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As my wife and I have been house-shopping for our move down to Portland, we've been having the same discussions. We're looking at buying in the city (better culture, better for environment, better 'walkscore', etc) but it means downsizing and curbing our material consumption.

At the same time, the big house in the burbs with the 3 car garage and room for the giant tv looks pretty tempting...

I think its important not to strive for unrealisic goals. Be aware of these things, aim to do better, but make some allowances. e.g. "I've used public transport all year, I shouldn't feel bad about the $300 shoes", etc.


been thinking about this a ton too, but more in using time, attention, and output as the gauges for value. the last year has been super introspective at work and at home, and this year i'm working on actually making more stuff.

also been thinking about danah's rule on donating 10% of her salary to charity - i'm up to 1% so far ;)


Jane, I recently spent a lot of time around a person who lives off a trust fund. This person spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars shopping for shoes, handbags, watches, meals and sunglasses. I could go on and on regarding the stuff she bought with me in tow. I was really surprised at my level of disgust for her spending. She never once thought of sharing with me and that's fine but she never thought to share with anyone. I think it's fine to have stuff but I pay attention to my giving as well. You seem like a giving person so I wouldn't worry too much.


I don't believe that one is the opposite of the other. The purchase of goods gives us an immediate positive feel while helping the world seems like a daunting task that we often view as never "paying" out.

I think if it was made easier to help people, everyone would want in on some of that action. Imagine every time you buy a video game 2% goes towards a fund that helps kids get into schools that design games or when you buy a TV, the company plants a tree. You'd probably spend a little more supporting that company than the one that doesn't.

JD Moyer

The good life ... I am all for rich foods and fine alcohols. We also live in a cornucopia of charitable giving opportunities, no? I'm sure that everyone has a unique giving profile, not unlike a fingerprint, because there are so many options. Mine, for example, includes The SETI Institute, the SF Homeless Coalition, World Vision (even though I'm an atheist), and once in awhile NPR when they make me feel guilty enough with their frakking pledge drives.


Wanting a beautiful television doesn't really say anything about your values. It's the economy's job to push our values aside, and the mechanism that does it is effective. If we at times wonder what our values actually are, it's because in the big shared lifestyle sea of mass-distributed goods, discourse and information, the main availiable actions--consuming and communicating about what we consume--are inadequate for expressing or witnessing values. The internet allows for some self-expression and creativity, but still we live in a world that wants nothing but to distract us from the dirt beneath our feet. All the things we potentially value are still there, each waiting for us to put our thoughts and desires--our selves--behind it. Glossy LCDs usually don't have to wait very long and that's a simple fact about people in 2008. If there are other things we love that are waiting to receive our attention, the very personal question for each of us is when that's gonna happen.

Meantime, it's our minds' paths, our art, our block parties, our arguments, etc., that reflect ourselves back at us. Humans are cool when they choose to be.

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