house really reflect your family's needs? Could you downsize and get rid of some stuff that gets in the way of family relationships - like the TV in the bedroom or the computer in the kids' room or the toys that flash and beep but do nothing to foster your children's imagination? Do you really need more than one car, or could some family members take public transportation or car pool? If there are two adults in the family, do they both need to work? Can one parent work from home?
These ideas go firmly against the American ideal that more is better. To be happy, we buy bigger houses, fill them with more stuff, then work longer hours to pay for the stuff that we don't have time to enjoy - meanwhile bemoaning the fact that what we really want is more time to be with friends and family and more leisure time for ourselves. What's more, our over-consumption puts a huge burden on our planet, as we deplete our earth's resources and generate more garbage than our earth can sustain.
The Center for the New American Dream, a non-profit organization based in Takoma Park, would like you to know that you can actually have "more fun with less stuff." If you are feeling a desire to simplify, you are not alone. What you do on a daily basis, they say, really does matter.
The Center began as the result of a national conference of scientists, academics and environmentalists who felt that there was no one voice to link quality-of-life issues with issues of environmental justice and over-consumption. Primarily an educational institution, they have accumulated a vast collection of facts to back up their principles. For example, did you know that your average mouthful of food has traveled 1,300 miles before landing on your plate, or that personal storage rentals were one of the fastest growing industries of the '90s?
As well as information, the Center offers solutions. Their website - www.newdream.org - offers a wealth of suggestions on simplifying the holidays, personal finance advice, cutting back on your workload, buying organic, dealing with kids and commercialism and making your home more energy efficient. Their free on-line action network, Step by Step, suggests one great idea every month to put to work in your home. Last month's tip was alternative gift giving. You might also learn how to compost or to avoid junk mail.
If you prefer to think on a global scale, check out the links to environmental justice projects like the Urban Habitat Program.
As consumers, we have choices. We can make our life styles suit our values. The next time you consider a purchase, ask yourself Do I really need that? Will buying it make me feel better? For how long? Is the money I'm spending worth the hours I put into earning it? Can I use an alternative product that would be more environmentally friendly?
Sit down and read a book you borrowed from the library. Take your family for a walk instead of to the mall. Find some old clothes and act out a play with your kids. They'll thank you, and so will Earth. When you have more fun and less stuff, you reap the rewards of spending your time your way - and being earth friendly as a bonus.
Whatever you choose to do, get started now. After all, there are only 350-some attitude-adjustment days until next Christmas. A new resource due out in January 2001, the More Fun, Less Stuff Starter Kit, can help.
Martha Blume, trained in biology and environmental education, has spent the last six years as a full-time mother of two daughters, writer and advocate. The wife of a Coast Guardsman, she and her family currently live in Arnold.