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]
- Do I need this?
- Can I afford this? [not on credit!]
- How does this purchase impact the environment?
- Do I have something just like this already? [do I need another grey tshirt?]
- Can I get this borrowed or used?
- Can I make this myself? Will I make this?
- What can I sacrifice in order to buy this item?
- Would I rather have money in the bank or own this item? [HUGE question- and it usually is the major dealbreaker]
- Who does this purchase benefit? [small business owner? large corporation?]
- 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.