Ode to Convenience

I’ve grown up with, came of age with, and only know my life with convenience products.  I didn’t grow up harvesting my food, or hauling buckets of water for our household use.  That said, I’m a bit alarmed by the degree of dependency that I’ve created for myself for items that I take for granted and entitled to.  I assume that the water coming from my faucets is safe to drink, that there will be 3 or more varieties of apples available year round at my local grocery store.  If I go to a coffee shop and there’s no wifi, I get miffed.  I can see this in most Westerners that I meet.  We expect convenience, and look for more ways to find an easier way to get to where we want to go.  We take the shortest path and look for whatever can oil the gears of the machine allowing us to move faster and swifter in our daily grind toward our life goals.

A grocery customer's produce bag usage in front of me in the check-out line.

Meanwhile, we’ve depended on Ziplock bags, Xerox machines, Kleenex, Ikea furniture, and Tupperware for our convenience without seeing the impact that it has on the workers in those factories, the earth’s resources it takes to produce it, its interaction with and influence over politics, and the waste that accrues through every bit of it.

Disposable goods are the king of all convenience products.  Sometimes I look into my fridge and see containers filled with month old food that I dare not open or clean out of disgust.  Every time I see it I have the flash of a thought of “What if I just throw the whole thing away (container and all)?  How much did that jar cost? $2?  It’s worth it for me to just throw it away and buy a new jar.”  But what sort of cost is taken out on others through this waste of mine?  What to me is a waste of $2, is actually worth so much much more than that.  I think that the concept of true disposability and convenience is a myth. What’s happening is that what you may think of as disposable (like trash bags, or shampoo containers) is still sitting there in that landfill from 2 years ago when you used it that one time.  It’s not at all convenient when the soil is being depleted, a farmer or miner is getting pennies for the harvesting of it, lobbyists are working with legislatures for revisions to laws over it, the billboards are designed and built for it, the workers of the factory are altering it, the factory that recreates it is pushing toxins into the depleted soil, the distributor is finding a means to sell it and then the store and its workers work hard to get it to catch your eye and purchase it.

It’s this weird balance of utter dependence on convenience products that somehow helps us feel more independent.  Because of our reliance on the grocery store we don’t need to build relationships with local food growers.  Because of our dependence on pharmaceuticals we don’t need to rely on health practitioners or knowledgeable healers in our communities.  Because of our dependence on cheap clothing, we don’t need to mend our clothes or find someone who can.  We are self-motivated go-getters who can hold the whole world in the palm of our hand via a smartphone and don’t even think about the masses of workers that created it after being passed through Japan, Germany, Korea, and China.

I think that it would do us all a world of good for us to look more closely at the true worth of items, especially in regard to the people who have worked to get it to you and the impact of its creation and destruction on the planet.  If we hold items to be as precious as they truly are, then we can begin to turn around this obsession with convenience products that has us all tied up.

Suggestions for Thwarting your Dependence on Convenience

  1. Get familiar with the process of how items you use often are made.
  2. Think about how you can simplify the process.  Say, if you don’t buy from a major distributor that’s shipped the thing across the globe to get to you.  Or maybe you can just make it yourself with the simple ingredients!
  3. Reuse and get creative with what you might normally throw away or recycle.  Recycling may reduce some of the waste, but adds so much more labor and byproducts with chemicals and excess materials for the process.
  4. Honor what you have.  Notice if items break easily and consider investing in something that will last longer.Do you really need a produce bag?  Aren’t you going to wash it anyways?
  5. Get uncomfortable.  Replacement convenience products (like recycled paper towels) are not really solving the problem.  Yes, it will be gross picking that up with a washcloth that you’ll need to clean by hand… but your inconvenience just bypassed a whole truck load of production for those paper towels you thought were disposable.
  6. Be intentional as to where you put your money.  In this capitalistic society, your money is your vote.  Are you voting for Costco?  Do their standards meet yours?  I encourage you to get intimate with those you give money to.  It’s your hard earned money too, and it deserves to go into the right hands.

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