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Onerous consumption: The alternative hedonism of off-grid domestic water use


Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


In the contemporary, industrialized, urban world practices of domestic water usage typically transcend the physical boundaries of the home as indoor plumbing connects with municipal sewer lines and water mains.

These infrastructural connections sever the sites of individual water consumption from the sites of its collection, storage, purification, and distribution. But what happens when individual homeowners become self-sufficient for gathering, conserving, and recycling water? Drawing from ethnographic research conducted amidst off-grid homeowners this paper examines how practices of domestic water conservation and usage unfold when individuals become self-sufficient for water. We find that off-grid homeowners engage in what we call "onerous consumption"—a type of alternatively hedonistic consumption characterized by burdensome involvement in the gathering, conserving, channeling, utilization, and disposal of resources. We argue that "onerous consumption" results in a profound awareness of resource utilization and consequently leads to greater resource conservation. We reflect on the value of the concept of onerous consumption for research and theorizing on sustainable and ethical consumption.