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All Shoppers Need a Better Mirror

April 26th, 2019 by dk

Are you a frugal consumer, buying only what’s on sale? Are you a conscious consumer, rewarding sustainable practices? Are you a local consumer, favoring nearby makers and growers? Are you a used goods consumer, reusing what’s already been produced? Are you a holistic consumer, weighing your options for each purchase?

If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions or a dozen more just like them, then you are a consumer. That’s worth noting, as we mark Earth Week. We all agree that over-consumption is a problem for people, society and the planet. But consumerism is the deeper problem.

Consuming is not at the root of the problem. Consumers are.

If you and I think of ourselves as consumers — of any stripe — then we stand poised to consume. Inevitably, we will sometimes consume too much. “But,” we’ll think to ourselves, “at least we did our consuming in the most [insert self-aggrandizing adjective here] way possible.”

Do you see the problem here? As long as our consuming habits build our self-esteem and affirm our identity, we perpetuate the real problem. We work so hard to improve our consumer habits, overlooking how those efforts reinforce our identity as consumers.

If we think of ourselves first as consumers, what is likely to be the solution to every problem we encounter? Now you’re getting it. Our sustainable, organic, woke, local thriftiness makes us feel empowered and esteemed. Where can we turn when our purchasing power produces more purchasing and less power?

This is our shared dilemma. But because everybody is in it, none of us recognize it. If everybody is in the same boat, our surroundings lose their boatiness. So (deep breath), what should we do?

The answer is, “Almost anything, except shopping.” Dig a hole. Call your mother. Take a class. Hit the gym. Go for a walk. Organize a closet. Solve a puzzle. Be something other than a consumer for a little while.

That’s not to say you won’t be consuming something. You may need a shovel or a shoe or a shelf for your non-consumer tasks. Buying something because of what you’re doing is different from buying things because it’s who you are. Buying isn’t the problem; building our identities around what and how we buy is.

The simplest fix we can achieve collectively is becoming a national movement, organized by PIRG and other consumer-interest organizations. Eight states are currently debating Fair Repair or Right to Repair laws. They would give consumers and third-party repair shops access to the same repair information (and specialty tools) as product manufacturers. Until a few days ago, Oregon was among those states.

State Senator James Manning (D – Eugene) was a chief sponsor of HB2688, along with Rep. Rob Nosse (D – Portland). A hearing was held on April 22, Earth Day, but it won’t pass out of the House Business and Labor Committee this session. Talk has already begun to bring the bill back in 2020.

We should each have the right to fix our own stuff. But our stuff is not what most needs fixing. It’s us.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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