Sustainable Consumption

Trust us when we say this: we have many moments where we wish we were blissfully naive and completely unaware of how human kind is wrecking havoc in nature by behaving the way we are. Sometimes, we long for the days before we realized we can’t just go about business as usual – simply because everything felt less complicated. Less guilt-ridden. You could buy whatever you wanted without thinking one bit about the consequences. You could board a plane with excitement only as your companion. You could, to put it simply, live as if there really was was no tomorrow to consider. And here we are now, with a tomorrow that looks quite dire and in much need of a helping hand. 

In order to explain to ourselves why we feel this way (because of course we want to do the right thing – it just feels difficult sometimes), we think about it like this: it’s as if we’d been told all our lives we could live off of chocolate and chocolate only and suffer no consequences whatsoever, and then one day we were told that’s not quite the case. At all. Giving up that chocolate diet would be hard. For some, harder than others. All of a sudden, you would need to buy an assortment of food products, make sure all the nutritional needs are being met and cook for hours every week. And the chocolate you’ve now grown to love and even developed a slight addiction to? That you’re only allowed to eat small pieces of, and far from every day. People wouldn’t throw the chocolate out the window on day one. But eventually, the message would get across as declining health and whatnot would start to appear. The same thing applies when it comes to the life style changes and behavioral shifts we’re now understanding are necessary to secure a stable future on planet Earth. The unlimited air travel to near and far, the indulging in meat products, the mindless consumption of fashion, technology, new kitchens and bathrooms – it’s all catching up with us. We’re at a point of realization – hey, we can’t do this anymore. What they said was ok – to buy and buy and then buy some more – is in fact not ok at all. And here we are, an entire privileged Western world, caught with our pants down. What do you mean, we can’t do this anymore? But what about my life, my hobbies, my food preferences, my fashion interest? A life of less consumption sounds about as intriguing to many as a life without chocolate for someone who has lived off of it their entire life. But there’s light in the tunnel, trust us. That life can indeed be challenging at first, but with more money left in your wallet, more time to do what you want at your hands and – most importantly – the preservation of nature’s finite resources, we assure you a happier life is awaiting. (You might just have to go through withdrawal first.)

And here we are, an entire privileged Western world, caught with our pants down.

Lesson one is to learn the difference between needing and wanting. We got on top of this – and started using it as a “to shop or not to shop”-method – in August 2016, as we designed our whole savings plan for the move to Sweden. It sounds like a case of easier said than done, but just asking ourselves “do we really need this?” every single time we were about to pull out our credit cards made all the difference. The first realization was oh goodness, we buy a lot of crap. The snack on the go, the new H&M dress just because it was cheap, the expensive hygiene products that made absolutely no difference in the world. The new t-shirts, new jeans and new dress shirts because they looked nice and brought a few moments of excitement. The new cell phone every two years because an upgrade was due. The list is endless. And while there’s no point in feeling embarrassed now, it goes without saying that admitting to a lot of fast fashion shopping, never ever glancing at second hand and throwing things out without even thinking twice makes us both uncomfortable. But – the important thing is that we changed. By simply questioning whether or not the item calling our names in front of us was legit necessary or not, we got off the consumption train. And off we have stayed.

Nowadays, it’s even hard to imagine living a different way than we do. Shopping is no longer a hobby or something we do to cure boredom or stress, and we can think of so many other things we’d rather spend our money on than random stuff. But even more important – and what this piece is really more about – is the sustainability aspect of consumption. The more you read, learn and understand about our planet and its current state, the more hopeless you could feel. But what we remind ourselves of (very often) is that we’re not facing a massive problem and still trying to find the solution. We have all the solutions we need. We know exactly what has to be done. And even though it can be endlessly frustrating that changing systems takes forever and that the people in power aren’t acting fast enough, I still find that thought helpful.

The first realization was oh goodness, we buy a lot of crap

When it comes to “sustainable consumption”, we’re seeing a clear trend shift taking place around us, with companies launching “sustainably sourced” products, using organic and recycled materials, offsetting emissions and labeling themselves an eco-friendly choice. But can we consume anything today without tapping into resources this planet no longer has? Is there even such a thing as sustainable consumption, or is it all really just a matter of bad or worse? Can we really buy eco-labeled clothes as much as much as we want? A clear-cut answer is impossible to come by, as there are so many different forms of consumption, but it seems rather safe to say that overall, we need to consume less. All items, no matter the category they belong to, have in one way or another been generated by this planet, and with Earth Overshoot Day taking place in July (globally) and in April (Sweden) this year, it’s quite obvious we’re using more ecological resources than our planet can regenerate in the same time.

Going completely consumption-free isn’t quite possible for the majority of us, however. Unless you run a completely self-sustaining farm – able to even provide you with clothes material – we all rely on external sources to provide us with what we need. The key here is (naturally): what do we really need? Way too many people in the Western world own far more stuff than they actually need. We have completely lost touch with what reasonable needs are, and think it’s 100% appropriate to say you need to have a swimming pool, to go someplace warm in the winter, to buy a new purse, to replace your fully functioning electronics, to get a new coat every year. We used to use the very same rhetoric, trust us. But as a result of this intricate patchwork of wanting more free time, wanting to save money and wanting to reduce our climate footprint, we’ve found ourselves liberatingly detached from material needs. When we were out taking pictures a week or so ago, Mike casually said to me (when discussing what to wear) “I wish you had another winter hat to change things up”. You all probably know which one I was wearing – that grey woolly hat you’ve all seen me wear a bunch of times (including the top-most picture of this post). For a moment, I wished I had another one too. But then I said “you know, I actually think we make our point come across rather clearly here. I have all the hats I need, and by wearing the same time upon time, we’re setting an example. No one needs a new hat for every day of the week”. Do you agree?

We have completely lost touch with what reasonable needs are, and think it’s 100% appropriate to say you need to have a swimming pool, to go someplace warm in the winter, to buy a new purse, to replace your fully functioning electronics, to get a new coat every year.

But back to the things we actually do need to consume. It’s not socially very acceptable (nor warm enough for most of the year up here in the north) to walk around naked. Thus, we need clothes – but only to some extent. Do we really need several wardrobes full? And do we need to buy everything new and go shopping multiple times a week? The answers would be no, no and no. There are far better people to educate you on the topic of second hand clothing (the first and foremost expert will be someone we look up to a lot: Johanna Nilsson, @johannanilsson.se on Instagram and at www.johannanilsson.se), so we’ll just say this: for “normal” clothes, most of what we actually need (especially “fashionable” clothes) is often perfectly available second hand (and at a fraction of the price). We’ll be completely honest here – it took us a LONG time to get over the idea of buying clothes second hand, and we haven’t done it many times. On the other hand, we haven’t really bought any new clothes in a long time either, so when a need eventually arises, we’ll look for second hand options for sure.

We also need to eat food. We won’t reinvent the wheel by telling you how to approach food consumption – we all know plant-based and home cooked are keys to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and food waste. Buying lentils, beans, locally sourced and organically grown fruit and vegetables etc. can be done without guilt. Some other items not so much, and if the idea of complete absence turns you off – place e.g. meat, dairy, rice and avocados on a “special occasion”-list and make sure you savor every bite when that occasion takes place.

When it comes to consumption of other things than food, we really only buy sports or garden related items. For people training as much as we do, we would most certainly stand out for having very few shoes, shorts, pants etc. at our house. We currently have 2-3 pairs of running shoes each, and we won’t replace these until they literally fall apart. The “you need to replace your shoes after 400 miles”-philosophy we don’t quite believe in. For shoes though, we typically buy these new. There’s a very limited market for second hand trail running shoes, and a shoe that has been worn for a bit is typically a little hard to “re-shape” to fit your own foot. This then becomes a typical case of when you need to make an educated decision as far as the brand you choose to support. Besides shoes, every so often we’ll need a new pair of let’s say shorts or pants. This, however, happens less than every year. Buying good quality products to begin with, caring for these properly and mending them if they break (hey, I fall all the time and need to patch the knees often!) make it possible. Again though, the second hand market for sports/outdoor gear is limited and the few occasions we (actually) need something new, we carefully choose the source. Patagonia and Icebug are brands we come back to – we’re impressed by their sustainability work overall and the way in which they try to change industry standards (no affiliations).

I believe there will be a long-term benefit for the planet if everyone established a strong connection with nature.

One more thing on this subject though. Mike and I often come back to how important we think it is – from a personal health as well as ecological sustainability perspective – to be connected with nature. To spend time among trees, flowers, roots and rocks. To breathe in fresh ocean air, brave the cold and enjoy the snow. To see wild animals, forage for food, feel the sun on your skin. You don’t need high-tech gear to spend time in nature, definitely not. But we won’t argue the fact that a waterproof shoe with good grip or a durable jacket will make time outside more enjoyable once the cold and darkness close in on us. There isn’t – and I doubt there ever will be – a study or a scientific source that I can list to back this claim up, but I believe there will be a long-term benefit for the planet if everyone established a strong connection with nature even if that would involve everyone buying themselves a pair or two of new good shoes, pants and a jacket. Some might think I’ve gone nuts for saying it, but I sincerely believe – from the bottom of my heart – that getting people outside and getting them to value all that nature has to offer will make a massive difference in how the masses approach climate change and the need to protect this planet. I really, really do. I’m obviously not defending excessive consumption or recommending buying new over used, but I’ll choose other ones to preach to than those buying themselves a pair of new hiking boots or a new rain jacket so they can go hiking all year round.

As a way of wrapping up, we thought it could be fun to share with you all the items (new and used indicated where relevant) that we have purchased in the year of 2019. We have excluded food, household consumables and basic hygiene products (which together cost us about SEK 3000 per month). Just remember: these aren’t all of our costs – but all of our product purchases. Where money has been exchanged for a material thing. Alright? Let’s go! (Whenever a brand is mentioned, it’s not a case of an affiliation or collaboration)

  • Two hybrid bikes: TREK Dual Sport 2 (new, purchased as – hopefully – a lifelong investment and for money we got from selling our fossil fuel powered boat)
  • One stationary spinning bike: Nordic 205 Indoor Spinning Bike (used, purchased from Blocket – Sweden’s Craigslist – due to my foot injury and the need for alternative training)
  • Two pairs of running shoes, (1) per person (new, from Merrell and IceBug)
  • One pair of running shorts and two running t-shirts for me (new, from Salomon – first purchase in this category since 2016!)
  • Two cookbooks (the first cookbook from @portionenundertian/https://undertian.com and Moonvalley Diaries by Emelie Forsberg, Mimmi Kotka and Ida Nilsson)
  • Fence poles + net for our new garden
  • Organic vegetable seeds from Runåbergs Fröer
  • A few bags of Bokashi bran (svenska: Bokashiströ)
  • Various gifts for family throughout the year: a birdhouse, play doh, puzzles, coloring books, workout socks, skincare products, books and two t-shirts
  • XC ski boots (new, in a state of panic: I had ignored the fact that my old ones were way too small for way too long and I just couldn’t handle it anymore, halfway through a ski trip in January. I LOVE my new ones though, and I’m about to sell the old ones)
  • One tub of flax seed oil for wood treating
  • Two trailer loads of dirt for our new garden boxes in May
  • Some potted flowers for the deck
  • Two black currant bushes
  • One Thule bike rack
  • One bike pump
  • Face wash + face lotion
  • Sports beverage in powder form
  • Christmas cards + envelopes
  • Four chapsticks

*We have not yet bought any 2019 Christmas gifts, which also seems appropriate to mention 🙂

(Sitting down with your expenses and seeing them black on white is the number one short cut to improved personal finances, just as a side note).

Where does this leave you? First: our consumption behavior has become equal to a boredom cure, distraction, stress-relief and bad habit. It is not a result of our actual needs skyrocketing. The solution might sound simpler than it is, but shouldn’t there be better things to do than shopping? There are so many other ways of entertaining ourselves and helping us de-stress that don’t empty out natural resources (or our wallets) – so why don’t we go down that road instead? Applying the “do I really need this?”-method is very helpful to get started and put an end to a habitual pattern. It will require that you can be completely honest with yourself, but hey – that’s something useful to learn too! 

Applying the “do I really need this?”-method is very helpful to get started and put an end to a habitual pattern. 

In most cases, you’ll realize you don’t need whatever you’re looking at at all. But in the cases you do, check out the second hand market before you purchase something new. And if the latter is your only option, then please – do your research. There are brands out there doing a legit good job when it comes to both corporate transparency, attempting to change industry standards and producing products actually less harmful in the end, but there are also those greenwashing their businesses beyond recognition. Worth remembering, however, is the lack of industry regulations/certifications/supervision – because this is all so new, companies can make up their own systems and label themselves almost whatever they want, and the consumer will have little or no clue as to what claims are actually real and honest. Research – whether on your own or through a reputable source – will become your best friend here.

The bottom line is this: a life of minimal consumption doesn’t feel boring, empty or poor. Instead, it feels liberating, guilt-free and easy. And of course: lower expenses mean you can work less. When you work less, you’re being awarded with the one thing most people in the Western world feel like they have too little of: time. It makes it easy for us to live the way we do when we can look back at a 2019 and realize that we’ve worked less than 50% the whole year and still been able to make ends meet without any problems. It wouldn’t even cross our minds to say we live a restricted life, nowadays – even if that’s how it felt in the beginning, as we set out to change the way we lived. Changing patterns is difficult, but the reward in this regard is well worth the effort. Save the world and improve your life quality, all in one.

Photo Credit: Michael Miracolo (Featured Image), Lauren Fleischmann (Clothes) & Sebastian Unrau (Forest) on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Sustainable Consumption

  1. Wish people could get away from “retail therapy” and agree that spending time and learning to appreciate nature could help with that.

    1. We do too! It’s ingrained in our culture, yet so unnatural in so many ways. Shopping is second-nature to the Western world, while actual nature is a great unknown. But we’re many feeling the same way, and that give me/us so much hope! Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment, Maria – all the best to you and yours!

      /Sophia

  2. Välskrivet som vanligt om ett ämne som oftast möts med rynkade näsor precis som när man säger att man äter växtbaserat, folk tror att man dömmer dom bara för att man själv valt att gå en annan väg än majoriteten. Houdini är efter vad jag förstått lite av Sveriges svar på Patagonia, två märken som jag när det är nödvändigt återvänder till.
    Vänliga hälsningar David

    1. Tack snälla David – både för att du tar dig tid att läsa och för att du skriver så fina och genomtänkta ord tillbaka! Det gör mig jätteglad varje gång det blir uppenbart att vi är inne på samma bana. Precis som du beskriver så möts ett “medvetet” tänk ofta med (aggressivt) försvar, och det känns ofta som att folk omkring utgår från att man dömer allt och alla – och ser sig själv som perfekt. Det är tråkigt, och gör ofta att jag/vi håller tyst i sociala sammanhang, även fast det stormar i huvudet. Houdini verkar ha slagit in på en mycket bra bana – vi har ännu inte testat några produkter (just för att vi har allt vi behöver och säkert lite till), men när det blir nödvändigt (lånar ditt ord) är det ett märke/företag att titta närmare på, helt klart. Det är så inspirerande att se hur det finns företag som har modet att gå i bräschen.

      Ha en fin fortsatt vecka!

      /Sophia

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