Tag Archives: consumerism

Sustainable, revolutionary gifting

Midwinter, season of over-commercialisation looms. Here are some tips for making your gifts more sustainable.

  • Ask people what they want. Surprises may seem attractive, but unwanted gifts can end up in landfill.
  • Listen to what people tell you they want, especially if you think it’s boring. For the person who can’t afford new socks, new socks are brilliant.
  • Start conversations about budgets. Don’t risk anyone feeling pressured to spend on gifts when they can’t afford to.
  • For the person who has everything – give them gifts that will make their gardens more wildlife friendly. Plant a tree in their name. Donate to a charity on their behalf.
  • Ask people not to use wrapping paper. Tell people that more than anything else, you’d like a waste-free Christmas. Start early on this.
  • Give re-usable things. This is especially powerful for people who have no choice normally but to by the cheaper, throwaway options. You’ll save them money and help the planet.
  • Give less. A few really well chosen gifts that will be loved and valued are far better than a sack full of plastic tat.
  • If there are children in your life, talk to them about consumption and waste ahead of Christmas. Many of them are very aware of the climate crisis and may feel happier doing the festive season in a more sustainable way.
  • Consider debunking Santa. The story of the big sack of toys is part of the commercialmass agenda. It’s not ‘the magic of Christmas’ it’s a tool to emotionally blackmail parents into buying excessive gifts. Consider talking about this with your family if that’s relevant to you.

Where do dreams come from?

Whether we’re talking about what happens when we sleep, or what happens when we daydream, dreams are significantly informed by our every day experiences. What we’re exposed to gets in. This means what is around us in our immediate environment. People we spend time with. Stuff we do. Things we watch. Books we read. It all goes in. From it we weave the often irrational seeming dreams we have at night, and we also create our ideals, hopes, aspirations and desires.

It’s worth pausing now and then to see what is coming in and where it comes from. What are you feeding your mind with? How much of that is advertising designed to sell products? How much of it normalises western consumer culture? How many of your daydreams come from what your society encourages you to want – fame, fortune, the fast car, the white carpet in the immaculate living room, the exotic holiday…?

Are you dreaming, and daydreaming as a Pagan? If you look at the imagery of your dreams, you’ll find the answer soon enough. If you can see your Paganism in your night time dreaming, it’s a good indicator that you are living it while awake. That doesn’t have to mean deities and mythic content – in my case it means that my dreams are full of landscape. Often when we analyse dreams, the temptation is to try and find meanings in specific symbols. However, it can be well worth looking at dreams over time, to pick up trends. The overall shape of your dreaming over a period of weeks or months can tell you a lot about what’s influencing you. A dream diary can be a good way of exploring this.

We’re being sold commercial dreams designed to lock us into patterns of work, consumerism and frantic, carbon guzzling leisure pursuits. These advertising-induced dreams keep us working, struggling, getting into debt, running after things we can’t have, and destroying our home and habitat as we go along. Reclaiming our dreams is part of how we change this. Taking back control of our longing and desire, and taking back control of what feeds our unconscious dreaming gives us a lot more options.

Perhaps one of the key things here, is how we handle instant gratification. Often, instant gratification – in the buy now pay later mode – is offered as a bad thing. But, life is now. It’s not next year, or when you retire. The dreams we are encouraged to aspire to are so often set just out of reach. When we get the promotion, the pay rise, or some other distant thing happens, then we can have the stuff we really want. The simpler our desires are, the easier it is to gratify them. An afternoon pottering in the garden, a night out dancing, a meal with friends – these are things you can have quickly. These are the kinds of things a good life is made of. If we’re always working towards some big dream, we may never get round to being happy in the moment, satisfied with what we have, or able to enjoy life.

Your dreams – especially your night dreaming, are in some ways very natural. That doesn’t mean dreams are immune from human influence. Dreams are made of what we absorb. Dreams can tell us a lot about what we expose ourselves to and what effect that has on us. Question your dreams and make sure they really are yours, and not someone else’s marketing strategy.

More about dreaming in my book, Pagan Dreaming, available from most places that sell books…  https://www.bookdepository.com/Pagan-Dreaming/9781785350900

Unwanted gifts

You may at this point in the year have one or two gifts that are neither use nor ornament. Sending these to landfill is the quick and easy option that adds to the obscenity of waste we collectively create over the festive period.

Give it away. Take it to a charity shop. Find your local freecycle or freegle group. Sell it on ebay.

Then, if you’re feeling brave and radical, talk to the people who give you gifts that you don’t really want or need. Talk to them about consumerism, and waste, and the environment. Talk about how less can be more, and you’d rather they didn’t spend their money on things you don’t want and can’t use.

This of course means risking offending people. They meant well, and you probably don’t want to hurt their feelings. Except that this kind of well meaning behaviour supports our consumerist, capitalist society. If we’re all too worried about each other’s feelings to talk about how much pointless tat floats about each midwinter, we’ll keep pillaging the world for the raw materials, making that into the useless tat – using energy, buying said useless tat, wrapping it in paper, giving it to each other and finally throwing it away. Profits are made for some, and the costs to the environment are huge.

Do nothing, it’s lovely!

If you life is filled with noise and activity, then doing nothing can be one of the most beautiful gifts you can give yourself. To lie in bed for a few extra hours and just let your mind wander. To sit by a window and gaze out of it, and notice what goes by. To watch a fire, or enjoy candle light. Snuggle with a pet, a person, or interesting combinations thereof!

Many of us are under a lot of pressure to be doing. Be busy. Be productive. Make money. Spend money. If all you get to do is run round franticly, you’ll barely know who you are, how you feel and what you want. You can end up with an emptiness on the inside, and only more noise, activity and consumption to try and fill it with. Stillness and silence can be scary at first, if it means sitting down with yourself for a while. However, once you get past that fear, the gifts it brings are many, and large.

If we want to deal with the rampant consumerism that is killing the planet and that will destroy us if we don’t tackle it, we need to deal with the reasons we’re so fond of the consumerism in the first place. Stopping, being quiet, being alone with ourselves, being in an unstimulating place with others – is key to this. Talk to the people around you. Listen to them. Go to bed early. Turn off the noise, the lights, the distractions and listen to your heart for a while. Find out what you really need.

Buying your identity, and other silliness

Recently on Broadside Blog, Caitlin Kelly blogged her list of responses to questions asked in a posh magazine. The questions interest me because they start from an assumption of enthusiastic consumption, and I’m going to answer them in a way that was not intended. If this appeals to you, carry it on! It’s an easy way to challenge the belief that consumption is how we best express ourselves…

My personal style signifiers

(I am only guessing as to what this means!) Scruffiness, Frankensteined, upcycled clothing with a dash of handmade, bohemian rags, urban pixie.


The last thing I bought and loved

What did I last buy that wasn’t food? Nothing for a week or two. It might have been the Welcome to Night Vale book. I loved it.


And the thing I’m eyeing next

There’s some Ursula Le Guinn books and some Alan Garners I’ve not read. I might splash out and buy them some time this year.


The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe

A white petticoat skirt made out of a dead shirt. (Dead clothing Frankensteined into being live clothing!)


An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year

All of my travelling has been within the UK. Most of my travelling has been on foot. I tend to have long term relationships with places rather than one night stands so all of my places are memorable to me.


And the best souvenir I’ve brought home

The only souvenirs I bring home are memories and photographs. I got some really good footage of elfcaps on the local cycle path this year.


A recent “find”

I’ve found a number of old bird’s nests, visible while the leaves aren’t on the trees. I’m keeping an eye on them for signs of re-use.


The person I rely on for my personal grooming

….is me, and Tom when I have been too ill to look after myself.


An object I would never part with

Well, that depends on circumstances. I have a number of objects of which I am fond, many of which I also find useful. I might give them away to someone who needed them more than me. I don’t think I have anything that I couldn’t let go of, especially if I could no longer make good use of it.


The last meal that truly impressed me

Tom’s first forays into roasts have been wonderful.


The best gift I’ve given recently

My time and expertise.


If I had to limit my shopping to one neighborhood in one city, I’d choose…

I shop in Stroud (its a small town) unless I am somewhere else doing an event, and then I shop there for food. I don’t feel limited by this at all. It saves me a great deal of money and stress.


My favorite website

I don’t have a favourite.

Burying Thatcherism

Today we bury a dead former politician. I can see why, for those who were directly harmed by her activities, this would be something to celebrate. If, for example, you lost family members in her Falkland Islands war, you may feel she’s responsible for that and be glad to see the back of her. If you suffered, and you feel relief in her demise, fair enough. Beyond the personal response though, I don’t think we have much to celebrate. We may be burying Thatcher, but we are not burying Thatcherism.

She changed the political landscape across the world, apparently. She changed it so much that allegedly-Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair considered her an influence. Thatcher did not believe in community, only in the selfishness and greed of the private individual. Her policies reflected that, and in turn served to make it more true. That’s going to take a lot of unpicking. The vibe is still with us – mistrust and envy your neighbour, begrudge them what they have, consider what they cost you in taxes, see the needy as an unwanted burden and expense. It’s all about the money. Under Thatcher, we sold our humanity to the highest, private bidder, or the person who could do the work we wanted for least outlay. Thatcherism means an absence of compassion. It means looking at the bottom line, not at value, or quality, or long term impact. You can see all of these ideas underpinning our short term, money orientated, environment pillaging twenty first century.

Now take a step back and look at our ailing economy. We don’t invest in innovation anything like as much as we could. We have an economics of bland mediocrity where ‘quality’ means ‘identical’ and no one wants to gamble on anything original. Our fashions, fictions, movies, TV, is mostly rehashing what is old and safe. Retro is in. Retro is that which we have done before, mostly, the sellable, the known market. Our economies dwindle. Could it be that we don’t want to spend our money on recycled ideas and old creations in barely new skins? Could it be that the drive of the bean counter is away from the desires of the consumer, not towards? This is definitely the case in the arts industries, and I suspect is true more widely, as well.

Thatcher was one of the founders of our almost religious devotion to free market economics and our wholly irrational beliefs that markets can drive everything to best effect. The worship of those Gods, Supply and Demand are hers. The prayer ‘let there be greater customer choice’ comes from the same place. Yet, we privatised the trains, and we don’t have a better service than before, ticket prices are high, and the government is still paying a subsidy. We do not speak of these things because they are tantamount to heresy. Thatcher championed privatisation. Well, we took energy out of the public domain, and the net result is that energy companies make huge profits while consumers struggle to pay bills. Of course that in turn takes money out of the rest of the economy. What Thatcher’s legacy gives us is not a thriving flow of energy and resources, but a tendency to draw too much money to too few people. It just doesn’t work, but in politics, that’s an unspeakable truth. We don’t go there.

There were problems in Britain in the late seventies. Yes, our traditional industries were ailing and failing. Yes some of the publically held resources, like British Telecom, were not working well. Thatcher told us there was one solution, and only one solution – free market, private enterprise. The magic wand to solve all ills. It wasn’t.

That we tried a thing and it hasn’t worked would not be a problem, had we not taken the concept on as indisputable truth. We sing the praises of free trade, and consumerism, even as they fail to deliver. In the last week or so, politicians have still praised her saying that what she did was the only way. I’m sensitive to the language of religious fundamentalism, and it is here, in Thatcherism, The One True Way.
Politicians like to tell us there are no alternatives to the solutions they offer, but this is ALWAYS bullshit. There are invariably other ways of tackling things. We didn’t have to ditch industry in favour of the banking sector, as Thatcher did. We could have made a bid for being a knowledge based economy. We have some of the best universities in the world. There are a lot more real jobs, real progress to make, real value to generate in a knowledge based economy. Banking is a make believe world of pretend money in which nothing of any real value is made.

I hope we manage to bury Mrs Thatcher quietly and with some dignity, and some good solid, responsible protesting alongside it. We should not be spending this much money on her funeral in the current economic conditions. The day I celebrate, however, will be the noisy burial of Thatcherism, when we collectively wake up and realise that, as in religion, so in politics: There is no one true way, there are always alternatives, we do not have to follow her lead.

(I wrote mine before I saw this – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/16/bury-not-just-thatcher-but-thatcherism)

Signs of spring

A few weeks ago, lambs appeared in a field on our school run. They were small and unsteady on their feet that first day, so I assume they weren’t very old then. We cycled past them twice a day. I’ve never lived that close to sheep before, so seeing lambs has tended to be an occasional thing. This year I’ve watched them grow, seen how quickly they became confident. They went from uncertain footing to gambolling about, from close to their mothers to rampaging in a group, getting through fences and coming to look at us rather than shying away. The speed of their growth was amazing.

They arrived in the field during a warm and sunny spell. We saw the lambs when the weather changed, huddled against a downpour and no doubt feeling the cold. They gave us very different looks that day. I wondered what it must be like for them, used to sunlight in their short lives, suddenly finding the world is not so warm and friendly after all. We all go through that one sooner or later.

I also saw how quickly they denuded the field. They moved on a few days ago, leaving patches of bare earth and close cropped grass, which will recover in time and can be re-cropped. There are only so many animals any given bit of land can support. The more intensively we want to farm, the more we have to move away from what nature does, and create synthetic environments. There’s going to be a finite amount of room for ‘growth’ there, and only so much we can produce. What happens when demand outstrips supply, when we want more meat to eat than the land can bear? Imagining that science will magically come up with solutions seems naïve to me. A way of not looking at these issues ourselves.

Of course the lambs have no sense of the fate awaiting them. They will go for food. Much of that food will be wasted, in production, in transit, by the supermarkets and finally by the biggest culprit – the humans who finally buy them for the table. How many of those lambs are going to die just so that we can throw them away? Thinking about that as an abstract thought isn’t comfortable. Stopping in the lane to look at them, seeing them as individuals – curious, playful, alive and oblivious, the use of them feels uncomfortable enough and the idea of their lives being wasted, is unbearable to me.

Part of the problem is that we are so remote from our food sources. Most of it turns up clean, gutted, packaged and impersonal on supermarket shelves. Wander round a store and you don’t get a sense that you are seeing once-living things that have died to give you food. Instead you see the packaging, the brands, and the scrubbed-up inoffensiveness of unrecognisable things. If we lived closer to our food, if we had watched it grow, nurtured it, looked into its eyes, I think we would find it much harder to treat it as just a ‘product’ and throw it away on whim.

Caring opens the way to discomfort. Not caring makes it easy to use and take, to consume without thought or guilt. I’m trying not to couch this in meat/meat-free terms because this is not just a creature issue. Plants are living things too. The soil we use to cultivate them could have been left to nature, and to other life forms. Growing plants to throw them away is just as destructive as doing it directly to animals. I think about the dead fish we throw back into the sea to keep within quotas, and I want to weep.

Not caring about who we eat, makes it easy to do as we please. We talk of ‘what we eat’ making it into objects, things. Food is ‘stuff’. As soon as you say ‘who’ it becomes a whole other issue. To the lambs in the field, their lives are not secondary to ours. They do not see themselves as a product, a brand, an item. They are alive, for now. Everything in nature depends to some degree on the death of something else. Plants don’t necessarily directly kill to live, but their growth depends on the fertility of the soil which in turn depends upon the death of other things. Eating is one of the most natural things we can do. But as a species we seem hell bent on making the process as remote from the rest of nature as possible. This does not strike me as being the best plan.