Consumption Vs Creation

3 min 4 May 2016

The need for balance between consumption and creation is rapidly becoming more important. This balance is the fight between passivity and activity; making and using, and is growing harder to win on behalf of modern conveniences: mass production, constant availability, and limitless distraction.

So we need to balance our creative and consumptive sides. What exactly are they?

Being creative means being active and productive. Things like:

  • Drawing
  • Making a meal from scratch
  • Shooting an amateur film
  • Finally writing that book
  • Playing the drums

It means making something new, learning something new, or thinking something new. It means challenging yourself and growing as a human being.

On the other hand, consumptive acts tend to involve using what other people have created. Things like:

  • Looking at art
  • Grabbing fast food
  • Watching a movie
  • Reading a book or article
  • Listening to music

These things are passive, and often involve spending money. Our economy is based around this duality - it relies on more people doing the latter than the former. Sadly, this has removed most of the creativity from production jobs - it's the reason why 'craft' products, made by hand, still sell - their making is still a genuine act of creativity, and this is rare. The more you think about this balance, the more you will realise how much influence it has in your life - and the lives of all people.

Of course, neither consumption or creation are inherently good or bad. They're two sides of the same coin, two conjoined states of thinking and doing - but we need to actively nurture balance between them. We can do this by carefully choosing how we spend our free time, and by adopting a mindset that pays attention to which of them we are doing. Having one side dominate the other can hurt other aspects of your life.

I'll use myself as an example:

If I'm feeling a lack of motivation, and fall into a spiral of consumption (we've all been there: eat, sleep, Netflix, repeat), it only makes it more difficult to flick the switch and get back into creative mode. The balance is out.

On the other hand, if I've been lost in a creative wilderness, I usually end up hitting*  a wall and feeling so drained that I'm mentally written off for days after.

*(read: steering my train of thought into a wall of exhaustion)

Again, the balance is out.

So, what do we do? We pay attention.

I've seen blogs that recommend a 60/40 split between creation/consumption, and others that say 50/50. It's difficult to track how you spend your time (and doing so will eat up even more time), so instead I tend to pay attention to how I'm feeling while consuming or creating. Besides, the right balance varies between people - some like to work in sudden and intense bursts, with more downtime, others like to chip away at creative projects, some like to vary how they approach things.

So what does paying attention actually mean? Well, have you ever been feeling down, and yet you forced yourself to do something creative? Even if it's a small thing; a journal entry, trying a new recipe, or grabbing your camera and chasing the sunset.

I certainly have, and it always brings me back. This is part of paying attention.

On the other hand, have you ever been on a creative roller coaster and suddenly found that you've hit the wall? Afterwards, you crave relaxation - and this is perfectly fine. It just means the balance has slipped a little, and you need to consume: go watch some trashy TV, eat some fast food. Even better, learn to see the wall coming so you can take breaks before you need them. Do something that flicks the switch from creation to consumption for a while - the two rely upon each other, empower each other.

To create at your best you have to consume in tandem, and purposefully - it's where new ideas come from, it's the well from which you draw the essence of creativity.

Pay attention to how you consume and create. Find your balance. Learn to interpret what your mind and body are telling you. Find a way to switch it up. Make something, and share it with others. And don't be afraid of swan-diving into the couch and watching TV every now and then.

Win that battle, and your life will be all the richer for it.