Excess for Good

Nowadays reports often refer to people as consumers, instead of as customers, citizens, and shoppers.  There’s Consumer Reports, the Consumer Price Index, and even consumer.gov to teach you how to manage your money and and shop safely.

Your Money or Your Life equated spending less with consuming less, as in resources, energy, and goods.  Living the Simple Living lifestyle is acknowledging that many parts of the modern lifestyle are excessive, unsustainable, and ultimately do not create lasting health and happiness, even though just about every aspect of our lives is more efficient today than it would have been 100 or even 50 years ago.  A baseline, minimal amount of consumption is required to meet the basic needs of today’s human, yet this has mostly led to most people thinking More is Better and canceling out most of the progress we’ve made (and creating new problems when it comes to sustainability).

It’s important for us to realize that we need a basic level of consumption to survive – we’re all in that respective boat together.  And we’ll add in a little bit of waste, because we’re humans and we aren’t 100% efficient all the time.  The rest is excess.  And excess can go one of two ways.  Michael Phelps consuming 20,000 calories a day isn’t excessive when compared to the results – those calories supplied energy for a training regimen that lead to Olympic Gold Medals.  Olympic Medals represent peaks of physical and mental fitness, reached by hours of focus and practice.

On the other hand, a regular samaritan who eats 20,000 calories a day is likely headed for compounding health problems, reduced happiness, and an early grave.

Both, however, are selfish pursuits.  Eating that much, whether it’s to fuel training or for pure enjoyment, is done in an effort to get some happiness.  So now we have our baseline, plus a little waste and some excess for our own selfish desires.  Here are some things that might make that excess okay:

  • the excess is focused on one area, is acknowledged as excess, and is managed and reconsidered
  • the excess is the “fuel” for work that is intended to help others in a pure, real way.  Something involving burning fossil fuels today (logistically) allows work on renewable energy for tomorrow comes to mind
  • the act of consumption is considered a utility – different levels are needed to achieve different needs.

The examples above focused on the intake of food.  While both stories might someday inspire people (to either chase after their dreams or reevaluate their life), they were likely not the original intent.  Beware of cop outs.  In order for this to work, we need to be able to identify areas of excess and manage them as temporary situations instead of allowing them to inflate our overall consumption.

The first step would be to establish a general basic amount of consumption.  Right now everything seems like a basic need (why comments like “the cost of living keeps going up” and “it’s not like it used to be”) – and we have a feeling it’s already pretty excessive, so the consumer price index does us no good.  I like the idea of going back 50 years ago with regards to house size, number of cars and tvs, and clothing and food budgets as similar percentages of income.  Those are the main areas people attack when transforming from consumer to saver.  50 years ago we still had most of the same amenities (appliances, air conditioning (some), television, grocery stores, cars) which have now become even more efficient (and more wasteful on the higher end).

Picture a world where excess is not what you have as a way to show off what you accomplish, but a resource that you could tap into when you wanted the means to really do something.  Like taking out a loan with allowable excess consumerism instead of money.  People are less wasteful and more conscious when being held accountable.

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