"Think of yourself as a curator rather than a consumer.” - Christine Koh
This statement could be taken in so many directions. We're not even sure what the woman who uttered it meant for us to take from it. It did get us thinking though.
In a world where populations and temperatures are rising, for those of us thinking about what we can do to keep this planet breathing, you could say that the word Consumer has taken on a "dirty" connotation. If you look into early definitions of the word, it was used to describe "one who squanders or wastes." This noun comes of course from the verb Consume, whose etymology defines it as "to destroy by use, wear out by applying to its natural or intended use." If you break them down, these definitions actually are very interesting when applied to current society. Why? We explain.
The description of a Consumer here is in some ways the negative connotation to which we were referring. When you hear the word "consumerism," how many positive images come to mind? If you're like us, probably not many. Whatever the origin of the word, by the 1960s, consumerism had become an economic policy that "encouraged consumption."Without getting too political, we may draw the conclusion that this policy, this idea, encourages the spending of money regardless of the collateral costs, like the environment, with the sole interest of money making. That's a pretty generalized statement; that is not how everyone approaches it, and we're hopeful that there were some original good intentions about building strong economies for prosperous countries and happy citizens. But in the instances where this is true, it does relate to the definition that a consumer is "one who squanders or wastes." We think about the gag gifts, the items that are purchased just to be purchased, and forgotten about, the one-time-use items that are discarded after very limited time. Wasteful, is it not?
Looking then, to the above definition of Consume, at first glance it may reinforce this negative connotation. Look again. It says "..to wear out by applying to its natural or intended use." Think about everything nature creates. It is a closed-loop system, never creating anything it can't deal with, even if it takes a really long time. Everything that occurs naturally, has a natural or intended use. We as humans, have ended up manipulating naturally occurring elements into new substances (like plastic, styrofoam, chemical toxins, etc.) that cannot be broken down by nature (or at least, not in the lifetime that the Earth has). Some of these materials are created with practical intended uses, some are just byproducts of other processes. But sometimes the intended uses are damaging to our planet, especially if that use creates a wasteful byproduct that isn't biodegradable. What if, now and going forward, the first filter we applied to the creation of a new item was whether or not is also had a natural use? And by that we mean, it was compatible with nature; it was able to come from the Earth and go back to the Earth, in a relatively short time-span.
Going back to the definition of Consume: if everything had a natural use in this way, as well as an intended use, then we could potentially reduce the amount of unnatural waste and garbage we create as a species, since we would be actually consuming things in the real sense of the word.
We know this is stretching things a little from where we started, but isn't it perhaps a beautiful way to turn something that has become so controversial, into something that is positive again?
Or perhaps, have we taken ourselves so far from the original intention of this word, that our behaviour is no longer fit for it, and to move forward, we need a new one?
Taking inspiration from Christine Koh's quote, what if we turned ourselves around, and started to think about ourselves more as curators? When you hear that word, most people would think of a museum or gallery curator who is in charge of collecting and guarding priceless pieces of art. Art tells a story, a story of the medium and of the artist. Do the way we live our lives not tell a story about us, about who we are? And do we not wish to only keep with us the precious things that are useful, beautiful, and tell a story about a life lived in dedication to health, love, and keeping our home and planet beautiful?
As we study past cultures, we learn about their lives from the house hold things they leave behind through material culture studies. All these items create a narrative that describes a lifestyle, a life. The way they cooked, cleaned, played, dressed, all tell us something about what they respected and valued. Think about this: if some future anthropologist or archeologist were to find your home relatively intact several hundred years from now, what story would it tell? Would it be one of mindful, sustainable living, or one that says you didn't care about the future generations of your planet?
"Objects can be seen as the blank slates upon which we project our needs, desires, ideas and values." -Material Culture - Artifact(s) and the Meaning They Carry, thoughtco.com
What do we want the things we have to say about us? What story are we telling? With this in mind, we can become curators in our own lives, taking care with the items we bring home.
Every human is a unique expression of existence. No two people will ever experience a lifetime the same. We are all collectors of physical things, memories, stories, skills, languages. We get to choose which we need and which we don't.
We can choose to live in a life that is curated, not cluttered. We do not exist only to consume, we are here to experience. Surround yourself with carefully chosen items that bring you joy, and that bring joy to our planet. (Think of this in terms of keeping things in your mind or not as well. Letting go, moving on, forgiving, growing.)
The items we create, that we choose, we hope to be part of a narrative that speaks of mindful living, ocean conservation, and sustainable practices. We want our story to inspire low-impact, responsible lifestyles now, and in the future.
What do you want your story to be? You get to chose.