Becoming a More Conscious Consumer

A square still-life painting of vegetables and fruits.
Farmer’s Market Finds, 2012. Private Collection.

Over the past year, I’ve made a few significant changes in my purchasing habits. These changes weren’t part of any resolution or major life overhaul. They came gradually as I educated myself on certain issues and decided I no longer wanted to contribute to certain problems. I changed what I buy to support positive practices and avoid supporting negative ones.

Now, I don’t mean to be preachy. I don’t judge people who haven’t made these changes, because it wasn’t very long ago that I changed my ways. I also understand that I am privileged to be able to make these choices. I am paid a good salary and can afford to choose more expensive products that align with my values. I realize not everyone has that luxury. Some people must accept what is available to them. With those caveats in mind, here are three steps I’ve taken toward building a better world with my dollars.

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Consume Less, Produce More: On Priorities, Focus, and Using My Brain Intentionally

A square painting of a landscape with a body of water in the foreground and mountains in the background.
Boone Lake in Winter, 2015. Private Collection.

At the beginning of 2016, in addition to making a couple of specific resolutions, I set an intention for the year: Consume Less, Produce More. I wasn’t talking about shopping habits or solid waste, but creative output. I had come to realize that I was spending 30-45 minutes checking Facebook every morning, indiscriminately reading content that others had posted and shared. I was watching Hulu and Netflix while cooking and doing chores, and reading articles online before bed. My focus was being pulled and directed by people other than me. My attention span was shorter than I would have liked, and my once robust flow of ideas seemed to have slowed to a trickle. I reminisced about how much mental energy I’d had ten years before. I decided it was time to take back control of my brain and my time.

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Writing a Personal Mission Statement

The beginning of a new year is a good time to reevaluate our priorities. Setting New Year’s resolutions is one way to define our goals, but it can be helpful to do some deeper thinking about what’s important to us and what we want our lives to look like.

When I was in my mid-twenties, trying to find myself and feeling some existential angst, I decided to write a personal mission statement. I thought about what I really valued and about the qualities exhibited by the people with whom I most enjoyed spending time. I considered how I wanted to be perceived and what I could bring to the people with whom I interacted. I crafted a brief manifesto of sorts, about ten sentences long, which is longer than a traditional organizational mission statement. What I wrote could probably be better described as a combination mission, vision, and values statement. I won’t include the whole thing here, but it began by stating that “I value compassion, fairness, and forgiveness,” and it ended with the following sentence: “I want to better the lives of the people around me by comforting them in times of need, lifting their spirits, and inspiring them to do the things they are meant to do.”

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