Late last year I promised to reduce my consumption by 50%. And this blog, I’m sorry to say, is a summary of my failure to keep that promise.
As you may remember, I recently became the proud owner of a couple of chihuahua pups, Darcy and Lou. And those two compact balls of energy have thrown my life off course. I look back now at what I would have called a busy and somewhat disorganised life. How funny it is, when I think of all that I was doing, managing and partaking in – work, creative writing, reading, socialising, exercise, all of this marvellous stuff. In addition, I was doing my best to reduce my consumption, making every effort to refill the shampoo bottles and buy pantry items in bulk, always searching for the right product and trying to do the right thing.
It's all gone out the window. Somehow, I’m managing to hold onto the clients I have – thank goodness for their kindness and flexibility. Exercising and socialising have fallen away, except for the twice daily excursions where I take Darcy and Lou out for a vigorous sniff.
Of course, I’d heard that having a puppy is like having a newborn. And then I went and got two.
With them came all the consumption habits that I’d worked so hard to give up. I started panic-buying, and unfortunately, all my purchases had to come in twos. Two sleeping mats. Two carriers. Two dishes. Two harnesses. Two, two, two.
The anxiety that dog ownership can create reminds me very much of parenting a child. 'Are we doing the right thing?' I regularly ask myself. Do we have the right equipment? What can we buy to help us manage this more effectively? And there are all sorts of rules. For example, you’re supposed to appropriately socialise a dog before it reaches 15, 16, 17 or 18 weeks of age, depending on which article you read. Bring on more anxiety!
In the spirit of complete honesty, I need to fess up that I can’t blame my failure to reduce my consumption entirely on the dogs. I’ve missed shopping a lot. I’ve found myself over-gifting because I told myself that buying things for other people doesn’t count. I recently splurged on a decent pile of books. And I bought myself some clothes that don’t show up the dog hair quite so much. My wardrobe itself – while it bursts at the seams – felt dull, as if it could do with some fresh options.
As much as I’d love to, I’m not going to rush out to the shops. I’m going to keep trying to exercise restraint. I’ll maintain the good habits I’ve developed along the way, particularly in relation to composting, minimising food waste and buying less plastic overall.
My experience of lowering the bar reminds me of Marie Kondo, who, as reported in the Washington Post earlier this year, has had a similar experience:
Kondo says her life underwent a huge change after she had her third child, and external tidying has taken a back seat to the business of life. ‘My home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time, at this stage of my life.’
I’m reminded too that we all go through such seasons of life. Darcy and Lou won’t be puppies forever. One day – apparently – they’ll chill out a bit. And then I can put more of my energy back into the things that matter so much to me: my family, my work, my friends, my reading and writing.
But part of my confession is that I’m not sure that seeking bulk foods and refillable shampoo is what matters most to me. Does that mean that I no longer believe in climate change, or in saving the planet? No. I’m struggling with something that I imagine many of us in the Western world struggle with: how do we live – make a livelihood, raise children, have pets, maintain a home – in a capitalist economy with all the comforts and accoutrements it brings? How much do we need?
Could my pups get by without squeaky toys and specialty chews? Probably. But I’m training them to fit into this busy, extraordinary world that we all inhabit together. And the little squeaker sure is handy when they’re up to no good.
I’m ashamed that I’ve failed. I wish I could say that adjusting my consumption habits was easy. I wish I could say that I’ve found a way to put the planet before convenience, but I cannot. I’ve let my lifestyle take precedence. Perhaps that’s a moral failure. But perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom. This thought from zero waste chef, Anne-Marie Bonneau, gives me hope:
We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.
I accept that I’m imperfect. But I also accept that I’m trying. I hope you’ll accept me too.