Relecting on Consumption: Downshifting

October 26

Today, I downshifted. I didn’t sell anything. Instead, I gave up two days of teaching a week. There were a lot of reasons for that but the one I’m going to focus on here is time. Time is one thing I undervalue for myself and I often find myself spread too thin. This causes me to feel, as Mulligan (2018) observes, “anxious about not succeeding in life” (p. 35). He’s talking about hyperconsumption here and is framing this in terms of products. Equally, I think, we can think of hyperconsumption in terms of time and focus.

We invited my Dad to live with us a number of years ago, putting on an addition so that he could have the facilities he needs (such as a wheelchair lift and accessible bathroom facilities). Dad needs a fair bit of time these days. When I added the two extra days of teaching, I found I wasn’t seeing him at all. The money was nice, of course, but I was seeing my Dad walk less and cough more (he aspirates sometimes when he eats, so movement is essential to combat infection). With the pandemic, I can’t ‘pay’ to have someone else take him out or do things with him.

Furthermore, I homeschool our son. I love it! I love learning about how he learns and all the new, cool things there are out their to learn that weren’t there when I went to school. It’s fun! But it is a continually changing curriculum. When I taught at the university, I really enjoyed the third year of teaching a course, when things flowed and I could throw myself into really conveying the material to the students and working with them to engage in the subject and also in the wonderful stage of life they were in. With homeschooling an only child, it is a constantly changing educational landscape. This is truly exciting. But it also takes time. Again, all I am doing is going from one thing to another and not honouring my commitment to my son’s education.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

And I am running behind in this course. I realized this yesterday and this was the clincher. Years ago, when I was doing post-graduate work full-time rather than juggling family and work and school, I never ran behind. The stark comparison highlights how much I am juggling right now and how much I need to refocus. This MEd is important to me. It is a mid-life career shift. It is also time spent on ‘digging deep’ into issues that I want to learn more about and include my own life practices. I had hoped that these extra two days of teaching would allow me to invest the educational well-being that I am experiencing into the education of youngsters. Without the prep time (and for other reasons as well), this has been difficult to achieve. And the course where much of this new expertise could really make a difference (my WILD course), I have not had the time to develop as I had planned. Again, there is no repetitive curriculum here. And COVID times have shifted what we did last year (no more visits to the Wildlife Centre or the Turtle Trauma Centre etc). I am running from one thing to another without pausing or preparing. There is too much.

Heartbreaking as this is for me, I had to realize that I needed to slow down. I haven’t been sleeping. I am anxious. Texts are coming in through the evening and weekends that distract me from organizing my time and focussing on following through with my commitments. I am consistently dealing with feelings of coming up short, with my family, my friends, my colleagues and my students. Perhaps I should call this the hyperconsumption of time?

And what this means is that I am not living sustainably. I am taking shortcuts. I am not making the soups for my Dad that would both be healthier for him and for the planet. Or even spending the time to chat, rather than to just solve problems. I am not getting the greenhouse together to grow winter greens with my son or saying, let’s bike to the library to return our books. And I am not, like I envisaged, starting the day with a chapter or video from our readings as inspiration. I have stopped my morning yoga and meditation. I am not getting up early enough because I am awake too much during the night. And I am not living up to my commitments.

In his 2012 video, You Don’t Need to Buy This, Amitai Etzioni encourages us to ‘unhook ourselves’ (2012, timestamp 3:28). He maintains that there are three things that truly make us happy: Relationships, Intellection (reading, meditation etc) and Political Activism (2012, timestamp 3:50). This change means that I am investing in the relationships and intellection closest to me, most especially my family.

So, I have passed on this teaching to someone who needs the money more and who does not have the additional family commitments that I do. I hope she will flourish with this opportunity! And I will take the time to invest the energies I need into the responsibilities that were mine before this opportunity to expand my teaching happened. I will slow down my consumption of time and look at ways in which I can focus my energies and my expectations in more sustainable ways. I will invest in well-being.


Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTube

Mulligan, Martin (2018). An introduction to sustainability. Environmental, social and personal perspectives. Routledge.

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