September 3, 2009

conscientious consumption & donation

Consumption is a tricky issue when it comes to living green.  The greenest option is really, not to do or buy anything.  But our economy is based on shopping, livelihoods are based on shopping, and most folks really like to acquire new stuff.  But how much stuff is enough?  It is probably a lot less than we think, and a lot less than we have.  

Teaching conscientious consumption to myself:
My mom is a shopper of the worst kind; charge cards for different department stores, a first name basis with salespeople in clothing departments, and a full closet & a mountain of debt.  I remember her telling me once, if you find something that fits, buy one in every colour.  I don't have the luxury of that kind of reckless income, and the older I get, the more frugal I have become.  I met my parents at the mall yesterday- to take my daughter on the carousel and so my mom could make some returns.  She runs into the store, and I follow in a few minutes later to find her buying 4 eyeshadows at the counter.  We have one of those "freaky friday" moments where I say "how many eyeshadows do you need? You only have 2 eyes!".  So anyway, I wasn't raised to buy conscientiously, I learned on my own.  And more importantly, that is what I want my child to learn.  

So one major project I have implemented is "sell to buy" for clothes.  If I want to purchase a clothing item, I have to sell clothes that I already have.  And I have more than enough [my background catches up with me].  Its a small step, but it allows me to think a bit more about the actual cost of what I own, and makes shopping more of a rewarding challenge.

I found a jacket that I adored, but was on the pricey side.  So I waited a few days to see if I even remembered it, and if I still wanted it.  I did.  So I went through my closet and pulled together a large bag of clothes that I took down to Buffalo Exchange.  Luckily there is one just a mile from me, so its an easy option, but there are all kinds of consignment shops, etsy, ebay, craigslist, and other options for reselling clothes.  I was able to make 50% of the purchase price of the jacket from my reselling.  Sold.  Not only do I make a bit of money on my old clothes, but then the clothes are resold at a massive reduction on the original price, no new items are produced in the process.  Donation is also an option, but in Southern California, thrift stores are scoured by resalers who buy cheap and mark up extensively [Melrose Ave. I am looking at you!].  Unsold clothes are all donated anyway by Buffalo Exchange.  

My rules for buying conscientiously: 

With every purchase I ask myself the following questions to encourage conscientious consumption [since it doesn't come naturally to me]
  1. Do I need this?
  2. Can I afford this? [not on credit!]
  3. How does this purchase impact the environment?
  4. Do I have something just like this already? [do I need another grey tshirt?]
  5. Can I get this borrowed or used?
  6. Can I make this myself?  Will I make this?
  7. What can I sacrifice in order to buy this item?
  8. Would I rather have money in the bank or own this item? [HUGE question- and it usually is the major dealbreaker]
  9. Who does this purchase benefit? [small business owner? large corporation?]
  10. How long do I need to think about this purchase before making it? [it is easy to get caught up in store displays & merchandising- sometimes walking away will make you forget all about it]

With the holidays approaching [I know, I know! I am in retail and we buy for holidays in July] start to implement a conscientious approach to consumption and enjoy your possessions & purchases even more!

Teaching this to my daughter:

For my daughters first birthday, we did a party with 3 other 1 year olds and in lieu of gifts we collected toy donations for the Miller's Children Hospital Pediatric Cancer Ward.  All the kids were born at the hospital and we wanted to give something back.  I called the hospital and talked to them specifically about what they needed- plastic toys for 0-6months to be used in the playroom, preferable music toys.  In the invitation we wrote out this detailed request and set up a table and sign for the party.  
People were able to buy gifts for kids, we didn't come home from the party with bags of gifts [I had been to a few 1 year parties and the amount of toys is ridiculous!].  My daughter is thrilled with empty boxes and plastic cups, so that is what she got for her 1st, and the hospital received a wagon of gifts.  I plan on doing that every year.  


lisa s said...

hayely - i love your checklist...

and the idea for your daughter's 1st birthday was genius!!

Shannon said...

Great checklist. This reminds me that I need to work on being more thoughtful about what I buy (or decide not to buy). :)

nicola said...

i keep a similar list of questions in my wallet!
we are doing a year of no-buying-new (or as close as we can get). it has been an amazing learning experience!i just attended a clothing swap where we brought unused clothes, took what we wanted, and the rest went to charity. i have no idea how the host planned to get a charity to take all that was left. it was an embarrassing amount. meanwhile, i filled some big gaps in my wardrobe, for free, all while having fun, too!

oklyous said...

I love your rules, I really need to remember them. I am not the huge shopper, but alsmost every day I have to sit down and think over just how little money I have.
I am a huge fan of sales, charityshops and when it comes to my shoes I try to buy samples at half the cost of the original shoe.
I try to limit my wardrobe to clothes I like to wear, and which flatters my body. why keep a shirt if it is just nok perfect?

bugheart said...

i am trying
to be better
about conscientious
i usually only buy used
and have
a rule
that if i buy
i have to get
rid of something similar
for clothing,
home decor item
for home decor item)
but honestly
i don't always
stick to it.
i need to be better.

i think your idea
for a birthday party
is awesome.

great post!

Andrea said...

I love the idea for your daughter's birthday party! Also, I'm really enjoying reading your blog, very inspiring for those of us trying to live more simply.

f. pea said...

Hayley, what a beautiful birthday party! I will start planning the same party now... I love your checklist. Just walking away is such great advice. If you forget about the thing, so much easier than figuring out how to make up for buying it!

Hayley said...

Thanks all! Nicola- I should print out that list and keep in my wallet- maybe create a sleeve for my debit card. :)

The birthday party was wonderful! We received such a wonderful thank you note from the hospital- they were really grateful for the donation. [The bottom pic is the hospital staff standing with the loaded donation wagon]. It was such a treat to come home from the party without bags of gifts, without finding places for the gifts, or without having to return unwanted gifts. All the toys went to kids who would really appreciate them. Oh, and for the out of towners who were invited to the party, we sent donation brochures so they could send a direct donation instead of a gift.

The hospital also had a fundraising website where we could've created a page for the party and collected donations that way, but we figured that people would want to bring a gift to the party anyway and that would defeat the purpose.

F.pea-if you do plan a donation based party- let me know how it goes, or plan a post around it. :)


Tracy said...

Wonderful post Hayley. I find it especially challenging with my girls (now 8 and 5) here in Los Angeles where so much seems centered on what you have. The New American Dream has a sleeve on their website for your card with a list, not unlike yours. I wrote about it here:
Mine has worn out and hasn't been replaced! Thanks for the reminder, and for new tips as well.

Tracy said...

My mom is similarly frustrating. She doesn't go into ugly debt, but she has every closet and under-bed storage inch jammed with clothing. Much of it comes from resale shops, a painful percentage is no longer her size (but still has price tickets attached).

Unfortunately this behaviour has extended to electronics, too. The newest, fastest, coolest whatever comes home with her - and then I get the tech support call. She's owned a GPS for almost 6 months now but never took it out of the box because she doesn't know how to set it up.

Hmmm. I seem to have vented my frustration a bit. Sorry about that.

I will definitely print out the list you shared to give to my mom (and one for myself, too). I hope it helps!

Clementine's Shoes said...

Great post! This is something I've been thinking alot about over the last couple of years, and we have developed similar mental checklists for considering purchases.
The whole idea of living more compactly, with less stuff, is very counter mainstream media and culture- not just in the US, but other western countries like Australia too. I see it as a bit of an alternative lifestyle choice, but hopefully with time (no doubt economic pressures will play a role) it will be come more broadly supported.
I will defnitely think about that kids party idea- I think as parents we do have an important role in demonstrating our values to teach our children.

Julia said...

that checklist is great! i'm do my best to always sell (or give away) a bunch of clothes before i buy new ones. not only for the financial side, but also for the sake of simplifying my closet!

another great place to give away clothes is on freecycle!

sue said...


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ky*ko said...

Fantastic advice