Produce more, consume less

At the start of 2009 I started work on a list of 50 things to do during the year(1). The general theme for this list was "produce more, consume less." This motto has come to affect me more than I thought it would during the year, in part due to the influence of a close friend but also in part due to a change in priorities.

My original motivation for this theme was a realisation that I'd been spending an increasing amount of time sitting on my arse watching TV. It got to the point where I was downloading so much television via BitTorrent that I couldn't possibly watch all the episodes, and many of those shows I was downloading simply for the sake of completeness. I promised myself I would spend more time blogging, programming, and creating during my "idle" time rather than passively consuming the content of others. In other words, to start using my social surplus to contribute to this wonderful world.

In a lot of ways I succeeded. While I haven't blogged much during the year, I developed an interest in photography and really focused on my output at work. What TV I do watch I make sure I want to watch, rather than watching it to be a completist.

I came to realise, however, that the "consume less" part of the phrase has a much broader implication than just consuming less passive media. This last year has also brought a growing awareness of the food I eat, it's impact on my body, the environmental impact of it's production, and the generally wasteful way in which many Westerners live their lives. I should give thanks to my close friend Andrew for a lot of this awareness; in more than one area of my life he's started me thinking about that which I've taken for granted.

"Consume less" then takes on more layers of meaning -- consuming less calories to halt my increasing waistline, and choosing foods that consume less natural resources to produce. I've been generally good at the former, with not much thought giving to the latter. This is something I plan to put more energy into this year, particularly through education via books such as "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

"Consume less" also implies simply buying less stuff. As my career at IBM has progressed, and my salary increased over time, I'd become increasingly good at convincing myself it's okay to buy whatever toys I liked. I'd buy DVDs and only watch them once, or I'd rediscover my childhood and bring home a packet of army men from Toyworld which would then sit in the cupboard. I've come to realise this behaviour has mental, financial, and environmental costs. Combine this with needing to get rid of most of it due to an upcoming international move, and the folly of buying stuff to make myself feel good became obvious.

The change in priorities I mentioned is due to an increased reading about minimalism. I don't plan to sell all my belongings and live in a room with a bed, a table and my laptop, but that's not really what minimalism is about. For me, it's about producing more with less, and avoiding clutter through the accumulation of useless junk. It's about the martial arts stories of the old, wise master defeating opponents with one efficient movement. It's about reducing my impact on this planet. It's about filling my life with quality, not quantity.

This year my list of 50 things will again revolve around the "produce more, consume less" motto; actively working on those parts of my life with which I'm unhappy and becoming a better citizen of this planet in the process.

(1) I actually only got to 29 things. Writing 50 things you want to do, and have a realistic chance of achieving is surprisingly hard. I only finished a dozen of these things at most.

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