Stuff. It’s all around us. We accumulate things, trinkets, presents and prizes as we move through our lives. But what does it really mean to us? And how can we reduce the amount of stuff we consume, to help lower our carbon footprint?
The first thing we learn is that everything we spend money on has a carbon footprint. From clothing to electrical goods, crockery - even emails and experiences have a carbon footprint. To create a theatre show or a football match takes loads of energy before and during the experience (rehearsals, heating and lighting buildings, transport for performers and players etc).
Is everything we enjoy bad for the planet?
Next we all think of an object and what it means to us. Beth talks about her pottery kiln, which is not only her most prized possession, but also the engine of her much valued career. She uses it to create new objects, but because they are handcrafted and local, their carbon footprint is smaller than commercially produced pottery.
We then go on to talk about why we buy things. Is it for necessity? Or to fit in? Or to buy us happiness? Karen and Becky like to buy new experiences, and items that are beautiful or interesting for their homes. Kalina loves a bargain - partly for its own sake, but also because she sees buying from charity shops as recycling, and buying supermarket food reduced because it's reached its sell-by date as avoiding waste. This also makes her feel less guilty about her ‘carbon monster’ house - along with insulating it, sharing it with lodgers etc.
Kalina asks if our obsession with carbon reduction could lead us to become ‘carbon anorexics’, so worried about the impact of our actions and purchases that we stop enjoying our lives. Karen jokes that we’ll turn into (or are already) ‘carbon snobs’, looking down our noses at those poor ‘carbon junkies’.
We look at a series of low carbon activities and discuss how well we are currently integrating these into our lives. (Interestingly, these activities are also identified by mental health experts as the key to keeping a healthy mind too!) These are: Be Active, Keep Learning, Connect, Give, Take Notice. Again, we are happy to find that we are mostly pretty good at these things, and to reduce our carbon footprint further we need to prioritise them in our day to day lives.
Ben observes that not all people find it easy to give, even though they would theoretically like to be more generous. Alona and Beth say they find themselves giving too much and find it difficult to say no to people.
Our final exercise is a guided ‘stuff’ meditation. With our eyes closed, Ben asks us to visualise all of the spaces and the items in our home. What do we find in each room? Why do we have these things? Where did they come from? Why are we hanging on to them? Where will they go when we're finished with them? Beth finds that her house is only full of the stuff she really needs. Becky realises her attic is packed with things in ‘long term storage’ that she may not look at for years, and Kalina admits she is a champion hoarder.
So what will we take from the session this week? Alona wants to start making her own clothes again – a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of her wardrobe. Kalina and Karen are going to declutter and Ben…. well Ben is going to find out why school kids always want to sit in the same chair each lesson. Not sure what this has got to do with the world’s obsession with consumption, but we’d all love to hear the answer.