01/15/2009 05:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The More You Know, the Less You Need (or Want)

Do you ever read nutrition labels on food? What if the labels on every product told us much more? What if all the ingredients were listed with place of origin, carbon footprint, and potential health impacts? What if the manufacturing facility was listed with labor info and pollution stats? What if you knew where it came from, how much pollution it created just to get to you, and where it might end up when you threw it away? If the whole story of every product was written on its label, I think we'd all shop very differently.

I know it's a near impossibility to expect all of this information to be listed on every product's label, so how do we take it upon ourselves to start thinking this way? And for those of us trying to wrap our heads around the responsibilities of consumerism, how do we get others to think this way?

We have quite a habit to kick. Consider these facts about American consumerism:

•In the US, we spend 3-4 times more hours shopping than our counterparts in Europe.
•99% of everything we buy ends up in the garbage within 6 months of the date of purchase.

Despite the increase in "stuff" and how much time we spend acquiring it, we haven't gotten any happier as a society. In fact, national happiness peaked in the 1950's - the same time when consumption and materialism really kicked into gear. According to Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff, we have more stuff, but less time for the things that really make us happy."

I suggest 2 things: check out the free download from Leo Babauta -- a companion piece to his book The Power of Less. The free ebook is called "THRIVING ON LESS: Simplifying in a Tough Economy. Also, join the global movement of committing one day to not "buying" on Buy Nothing Day - usually on Black Friday.

One of the most common New Year's Resolutions is to diet or lose weight. This year, let's make that resolution a general consumptive diet. Let's not eat so much. Let's not buy so much. Let's drop excess pounds of body fat, as well as excess pounds of consumable goods.

The current economic crisis will certainly compel us to spend less, but let's not make it a race to the bottom. A smaller budget should not equate the same amount of goods at a lesser quality (both environmentally and health wise). A smaller budget should equate intentional spending of quality goods. Invest in high quality, healthy, long-lasting, and safer products, and buy less.