The Costs of Convenience

Written by Serena Doose

recycle containters

“You know that’s just going to make it harder for you, right?” Jane responds after John encourages her to add her fruit scraps to his already overflowing, apartment compost bucket. When John replies that it doesn’t matter, she gives him a skeptical look, but obligingly tosses in her cooking byproducts. At this point, the matter is out of Jane’s hands and is now John’s responsibility, officially pushing the issue from her mind. If she doesn’t have to deal with it, what does it matter how inconvenient it might be for John to compost her peels and shavings? The next time she cooks, this time in her kitchen, she ponders creating a compost bucket of her own, but quickly decides against it, determining the she lacks the time to deal with the maintenance.

“Oh, they forgot to put the recycling bin back… I guess I’ll just have to throw it away this time,” John says. As he throws in his plastic container which once held a sumptuous salad, the matter completely leaves his mind, though he remembers to make a special trip upstairs to grab a free donut on his way out. Interestingly, he could have altered his course in order to pass by the vaguely desired recycling bin but instead chose the faster, more convenient route. The issue now lies at the bottom of a trashcan, later taken out, bursting with recyclables, to the dumpster.

“I’ve worked hard. I deserve a shopping spree,” exclaims Jane. While roaming around the mall, she spies a sale for sweaters: buy one get one half off. What does it matter that she already has enough sweaters to last for weeks, even in the humid climes of Florida. Shopping feels good. Jane buys the two sweaters and is immediately in a better mood; the buyer’s guilt will come later, when she opens her closet and is confronted with her multicolored sweater mound, which today grew by two. At least she can finally throw away the blue sweater with the hole in the arm that’s been in her closet for years. She doesn’t have time to mend it, and the two new sweaters are certainly better options.

Convenience: the greatest driver for our everyday decisions. Our choices are dictated by the ease of performing an action, and perhaps rightly so, as the benefits should theoretically outweigh the costs of what we do, otherwise why would we do them? However, for what benefits and at what costs? At what cost are we adding greater and greater levels of convenience to our lives, to the point at which we don’t even know the consequences of our actions? We can all relate to the above stories, where in certain situations, convenience and temporary satisfaction far outweigh any thoughts of the broader impacts of our decisions. During certain days, it’s difficult to find time to even sit down, let alone analyze every action performed in one day.

How can sustainability take a deeper, more lasting hold on our lives and truly impact our decisions? It takes incredibly strong commitment to overcome the allure of the “quick fix” or “easy button” that we all desire in our lives. American society has made it that much easier to dispose of everything, to drive everywhere, to use incredible amounts of energy, and to buy what we don’t really need just because it’s convenient. This is a matter that I’ve been thinking about recently and have attempted to incorporate into my new year’s resolutions: to be more mindful in everything that I do in order to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.

I’m much better than I was, but there’s a long way to go, in areas of my life of which I’m probably not even aware yet. It’s not an easy commitment to make, but that’s the crux of the matter entirely: I’m not looking for easy and I’m no longer looking for convenient. In the extra time that it takes to grab my reusable bag, in the extra effort that it takes to bring my own container to the Pden, and in the extra energy expended to bike somewhere instead of driving, I’ve found a way to combat the plague that is convenience in America. It’s a work in progress, but as long as it’s not easy, I know that I’m heading in the right direction.

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