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Blog Action Day: You the Consumer

Blog Action Day: You the Consumer
You the Consumer

    Today is Blog Action Day, and over 14,000 blogs have agreed to write about the environment. Since I expect there to be hundreds of “how to” articles about making your own household cleaners and cutting your gas consumption, I decided to try something else, to try to address the framework in which we as individuals relate to our environment.

    Most of the environmental destruction we face in the world today has its roots in the choices that we make every day as consumers — whether global warming, the disappearance of rainforests and wetlands, groundwater contamination, or just the blight of discarded plastic bags and soda cans littering the side of the road. While it’s likely that the long-term solution to these and other environmental problems will require legislation, it’s important to keep in mind that legislation wouldn’t be as necessary if we as consumers didn’t buy, use, and throw out so much stuff.

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    As Pogo noted so many years ago, “we have met the enemy and he is us”. With these problems looming so large, it can be hard to lose track of our own involvement — especially since information about manufacturing processes, corporate track records, and legislative action being either hard to find or, once found, hard to make sense of. Instead, we’ve seen a host of companies that have risen up to offer us “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” shopping options, which is fine but not really a solution. The answer is not so much to buy different stuff but to buy less stuff — and more than that, to think about why we buy the stuff we buy in the first place.

    A Short History of Consumption

    With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the relationship between people and the goods that they made was broken. No longer did peasants plant, tend, and harvest their crops; now agricultural workers labored over someone else’s crops in exchange for wages. No longer did artisans design, plan, craft, and sell; now factory workers repeatedly carried out a single step in the production of a product, again in exchange for wages.

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    In short, people were no longer producers. Ownership was vested in those with the money to back production — and those people didn’t do the actual work. Our identities were no longer tied up with the work we did, but with the buying power our work left us with. At the end of the day, workers were left not with the means to live but with a handful of wages to spend on the means to live.

    So people found their identities not in their work but in the things they could buy by working. People with better jobs could afford to buy better-quality (or even just sufficient) food, clothing, household goods, transportation, and so on. The idea of choice — in fashion, in lifestyle, in entertainments, even in sexual partners and habits — arose, as people began to build their identities not through their productive lives but through their lives as consumers, through their interactions with the market. People became consumers, not just in the way they got what they needed but in who they felt themselves to be.

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    Living Consumption

    The rise of consumption as our primary interaction with the rest of our society has had profound effects. For example, social status is obtained and marked by the things we buy and use. A car, for instance, is not just a way to get from one place to another but has to “say something” about who we are — and even the lack of a car says volumes. Unlike the artisan who could express his or her identity through the things s/he created, we have learned to do so through the things we buy: the t-shirt with the logo of our band or team, the bamboo towels that show our environmental commitments, the alternative album that shows off our indie cred, the designer shoes that place us as part of the trend-setting elite, the minivan that shows us to be part of the dependable, hard-working, family-oriented suburban middle class, and so on.

    The problem with finding ourselves through consumption, though, is that consumption literally means using things up; the interaction with the market that defines us is momentary and fleeting, leaving us with things that will eventually be eaten, wear out, or go out of style. This means that we need to constantly acquire new goods to maintain our identities as consumers — goods which we consume and must again replenish. On top of that, advertisers understand and take advantage of this necessity by producing new needs (ten years ago, who knew or felt we needed a thousand songs in our pocket?) that demand to be met.

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    So What to Do?

    For most of us, simply dropping out, growing our own food and living off our own labor, is not an option and is hardly desirable even if it were an option. The answer to the dreadful over-consumption that fills our landfills with completely unnecessary crap, pollutes our water sources, kills off species after species (something like 40 a day!), and leaves us in a world of ever-diminishing beauty and diversity can’t be to drop out of consumption entirely, because it’s simply not an option.

    But we can change the way we consume, and more importantly lessen the demands we place on consumption to complete us as individuals. This means developing a higher sense of self-reflexivity about what we do buy, and replacing our identities as consumers with identities as part of our families and communities — and maybe even as producers, once again.

    Here are a few ideas:

    • Ask Yourself: What do you really need? We grow accustomed to feeling our desires as “needs”, but rarely examine those needs. Do we need fast food every day, for example? A lot of people cite time concerns, but how much time are you really saving — and what else are you losing? Forget health concerns (though they’re important), what about the pleasures of family time and knowing your family is eating food you made them yourself, or just the joy of eating good food? Or, do we really need to own the latest best-seller; perhaps it can be enjoyed just as thoroughly if you checked it out of the library?
    • Make something. Start a garden, and eat food you produced yourself. Or take up a craft — paint, or make jewelry, or knit, or make your own paper. Write. Find a way to express yourself through creating and not through consuming. (Of course, you’ll probably have to buy the materials for your new hobby — like I said, there’s no way off this ride, you just have to find ways to work within the system we’re given.)
    • Join something, or if there’s nothing around worth joining, start something. Find ways to connect with other people who share your interests. Civic participation in the US and other Western countries has dropped sharply over the last few decades, leaving us with even more need to “complete” ourselves through consumption. Spend a few hours engaging with your community instead of shopping for new ways to be yourself.
    • Pick a cause and make it your own. This follows from the last point — find ways of being part of your community that aren’t simply participating in the economy. If you can afford it, spend your money helping others instead of filling non-existent needs of your own, but even better, give your time, knowledge, and skills to those whose needs are real.
    • Shop wisely. If you’re going to be forced to construct at least part of your identity through your role as a consumer, make sure that you are consuming thoughtfully. Ask how your values jibe with the product you’re buying. Choose sustainable products where available. I have a pair of scissors my grandmother bought in the 1930s — long-lasting, durable, high-quality products that are well-maintained can keep dozens of cheap ones from ever being produced — and that saves all the energy and raw materials that would go into their making as well as space in the landfills.

    The Temple of Apollo at Delphi is reported to have had two sayings engraved at its entrance. The better-known is “Know thyself”; the other was “Nothing to excess”. Though I hardly think the temple’s builders had us and our current environmental dilemmas in mind, the advice is good for our current consumption-driven society. Know yourself — your needs, your wants, who you are and want to be –and match your consumption to those needs.

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    Last Updated on June 20, 2019

    50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    Most people want a few more dollars in their wallets. But between an employer and family, the time most of us can devote to a second job is severely limited. Running a small side business can provide a few more options: you don’t have to show up at a set time and you can use skills you already have. Not all will be perfect for everyone, of course, and I’m sure that you’ll have a few ideas of your own after reading this list. If you’d like to share any other business ideas, please add them in the comments.

    1. Selling collectibles — From antique books to teddy bears, there are plenty of opportunities to buy and sell collectibles. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the collectible of your choice but if you choose something that you’ve been collecting for a while, you’ve got a head start.
    2. Locating apartments — It can take time to sort through apartment listings, but you can make some money by finding the perfect apartment for a renter.
    3. Baby proofing — New parents often prefer to bring in an expert to make sure their home is safe for a new baby.
    4. Calligraphic writing — If you’ve got elegant handwriting, you can pick up gigs writing or addressing wedding invitations, holiday cards and more.
    5. Selling coupons — Search on eBay for coupons right now and you’ll see thousands of listings for coupons. It’s just a matter of clipping and listing what you find in your Sunday newspaper.
    6. Pet training — A surprising number of people don’t know where to start in training a pet. Even teaching Rover simple commands like ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ can bring in a few dollars.
    7. Running errands — A wide variety of people want to outsource their errands, from those folks who aren’t able to leave their homes easily to those who have a busy schedule.
    8. Researching family trees — Amateur genealogists often call in experts, especially to handle research that has to be done in person in a far off place. If you’re willing to go to a local church and copy a few records, you can handle many family tree research requests.
    9. Supplying firewood — The prerequisite for selling firewood is having a source of wood; if you’ve got some land where you can cut down a few trees, you’ve got a head start.
    10. Hauling — As more people trade in their SUVs for compact cars, hauling is becoming more important: people have to rent a truck or hire a hauler for even small loads.
    11. Image consulting — Image consultants provide a wide variety of services, ranging from offering advice on appearance to teaching etiquette.
    12. Menu planning — For many people, the trip up in eating home-cooked or healthy meals is knowing what to prepare. Meal planners set a schedule to solve certain dietary problems.
    13. Microfarming — Cultivating food and flowers on small plots of land allows you to sell produce easily.
    14. Offering notary public services — Notary publics can witness and authenticate documents: a service needed for all sorts of official documents.
    15. Teaching music — If you’re skilled with a musical instrument, you can earn money by offering lessons.
    16. Mystery shopping — Mystery shoppers check the conditions and service at a store and report back to the store’s higher-ups.
    17. Offering research services — Just by reading up on a topic and compiling a report on it can earn you money.
    18. Personal shopping — Personal shoppers typically select gifts, apparel and other products for clients, helping them save time.
    19. Pet breeding — Purebred pets can be quite value, especially if you can verify their pedigree.
    20. Removing snow — During the winter months, shoveling walks can still be a reliable way to earn money. You might be asked to take care of the driveway too.
    21. Utility auditing — As people become environmentally-concious, they want to know just how efficient their homes are. With some simple testing, you can tell them.
    22. Offering web hosting services — Providing server space can be lucrative, particularly if you can provide tech support to your clients.
    23. Cutting lawns — An old standby, cutting lawns and other landscaping services can provide a second income in the summer.
    24. Auctioning items on eBay — Want to get rid of all your old stuff? Stick it up on eBay and auction it off.
    25. Babysitting — Child care of all kinds, from babysitting to nannying, can offer constant opportunities.
    26. Freelance writing — If you’ve got the skills to write clearly, you can sell your pen for everything from blogs to advertising copy.
    27. Selling blog and website themes — Do a little designing on the side? Customers that don’t want to pay full price for a website will often pay for a template or theme.
    28. Offering computer help — Particularly with people new to computers, you can earn money by providing in-home computer help.
    29. Designing websites — It may require a little skilled effort, but designing websites remains a reliable source of income.
    30. Selling stock photography — For shutterbugs, an easy way to put a photography collection to work is to post it to a stock photography site.
    31. Freelance designing — Check with local businesses: you can provide brochures, business cards and other design work and get paid a good fee.
    32. Tutoring — Math and languages reamin the easiest subjects to find tutoring gigs for, but there is demand for other fields as well.
    33. Housesitting / petsitting — Stopping in to check on a house or pet can earn you some money, and maybe even a place to stay.
    34. Building niche websites — If you can put together a site on a very specific topic, you can put targeted ads on it and make money quickly.
    35. Translating — The variety of translating work available is huge: written word, on the spot and more is easy to find even on a part-time basis.
    36. Creating custom crafts — No matter what kind of crafts you make, there’s likely a market for it. Etsy remains one of the easiest places to sell crafts.
    37. Setting up a wi-fi hotspot — With a little bit of equipment, you can set up a wi-fi hotspot and charge your neighbors for the access they’ve been ‘borrowing.’
    38. Selling an e-book — You can write an e-book about almost anything and put it up for sale online.
    39. Affiliate marketing — If you’re willing to market other companies’ products, you can earn a cut of the sales.
    40. Renting out your spare room — From looking for a long-term roommate to listing your guest room on couch surfing sites, that spare room can make you money.
    41. Offering handy man services — Handling small household tasks can provide you with plenty of work, although you’ll probably be expected to have your own tools.
    42. Teaching an online class — Share your expertise through a website, an online seminar or variety of other methods.
    43. Building furniture — For those with the skill to create handmade furniture, selling their creations is often just a matter of advertising.
    44. Providing personal chef services — Personal chefs prepare meals ahead of time for customers, leaving their customers with a full freezer and no mess.
    45. Event planning — From planning corporate events to bar mitzvahs, an event planning business can require plenty of work and offer plenty of pay.
    46. Installing home safety products — Particularly as Baby Boomers age, people able to install handrails and other home safety products are in demand.
    47. Altering / tailoring — If your sewing skills are up to par, altering garments is coming back as people try to stretch more wear out of their clothing.
    48. Offering in-home beauty services — Hair cuts, makeup and other beauty services that can be performed at home have a growing demand.
    49. Business coaching — Helping others to establish and develop their businesses can provide many opportunities to earn money.
    50. Writing resumes — Writing resumes can provide a reliable income, especially if you can put a polish on a client’s credentials.

    There are plenty of offers that claim to provide you with the opportunity to make thousands of dollars a week. Unfortunately, none of these businesses will provide that sort of income, but they aren’t scams either. They were chosen because they all require a minimum investment to get started — some require nothing more than a flyer advertising your business. Even better, if you do enjoy any of these businesses, there is a potential with most of them to continue to expand — perhaps even to the point of going full time.

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    Featured photo credit: Omar Prestwich via unsplash.com

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