Consumption is a Rorschach Test

by Paula Pant on · 10 comments

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word “consumption?”

Bob might think of consuming food. Turkey smothered with mushroom gravy. Mashed potatoes topped with melted butter. Roasted squash with pesto.

Angie might think about consuming alcohol. Loads of it. Beers during the football game. Shots at the bar. Wine with dinner. A martini aperitif.

Gina thinks of oil and gas consumption: drilling in the wetlands, fueling inefficient cars.

Will thinks of home energy consumption: leaving the lights on, failing to caulk or seal drafts around doors and windows.

And I think about financial consumption: spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.

“Consumption” is a Rorschach test: one word, tons of interpretations. Few other words have so many meanings or apply to so many topics.

Take a second to consider what pops into your head when you hear the word “consumption.” I’m betting that the first thing you think about is a topic that applies to your life in one of two ways:

  1. You Rock At It — It’s a topic you feel passionately about. Will thinks about home energy consumption because he’s so committed to having an energy-efficient home. He adds insulation to his attic, he screws aerators onto his faucets, he installs motion-activated light sensors in each room. Gina thinks about gas consumption because she carpools with her Prius.
  2. You Stink At It – Er, that’s my crass way of saying that you recognize this topic as a weakness. Angie thinks about consuming alcohol because somewhere in her subconscious, she realizes she shouldn’t drink so much. Bob thinks constantly about food even though his cholesterol is high and he needs to lose weight.

But there’s a common thread between all the topics that “consumption” applies to: using something vs. wasting it.

You can use food to supply nutrition to your body, or you can stuff yourself silly. You can sip wine – even Jesus turned water to wine – or you can pound drinks until you blackout.

You can use the least amount of fossil fuels necessary to lead a productive modern life, or you can – as my roommate used to do – crank the heating system in your home up to 85 degrees while wearing shorts and a thin T-shirt in January.

You can waste your hard-earned money on knick-knacks, or you can spend on high-value items and experiences that bring joy to your life.

The key to distinguishing wasteful consumption from “value” consumption is to simply be a little more deliberate, a little more mindful.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I really need another slice of turkey?
  • Do I really need a third glass of wine, or can I stop at two?
  • Do I want to spend this $20 on another sweater, or do I want to add it to my Pay-Off-The-Mortgage-ASAP fund?

Some people over-consume. Others take the knee-jerk opposite reaction and deprive themselves. Neither tactic is sustainable.

But consuming mindfully? It’s simple. It’s balanced. And it ups your quality of life.

So think back to the first topic that popped into your head when you thought about “consumption,” and ask yourself: How can you approach that area of life more mindfully?

by Paula Pant

Thanks to wise money managing, Paula Pant has traveled to 27 countries, purchased a 99-year-old Victorian home near central Atlanta’s most beautiful park, and has never — ever — had a penny in debt. Her blog, Afford Anything, is based on one radical idea: money should never hinder your dreams.
Paula Pant
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy November 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

I *love* this: “The key to dis­tin­guish­ing waste­ful con­sump­tion from “value” con­sump­tion is to sim­ply be a lit­tle more delib­er­ate, a lit­tle more mindful.” Direct, simple, doable. When I am mindful, all that I consume is life enriching and invigorating..creating with such resources also means that the quality of what I share is life enriching and invigorating:)
To answer your question, my first thought of consumption is time/ energy..the quality of how I relate with others..


suzen November 17, 2011 at 7:48 am

Great topic – especially for *this* time of year! I’ve always believed that people tend to be “unconscious” and creatures of habit. It’s like – until the bill comes, no worries. Then it hits you. You over did it with whatever it is.

I’m in the health “business” so my first thought was food consumption. I see some people getting the bill (so to speak) with over weight, illness, icky symptoms etc. If you aren’t mindful of what you consume – with ANYthing – that bill may come as a shocker.

Great season to snap out of unconsciousness altogether! Your reminder for mindfulness was the perfect snack this morning!


Angela Artemis/Poweredbyintuition November 17, 2011 at 8:29 am

I’ve never thought about how many meanings we can apply to the word consumption but, you’re right. In general I think the word has a kind of negative connotation. You’re right to point out that we need to me more mindful of how we “consume” in many areas of our lives. I sold my house a year ago to simplify and spend less and I’ve never been happier or felt freer!

All the years of working and working to keep up “appearances” and maintain all my stuff – what was I thinking? Now, I can do all the things I kept putting off because it took so energy, work and money to maintain my previous lifestyle. Great advice! Thank you.


Tess The Bold Life November 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Hi Paula,
Sometimes we don’t realize how much we consume until we stop. I eating unhealthy and kidding myself for the last year. Wake up call came when I couldn’t fit into a dress. Now that I’m eating healthy again…what was I thinking????


David Stevens November 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Hi Paula,
Now that you put it like that…….”consumption” takes on a whole new meaning, I mean meanings. Always be aware of what you do & think. Thank you.
be good to yourself


Meg November 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I used to think of clothes and shoes! I was an excessive consumer but someone came into my life and showed me how unimportant that lifestyle can be. I’ve gotten rid of my stuff and feel at peace. Nor to mention all the money I’ve saved!


Galen Pearl November 18, 2011 at 10:42 am

An old fashioned use of the word means tuberculosis, if I’m remembering correctly. What an interesting post about all the meanings in a word, and a message about our own consumption values. Thanks!


Joa @ pencil portrait November 21, 2011 at 11:36 am

Truth is we like to spend money. We like to consume. The question is do you do it within your budget? The worst thing to do is to spend money on worthless things instead of important ones. I’ve seen many cases.
Joanne from pencilonpaper


Jannie Funster November 21, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I think Todd is onto some VERY great ideas.

I like the idea of an uncluttered home. And heart.

Sipping wine is good too! I stop at about 1.6 glasses of it!

A great reminder that letting things go can be so good for us.

Really enjoyed this!!


xoxo to all — yes, that includes that Lance-Person I often encounter in this awesome place! :0


Lance Ekum November 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Happy Thanksgiving Jannie…and super amazing awesome family!!!!



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