I'm the consumer queen. You know how everyone has one weakness or another where they overspend? For some people it's clothes, for others food, books, music, electronics, home furnishings, kids' stuff, pet stuff — everyone has some area where they overaccumulate.

For me it's ALL of those categories. Which is why I find myself thinking more and more about my personal consumption and how it conflicts with my values and beliefs about social and environmental sustainability.

But I'm not sure that conscious consumption is the solution, per se. OK, it's part of the solution. Buy American Apparel rather than the Gap (if you feel better about underwriting sexual harassment than underwriting cheap labour). Buy recycled paper. Buy organic. Et cetera.

The problem with all that is that in our culture, consumption isn't only — or even primarily — about the end of acquiring goods or services. It's really about the addictive, numbing process of acquisition: every minute I spend searching for the perfect pair of chic, waterproof black boots (suggestions, anyone?) is a minute I'm not spending in reflection about the prospect of global warming, the situation in Iraq, my kids' prospects for happiness, my mortgage, the possibility of suitcase nukes, or any of the other ten thousand anxieties that zoom through my postmodern worrybrain.

Conscious consumption is arguably a better way of channeling that numbing behaviour — if only because non-exploitative goods are more expensive, and thus shopping consciously probably means shopping less –  but it doesn't address the underlying problem of a society in which the process of consumption is a core social, psychological and identify-forming behaviour. 

All that said, having given up so many other helpful self-medicating behaviours in the name of responsible parenting, I'm not yet willing/able to separate from my shopaholism. So my latest experiment in displacing the consumer urge has been to switch from real-world shopping (which consumes resources to produce and ship goods) to virtual shopping (which consumes a little energy, but remarkably little.) For all the other shopaholics out there who want to hit the mall without destroying the earth, I recommend checking out Second Life.