Let’s Take Back the Meaning of the C-Word (Consumer)

Let's Take Back the Meaning of the C-Word (Consumer)

I want to start this week’s newsletter by thanking you for being so supportive of the shift I’ve made in my work this season. Truthfully, I spent a few months’ time worrying about making this change, but your response has been overwhelmingly positive and made me excited about the future. Thank you. :)

When I first started thinking about the kinds of conversations I wanted us to have going forward, I wrote down a combination of two words over and over again in my messy notes, and realized I would have to begin by describing it—it being the term “mindful consumer”. While I don’t always like calling myself a minimalist, I will happily say “I’m a mindful consumer”. As someone who has been a binge consumer of many things, it almost feels like a gift. So, when I got an email expressing some concern that I was calling us all consumers, I knew it was time to explain what it means to me—and it started when I took back the meaning of the c-word.

By most definitions, a consumer = a person who purchases goods and services. Even if that sounds a little gross, it does describe all of us. If you’ve ever bought groceries or paid for someone to help you with anything, you are a consumer. So far, this word feels ok to me.

A consumer also = a person who eats or uses things. Again, that’s all of us! If you’ve eaten food or drank water, or worn clothes or watched/read something, you are a consumer. To that end, it’s safe to say a consumer = a living and breathing human being.

When I look at it that way, the word doesn’t bother me. Where it starts to feel dirty is when you think about how many companies out there use the word “consumer” to describe us, as they come up with strategies to make us consume things we don’t need. They study our behaviours and our insecurities. They implement strategies to see what works. And they write entire books to share their findings with others, so even more people can try to get + alter our attention. Because more than any other statement I’ve made here, that feels the truest: it’s not just that they want our money. They want our attention. They know we, as humans, are consumers, they want to make sure we are consuming them, and it starts by getting our attention.

Starting to feel icky yet? I am—or I was, until I decided to take back the meaning of the word. Instead of worrying about what companies were thinking of me as, I embraced the fact that a consumer = a living and breathing human being. And there’s something kind of beautiful about that.

I am a human with a mind + body that takes in a lot of things every day. Because of that mind + body, I am able to breathe, think, feel, touch, smell, taste, hear, talk and see what is all around me. I am consuming the world, because I am a consumer.

And not just a “conscious consumer”. That is someone who votes with their dollars, and chooses to buy things that are ethically and/or sustainably produced. This is a noble cause, and one I believe in too! But it still focuses on the goods/services aspect of being a consumer and, as you can tell, I like to go deeper. That’s why I’ve embraced the idea of being a mindful consumer. It means I use my mind + body to pay attention to what I’m consuming, why, and how it makes me feel. The key phrase being: I pay attention. I can thank my human capabilities for that. :)

So, if you’ve noticed that I’m calling us all consumers lately, that’s because I am. We are consumers! And there’s nothing dirty or wrong about it. We are consumers because we are humans. And because we are humans, we are equipped with the ability to pay attention, think and make choices.

Choices about what we buy. What we eat and drink. What we read and watch and listen to. What kinds of conversations we have and with whom. We aren’t stupid. And we aren’t just our insecurities or our behaviours. We are human beings who consume things, and those things affect us. You could even say those things can consume us.

“I am a consumer. And I want to respect my attention, energy and time.”

You can start saying this to the people + companies you think need to be reminded that you are a human being.

And then give it to yourself. :)

x Cait

This was originally shared in my newsletter.