On Being a Conscientious Consumer
So, this may be a little late to get out in terms of the holiday season but still early enough for some New Year’s resolutions. In light of my last post I wanted to convey how Bones and I choose to be conscientious consumers and why. First, why be a conscientious consumer? What is the intention? For me, living in a world so driven in every aspect by money, I see each dollar I spend as a choice to support that which I believe in or to directly hurt those beliefs I wish to spread. It is a choice to take responsiblity for the working conditions of the workers of a company, to hold businesses accountable, to be an active participant in my community, to create relationships with people, to live focused on those interpersonal relationships - rather than as merely a consumer of whatever the item of the moment is. That’s really what it boils down to intentionally choosing to build relationships and take a vested interest in my fellow mankind. If I want to be treated well, then I must ensure that am I treating others well and that means taking responsibility for the ethical/unethical practices each dollar I spend supports.
That being stated, here are the guidelines we shop by, with some examples of how we kept to them this holiday season
1. Shop local - There are so many reasons to shop local – you’re helping the local economy, you’re helping a person you know who may be struggling to start their business (rather than lining the coffers of those who have already made a fortune), you’re reducing your environmental impact, helping create good local jobs, and that’s just a few good reasons. According to The 3/50 Project, $68 out of $100 spent at a locally owned business returns to the local economy at a national chain only $43 out of every $100 comes back – that adds up to a big difference for your locally community! I am also partial to the fact that shopping locally reduces the impact of advertising on my wallet. Plus, I am making friends and lasting relationships within my community by shopping locally in small independent shops. Each present we bought this year was bought at a local independent shop – even the handmade bath bombs my niece received. One of my brothers was the recipient of a variety of cooking ingredients and a mozzarella making kit, all purchased from a locally owned specialty food shop.
2. Support local artists - This piggybacks on the first point with shopping locally, but by supporting local artists you are supporting so much more. You’re investing in someone’s creativity and talents. You’re purchasing something unique, something that can easily become an heirloom. Often, your helping keep alive a dying art form that is being replaced with mass produced cheap stuff. We love looking at the local artisanal products so holiday shopping was fun for us too! Bones brother received a gorgeous cheese board created by a local wood worker for Christmas and my brother got specialty glasses made from gin bottles created by a local glass blower. These are unique gifts, that I hope will last much longer than the movie I could have got them which may be watched a couple times and then catch nothing but dust. Additionally, these gifts are often made using recycled materials, which is another win for your environmental impact. I also frequent Etsy for artisanal gifts – they even have a section where I can find new artists in my area (like Paintbox Soapworks). Even if I buy from farther away, I don’t mind shopping on Etsy because I am helping a small independent business and supporting someone in the pursuit of a beautiful craft.
3. DIY with locally sourced supplies - Here’s a huge one! We don’t have a huge budget (it’s actually really small) so being economical is a necessity. Besides, I love to make things – for me working with my hands is therapeutic whether it’s cooking, gardening or knitting. It’s fun to give someone a gift that you made just for them. So how do I DIY and shop local? Buy all my DIY supplies locally (or as many as I can). Even for food, I DIY as much as we can so I can purchase local ingredients rather than something processed or at the big grocer. I am trying to get back into knitting and something about that darn wood stove encourages me to curl up in front of it and knit. So, I made our niece a knitted scarf for Christmas – it was a bulky yarn hand dyed by the owner of a local yarn shop, Cherie. Cherie was probably one of the first people to welcome us to York, we met her at her tea and yarn stand at the Market. Now, she has her own storefront and we stop in whenever we can if nothing else for a bit of good conversation and a shared moment with a kindred spirit. Steve is another friend who quickly took us on tours around town to meet other vendors and made us feel welcomed, whenever I need gardening supplies or tips I stop in to his shop.
4. Avoid big box stores (on the street and online) – Whether it’s a large online retailer or a big box store often they are participating in practices I find unethical – whether it be underpaying workers, poor working conditions, or purchasing items of a questionable foreign origin. The money spent there will not stay in the local economy, won’t help my fellow citizens, or build relationships the way shopping local does. So, if at all possible I just won’t do it. When I have to, I make sure to always checkout with a live cashier rather than self-checkout. It seems like a small thing but it seems to me that enough people use the self-checkout before long that could cost a cahier their job.
5. Shop at secondhand and consignment shops - Or Craigslist, or Freecycle, or even a local Free Store (don’t have one – start one!). You can get anything under the sun at these alternative marketplaces. For example, I have been longing for a rice cooker (if you knew just how much rice Bones can eat in a sitting you would understand why). Someone donated one to the Free Store, it’s older, was in desperate need of cleaning, and very basic – but it works and it gets the job done! I paid nothing for it but the time I invest in helping the Free Store. DIY materials from people who intended to start/complete a project but didn’t can often be found for pennies on the dollar in these alternative markets.
6. Don’t sweat it - I will not bite my own head - or yours – off if I can’t stick to these principles. Sometimes there’s no option but to break one of these guidelines I have set for myself. I will try to be as creative as possible to get around it but sometimes that’s just not possible and that’s ok too. The intention was present, the effort was put in, you can’t ask more than that.
7. Take it one step at a time - Bones and I didn’t implement all these guidlines at once. It was a gradual step by step process and still is, I imagine this time next year I might have altered or added some to this list. So be forgiving with yourself pick one thing and tackle it before adding on. It’s just like any other change of habit, it needs gradual, progressing, and consistent change.
What does it mean to you to be a conscientious consumer? Do you have any guidelines for your shopping? Do you have a favorite local shop you can share with me?