In the home goods section of most department stores, you can find generic plaques with inspirational words like, “Family…Love…Memories” written in fancy scroll.

The other day I was walking through a Target in Portland when I saw one of these cream-colored plaques with black cursive writing. Except instead of “Family…Love…Memories,” it said, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”

Only in Portland does the word “Recycle” make it into artwork, I thought.

The plaque makes for a tacky decoration, but I appreciate the thoughtfulness behind it, especially since I’ve been thinking recently about a Christian’s response to consumerism. Living in Portland where values like stewardship, conservation, and frugality are widely practiced makes this endeavor easier.

When I first began thinking about the implications of my spending habits, my initial response was guilt. I felt very, very guilty about where I shopped, what I bought, and the wages that people were paid to produce these goods. And that’s where my response started and stopped. Just feeling guilty, about most things, most of the time.

And then I began to feel guilty about feeling guilty and it got really ugly.

I think guilt is a common response, especially for people who have been brought up in a punitive religious culture where feeling guilty seems to be the actual chief end of man.

The problem is that feeling guilty is not a helpful response to anything. If it doesn’t change your heart or your actions, what does it matter?

But then there’s conviction, which is the healthy alternative to guilt. Conviction recognizes that a behavior or an action has caused someone grief or harm, and this knowledge becomes the driving force for change.

Instead of being paralyzed by guilt, I’m trying to respond in practical ways to genuine conviction.

My best friend studied home economics in college, and she has been a great resource. She has useful insights into what it could look like to live out the concept that, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

We talked about clothes shopping, and she suggested that instead of getting brand new clothes from the store, I go to thrift stores and consignment shops to get things second-hand.

I bought a townhouse earlier this year, and we spent a long time brainstorming about the most responsible way to furnish my new home.

She suggested that I start furniture shopping at garage sales, thrift shops, or even antique stores. This practice is essentially recycling old furniture, which is environmentally responsible. And getting used furniture also means I’m not directly increasing the demand for new goods from stores who get their labor from cheap international factories.

We even had a conversation about the best way to dress the windows in my new place. “It’s smart to use curtains rather than blinds,” she said, “Because you can repurpose the fabric when you don’t need the curtains anymore.”

I’ve been trying to apply these principles over the past few months. And when I become convicted about another area of my life that could be more intentional, I call my friend and we brainstorm some more.

I think in our online community, the brainstorming needs to continue as we “spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”

And soon we may discover that it’s not just our curtains or our furniture or our clothes that are repurposed, but our minds and our hearts and our souls.


  1. You're right. Guilt tears down. Conviction redirects. One corrects, the other accuses, but how narrow the line between them!

    About responsible buying, the third world is not better off when we consume less. Folks in Malaysian sweat shops aren't choosing 14-hour-a-day-jobs over moce high-paying jobs; they're choosing them over not working and more acute poverty.

    charles jackson
    from pba

  2. Excellent piece. My one thought, in defense of window blinds - I'm a fan of the curtain/blind combo. Together they block more light (for privacy) and prevent heat transfer, creating a more energy-efficient home.

    Blinds are repairable (my husband just restrung one of ours), and since window sizes are fairly standard, the sort of thing you could find a new home for.

  3. I struggle with this issue of consuming more than I need, and wonder where to draw the line. What I've been thinking lately is, as you touched on in speaking about treasures in heaven, that maybe the most important thing is to avoid being attached to worldly possessions rather than just avoiding spending. I could outfit my entire house with second-hand things and still love it entirely more than is good for me. I think the danger of "things" is that it re-directs our attention away from God and sometimes even convinces us that we don't need him.

    As an aside, I disagree with your assessment of guilt. I see what you mean about moving beyond guilt, but I think that guilt is a sign of a healthy conscious - the indicator by which we realize we have sinned. Guilt is a sign that our souls are well-developed enough to despise sin, and that's a good thing.

  4. Maybe it's all a matter of circumstance, but your description of guilt that is not followed by conviction perfectly summed up what I've been feeling lately. Thank you for putting it so succinctly!

    And the comment about blinds vs. curtains made me laugh, because it reminded me of the day I realized my bedroom curtains would work great as a tablecloth. They looked beautiful. ; )

  5. Sarah - maybe this will help?

    1) http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2007/05/no_clothes_for_a_year.php

    2) http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2007/06/no_clothes_for_a_year_part_ii.php

    3) http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2008/06/no_clothes_for_a_year_the_foll.php

    4) http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2008/08/going_green.php

    5) http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2008/09/were_not_plastic_anymore_part.php

    6) http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2008/10/were_not_plastic_anymore_part_1.php