cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

From an information source outside my normal education and technology readings, Shareable is a real gem–

Shareable is a nonprofit online magazine that tells the story of sharing. We cover the people, places, and projects that are bringing a shareable world to life. And we share tools and tips to help you make a shareable world real in your life.

In a shareable world, things like clothing swaps, childcare coops, potlucks, carsharing, community gardening, and cohousing bring us together, make life more fun, and free up time and money for the important things in life. When we share, not only is a better life possible, but so is a better world.

The remarkable successes of Zipcar, Wikipedia, Kiva, open source software, Freecycle, and Creative Commons prove this. They tell a hopeful story about human nature and our future, one we don’t hear enough in the mainstream media.

They show what’s possible when we share. They show that we don’t act merely for our own good, but go to great lengths to contribute to the common good. They show new ways to work together that will help us resolve the social and environmental crises we face, and perhaps thrive as never before. They show that a new world is emerging where everyone can share, where the more you share the more respect you get, and where life works because everyone is motivated to help each other.

We tell this story because a shareable world might be just what we need to enjoy life to the fullest and restore the planet in the process. And it’s being built by ordinary people right now. Shareable is your invitation to join the fun of building a new world.

Now for some people, this might be a cue to start eyeball rolling and whistling “Kum Ba Yah” – but its something I can latch onto as a breath of reality in a world full of daily news of human degradation.

But yesterday, apost on Shareable really lit a nice flame, if not a fire — the The Unconsumption Un-manifesto, which outlines the work of people trying to live in a modern world in a sustainable way.

Unconsumption is a web site and a wiki, maybe a movement, maybe not. It does not deny that we are consumers of goods that come from natural resources, or that consuming is bad- its about being mindful about they ways we can reuse what we buy as consumers, and not just toss it into the waste stream.

Consumption is a word used to describe acts of acquisition ““ generally, the acquisition of things, in exchange for money.

Unconsumption is a word used to describe everything that happens after an act of acquisition.

Unconsumption is an invisible badge.

Unconsumption means the accomplishment of properly recycling your old cellphone, rather than the guilt of letting it sit in a drawer.

Unconsumption means the thrill of finding a new use for something that you were about to throw away.

Unconsumption means the pleasure of using a service like Freecycle (or Craigslist or Goodwill) to find a new home for the functioning VCR you just replaced, rather than throwing it in the garbage.

Unconsumption means enjoying the things you own to the fullest ““ not just at the moment of acquisition.

Unconsumption means the pleasure of using a pair of sneakers until they are truly worn out ““ as opposed to the nagging feeling of defeat when they simply go out of style.

Unconsumption means feeling good about the simple act of turning off the lights when you leave the room.

Unconsumption is not about the rejection of things, or the demonization of things. It’s not a bunch of rules.

Unconsumption is an idea, a set of behaviors, a way of thinking about consumption itself from a new perspective.

Unconsumption is free.

For most people, our garbage, rubbish, trash, whatever you call it– disappears when we place our cans on the curb, like it magically disappears so we can refill the bins again. It’s out of sight, but it is far from gone.

Have you ever been to a garbage dump? I don’t mean driving by one in the car, I mean standing in the place we dig giant wholes in the earth to hide all the drap we dispose of, where the air at night can be lit on fire from the escaping methane fumes. There are plenty of web sites and information pieces about where our garbage goes — but I don’t think they really get to the visceral emotion of being aware of the outflow end of our consumer culture.

Since my moving full time two years ago to the small town I live in, I found out yesterday I’ve been an Unconsumer, or trying to be. One driving force is that I don;t have any garbage pick up service (it’s available here for a monthly fee, but I did not see myself generating enough to justify it). So when my outside can is full,m I put it in the trunk of my car, and drive it to the Texaco station in Pine where they let you drop bags in their dumpster for $2. So I am still adding to the dump, but because I have to carry it myself, and go somewhere, I got invested in throwing away less material.

And in turn, trying to find ways to re-use things previously I might have tossed in the garbage without thinking.

Case in point. I do a large amount of my cooking on an outside propane gas grill. The one I had was likely 10 years old, and last week the burner element clogged or just gave out, or just stopped working. I felt it was time to get a new one, and had planned Saturday to drive to Home Depot in Payson and come home with a new BBQ (and spend some fun time assembling it). By lovely sheer coincidence, I had breakfast with some friends, one of them a neighbor, and when I relayed my plans for the day, he said, “Why don’t you take a look at our grill? We stopped using it when we went vegan, and its in great shape. Come by and make me an offer.”

This was a score- not only did it cost less than a new one, I did not even have to assemble it.

But that’s not the Unconsumption part.

I now had this old grill that did not work. I thought of putting it out on the street with a free “Take Me” sign, maybe someone more cleaver could fix it.

And then another idea snuck in my head.

I removed the tubing, switch, tank, inner grill racks. I removed the top of the grill cover and cleaned the greasy bits out of the insider. I then put a layer of rocks in the bottom, where there were drain holes already, filled it with the fresh soil from the bottom of my compost pile, mixed in some new soil additive, and now it is a planter next to my vegetable garden- where I hope later this summer to harvest the oregano and parsley I planted:

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And the shelves make a handy space to have while working or pulling things from the vegetable garden. I am hanging on to that top for some other use- it could be flipped over too and be made into a planter.

So I began trying to think of some other ways I’ve been trying this practice out, without even having a name for it, and saw three cstegories— Throwing Less in the Trash, Water Reuse, and Landscaping.

Throwing Less in the Trash

As mentioned above, since I haul my own garbage, it’s to my benefit (and to make fewer trips) if I am putting less in the trash. Unfortunately, being in a small community, there are not many options here for recycling. I keep a bin for aluminum cans, as the Humane Shelter in Payson has bins at the market in Pine where I can dump these. However, I stopped buying soda, so it might take me a year to fill that one.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

For paper, I could collect cardboard and take it to the elementary school in Pine for recycling, but I’ve had a different program. I keep boxes trough the year, and fill it with discarded mail, paper, newspapers, tubes from paper towel rolls, and cardboard food packaging. I end up around winter with maybe 7 or 8 of these stashed in the crawl space below my house, and I use it through the winter as kindling in my wood stove.

The stove ashes go into a metal can outside, and eventually into my compost pile, and eventually into my garden.

I read a year ago that our local dump was starting an experimental program to recycle plastic, so I’ve been storing bags of these containers below my house. If they are not doing this, I might cart them down to Phoenix when I vist and ask friends I stay with if I can slip my plastic in their recycling bins.

I’m not doing this for glass and metal cans, and I hate tossing them into the trash. I met someone here who does home brewing, and pawned a box or two of empty beer bottles to him.

I end up with a box or two of empty plastic and glass containers from tub margarine, spaghetti sauce, jam, coffee. These are in my shed where sometimes you need a container to store store things like even things form the garden, like last year’s dried basil

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

or when you need to mix some paint, etc. Recently I used a cut plastic tub as a planter for seeds

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I loved this thing I found on the Uncsumption wiki -people putting unused rain gutters to use as plant holders —

There is a real creative feel to looking at something broken or not needed and trying to come up with a way to re-use it.

The other way to cut down on trash is composting -rather then throwing vegetable and fruit remnants in the trash or down the drain, is to keep a container (plus coffee grounds) in the kitchen. I have two bins, one made of fome shipping palettes, the other contained by chicken wire attached to posts, and mix in the debris from cleaning up the lawn and my wood stove ashes, even dryer lint.

I have to give credit to my Canadian friends for inspiring me to compost.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

It takes a while here in Arizona to get black dirt, I harvest the bottom of the bins in the spring when I prep the vegetable garden. But mine is pretty well “warm” and black at the bottom, and full of happy worms. Yesterday was the fun :compost harvest day, and I estimate I was able to put on the garden about the equivalent of 4 large bags of mulch I would have otherwise purchased.

Water Reuse

Arizona is a dry place, everyone knows that. But we do get rain. It’s just that our yearly amount (which can be less than one storm might dump in Seattle) comes in spurts– long intervals of no rain, and then a lot in a short time. The towns where I live have been in a long battle with providing water from a rather limited supply, so it makes sense to be wise with water user.

I’ve got the gutters from my house connected to tubes which channel them to the trees in my backyard. My yard descends a hill, so I’ve got a series of channels and collection areas built with rocks to try and capture and use all the water that falls here to use on the thirsty trees.

When I had a washer/dryer installed last year, it is set up so the grey water goes out into the same outflow (I buy biodegradable detergent).

Small things are not always emptying water or un-needed ice down the drain, from say a cooler after a trio somewhere; especially in the summer, I go on my front porch and pitch them towards a tree or garden in reach.

And I could say a positive of the small hot water heater in my house is it encourages me to take quicker showers than if hot water were plentiful. And heck, working from home and living alone, means sometimes I can skip a day or two of showers (oops, too much information there!)

In my travels to Australia and New Zealand I was struck by so many houses there wer set up to capture and re-use rain water- rain gutters funneling into cisterns, all designed for re-use. I’ve hardly seen any of that in the US.


I can’t explain exactly why, but one of the things I enjoy the most around here is working on my yard and gardens. I have somewhat of an advantage of having a lot of materials here I can use. My place is not too far from sandstone bedrock below, anywhere you dig with a shovel you will hit a bolder or slab of flat sandstone, which I have put to use as walkways, retaining walls, even drainage channels for runoff.

The dirt around here can get hard as almost mortar when it dries!

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

The other act of re-use I practice is saving all the trimmings from trees and bushes, including large limbs that fall in the winter from snow load, or trees I have had taken down.

I usually pile the limbs in the garden area over winter, let them dry and drop their leaves. I ended having a few rounds of stripping the remaining leaves and smaller limbs which go into the compost bin. The small and medium branches are saved in bins and boxes to use in the winter for kindling in the wood stove (as well as collecting pine cones).

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I wrote two years ago about making re-use of a large oak tree that I had someone take down. This winter I burned almost the last of the solid wood, and branches and leaves all went into the compost and the earth a while ago.

I’ve not taken any trimmings or limbs to the dump in two years, nor have to place it out for pickup. I re-use it all.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I’m an Unconsumer, So What

I’ve not written all this to brag, just trying to wrap some practices I’ve beenm doing informally to what others are doing under the banner of unconsumption.

I started tagging my flickr photos unconsumption, and there are others there before me.

But there is a bigger of piece that rings louder with me- as described in the Shareable post where I found this —

To put it simply, it’s a practical way of approaching conscious consumption. Unconsumption is thoroughly contemporary: it’s not advocating a utopian return to an artisan economy, or some Luddite retreat from modern society. It recognizes that we exist in a tech-driven economy driven by ephemeral products. Instead, it urges individuals to be more conscious about the types of consumption they are engaging in.

This isn’t a pitched anti-consumerist ideology; this is in no way an activist movement. It’s advocating a personal change in behavior, and fails to affect any institutional changes. In fact, the unconsumption un-manifesto acknowledges that it is unconcerned with ideology.

(my emphasis added).

I am finding a connection to my work in education and technology with this sentiment, “This isn’t a pitched anti-consumerist ideology; this is in no way an activist movement. It’s advocating a personal change in behavior, and fails to affect any institutional changes.”

So while a lot of people focus on Changing Schools or Revolutionizing Education, this is a more subtle approach- not trying to be radicals or try to turn a Titanic sized established institution, but doing what we can as individuals, through “personal change in behavior” to make a difference.

I’m an Unconsumer. Maybe I am an Uneducator too.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Now I feel guilty about being a water glutton since we returned from the Bahamas! After 4 months of conserving water, using seawater to bathe, using grey water to rinse my clothes, trying to eliminate excess trash and feeding organic trash to the fish I need a few long hot showers to readjust! Great post and good ideas for uncomsuming! I feel like I need a lot less stuff when living on a boat.

  2. I knew I liked you for-some-other-reason-I-couldn’t-quite-explain. This is going to sound weird, but I’m not. After a commenting exchange we had some months ago, I dreamt I visited you and voila you had more or less this kind of lifestyle.

    Check out my Twitter minimalism list, several interesting, related peeps.

    It’s remarkable to me, (trying not to be retro, but it’s difficult) how we’ve wordsmithed the issue. “Unconsumption” and all its derivatives evidences how far we’ve come: We (Americans) can’t even think outside of the packaging of consumerism.

    The 3 Rs- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, (in that order) wasn’t sexy enough.

    Thanks for sharing and outting yourself ;).

    Now for me
    I’ve been an “unconsumer” in word and deed, since the 80s. Yeah, I’m yawning over the contemporary rhetoric…wake me up when it’s over.

    And will it make a difference? That is, will more Americans unconsume?

    Example answer: Recently, when gas prices were high; people consumed less. When they went back down; they went back to their previous habits. It’s been evidenced.
    Why: It’s not about the environment.

    Another example answer: I doubt it. Look at the size of cars, houses, appliances, food portions, credit-card debt, piles of stuff in the garage, people, etc. in the U.S. as compared with Europe.

    Why: It’s about consuming; not about living.

    There’s actually evidence (see Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness) suggesting that having more choices makes a person unhappier.


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