To help the planet, this month I challenged myself to do at least one activity a day that’s fun, but is not based on material consumption. My goal was to see if I could satisfy my consumer desires for leisure and entertainment without consuming material goods. My only rule was that each activity had to be different.
For this challenge, I allowed myself to use pre-existing goods, so long as their use did not incur any additional consumption. For example, going for a bike ride was okay, but a leisurely drive was not. Why? Driving a car consumes fuel, a material good that’s in liquid form. The bike ride, assuming you own or borrow the bike, doesn’t require you to consume anything new.
Here are some observations from my experiences this month.
The Best Things in Life are Free
There’s no doubt that material-based consumption can be fun. We’ve all experienced the rush that comes with buying a new gadget, toy or outfit. However, this effect is often short-lived, and can even be followed by a sense of regret after making a purchase (“buyer’s remorse”), particularly if the item is expensive or extravagant.
In contrast, non-material sources of entertainment focus on acquiring experiences rather than “stuff.” For example, one of my activities this month was to attend a free concert (as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival); another was to take part in a local street fair (Greek Days); while another was to hike to a waterfall (Cypress Falls). These experiences don’t need to break the bank. In fact, with the exception of a $5 donation to visit an art gallery, all my activities this month were free. It’s difficult to have buyer’s remorse when you haven’t spent a dime.
Also, many of my activities this month involved music, art, culture and nature. Unlike more consumptive activities like shopping, these experiences can produce a deeper, more positive impact on your overall well-being and quality of life. The net effect is you can derive more lasting satisfaction and value from the money that you do spend. Simply put, you can be richer – both financially and in terms of quality of life – by accumulating experiences rather than material goods.
Play Like a Kid
Want to see how much fun you can have without relying on the crutch of material consumption? Spend an afternoon playing with a kid. [If you don’t have one of your own, offer to look after a friend’s tyke for a few hours.]
One day this month, I took my friend’s son on a walkabout in my neighbourhood. We didn’t have a set plan or destination; I simply told him our mission was to have an adventure, and then tapped into the active imagination of a five-year old. During our two-hour trek, we explored alleyways, walked along an abandoned railway track, talked with a homeless person, ran through a water fountain, played tag in a playground, and then raced down the sidewalk in a junked stroller. It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic routine of life. Looking at the world through the eyes of a child can help remind us that life is one big sandbox. Have fun with it.
Is Zero Footprint Realistic?
One day this month, I decided to spend a leisurely morning reading the newspaper at a local café (admittedly this might not be the most fun for everybody, but for me it’s pure bliss). To stay true to the challenge, I made sure the paper was second-hand and returned it for others to read once I was finished. No net increase in material consumption, job done. Or is it?
I asked myself: is this activity truly void of material consumption? After all, I had consumed a coffee while enjoying the paper. And the coffee shop did have to purchase the newspaper in the first place – if its customers didn’t read the papers, surely it wouldn’t offer them. So aren’t I complicit in this consumption? And what about all the other materials and fuels needed to operate the café? Does my time spent on the premise make me accountable for a (very small) portion of this consumption, as well as the associated impacts to the planet?
This got me thinking about all the bookstores, libraries, galleries and concert venues I visited this month. True, I did not directly consume any material goods during these visits, but the supporting facilities still require significant amounts of materials and energy to provide the experiences that I enjoyed. If you broaden the scope to consider all the material goods (and fuels) needed to provide these experiences, leaving no trace may be a stretch. Still, this challenge proved that fun doesn’t need to be synonymous with a highly material lifestyle.