As my socialist-leaning papa so often tells me, "the mall is where the revolution goes to die."

I think that's pretty damn accurate. In our culture, the accumulation of stuff is often privileged over the cultivation of meaningful experiences. It's not that deriving happiness from what we wear or the things we treasure is in and of itself bad: fashion can be a source of real joy and creative expression (rare bird of paradise, Iris Apfel, and the vibrant designer Duro Olowu embody this notion with particular chutzpah). And most of us possess some object(s) in our lives that bring us real joy: a lavishly potted plant, a beloved family heirloom, a beautifully-bound book of poetry plucked from the $1.00 bin at a flea market.

What is environmentally unsound is when we buy from a place of scarcity, of anxiety, of boredom. When we seek replacements rather than repairing. When we shill out for a nice shirtdress even though what we are really craving is a sweet summer day spent in the sun. Consumption can be a numbing, soulless experience (see: malls). And it can be exceptionally carbon consumptive: the fashion industry alone consumes 33 TRILLION gallons of oil. And man oh man, I do NOT want our society's penchant for the sort of fast fashion that dissolves within a month to be the downfall of civilization.

So when you do choose to consume, consume wisely and from a place of genuine appreciation. Scour for secondhand and embrace sustainably-made products. Buy less and buy better and with a keen commitment to ensuring that whatever business you are giving money to has equitable labor conditions and eco-friendly practices (this greenwashing guide and B Corps index will help you figure out what's what). A litany of disposable goods won't mean a fraction as much as the hand knit sweater you buy for a friend because she just moved from L.A. to N.Y. Because consumption isn't a cure-all. Although it can be a way for us to connect so someone we care about, to celebrate craftsmanship, it also holds the potential to be a distraction from the pursuit of far more meaningful (and much less tangible) moments.

And always ask yourself these three questions before you buy: (1) do I really need this? (2) is it a love not a like? and (3) am I consuming from a place of joy? Because sometimes, when you're dreaming of wearing that new swimsuit while on the beach with friends, what you're truly hungering for is a tweak to your daily routine. Put that money instead toward a bus pass to the coast, because it is summer still and nothing feels quite like wading into the ocean with someone you love right at your side.

Remember that no beloved thing will ever trump a dynamic experience. Consumption is not everything. Capitalism isn't the only way. We have within us the opportunity to rewire how we consume, and why, and to what end. Living with less is immensely freeing--and it opens us up to the kind of luscious opportunities to connect and explore and collaborate that you won't ever find in a very shiny and very sad mall.


Kate Weiner1 Comment