Image credit: HotTugUK

By Caitlin O’Clarey:
Caitlin is a biochemistry graduate from Lewes furloughed from two jobs in London.

Profligate consumerism gone mad: can lockdown cure us?

In the time before COVID, my London life was excessively busy. It wasn’t all that unusual to spend 4 hours on public transport: work and back, out to meet a friend, travel to a gig, travel home, fall in to bed, rinse (off the particulates) and repeat. Back then glimpses of nature were fleeting, wistfully whizzed past on the way to something else. And for the metropolitan millennial there is always something else: the café where lunch is served in a hollowed out loaf of bread; ping pong – but with beer!; bottomless brunch; day festivals; street food; ice rinks; athleisure. And almost cartoonishly emperor’s-new-clothes – you can rent a hot tub in a boat and chug up Regent’s canal. With prosecco (obviously). Cool.

In lockdown I am free from all this activity. Now furloughed and in Lewes I have oceans of time. I have time to think- think about care homes, think about how sweaty it must be in PPE for 12 hours, think about the role I will play in post-COVID society. I have time to create: to start painting; make a quilt; and adjust all the clothes that don’t quite fit. My geographical world has shrunk but time has magnified the details and saturated the colours. Nature is now an evolving canvas – the changes happen every year, but this time I’m seeing it anew/ them in the foreground/them in focus.

Collectively, we’re deciding what’s important, who and what we want to be. We have decided shelf -stackers and till workers deserve better, clean air is a good thing, and that we all must rally around the NHS, our greatest achievement and pride.

Focusing on what’s important, I’ve found freedom from FoMO – Fear of Missing Out, defined by researchers from the University of Essex as:

“The uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’.

Practically mandatory for the young Londoner, FoMO is a major driver of consumption – of cheap clothes, cheap holidays and canal hot tubs. From 1970 – 2010 our natural resource consumption more than tripled. If the entire world lived like those of us in western Europe we would need 3 planets. Lockdown has been my consumerism rehab.

There is good evidence that consumption fails to deliver wellbeing. Paul Dolan, LSE academic and author said:

Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness.

Through turning our attention to nature and rallying round the important things, we can cultivate delayed gratification. We can begin to define ourselves by interests and values other than the consumption of products and experiences boasted about by others.

As the debate rages about green economic recovery packages, do individual journeys make a difference? If we are to achieve the “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” needed to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, we will have to find a cure for our consumerism.

I hope that, even whilst struggling with personal and global tragedies, our time in lockdown will enable us to construct identities and build lives and interests that are not dependent on consumption. We can be better without buying clothes, going shopping, city breaks or prosecco with everything. As the world goes through its green transition over the upcoming years and decades, we can embrace our personal green transitions knowing we can be all right with less.