Winter used to be my least favorite season, but it’s growing on me. It’s a time to slow down, come to ground, and to remember what’s truly important. The world freezes over and people huddle together for warmth, comfort, and joy as they cope with the cold, short days and colder, long nights. It’s also a time when collecting stores feels natural: a little extra meat on the bones, a more dependable ride (or furnace or whatever else threatens to fail in winter), and of course a winter wardrobe refresh.
Since I began to experiment with my diet in May 2016, my weight has fluctuated. When it finally equilibrated this year, I decided I wanted to buy some nice-quality, form-flattering jeans. My favorite pair, which I’ve owned for over seven years and are just now beginning to show wear (also now a size too big) came from The Buckle. Since I had also received a gift card to Victoria’s Secret for Christmas (not my store or my holiday, but the gift was well-intended and I appreciate it), a trip to the mall was in order.
When I arrived at The Buckle, I made a beeline for the clearance wall and tried on two or three sizes in every style available. That day, I purchased two new pairs of jeans and three belts — a substantial amount of money for my lifestyle, and I left feeling quite satisfied. However, to my dismay, when I got dressed in my brand new jeans a few days later, I discovered that I still managed to buy the wrong size in one pair of jeans (they’re high-waist and I wasn’t sure how they were supposed to fit) and two of the belts. Another trip to the mall was in order.
The sales clerk that handled my exchange was very negative. She told me that since the tags were off (though I had them with me as well as the receipt), it was against store policy to accept them. Furthermore, she shamed me for attempting an exchange or return. I insisted that I was not going to keep brand-new clothes and accessories that I couldn’t wear and she eventually conceded. It was an awful, mildly traumatic experience. I decided then and there I would never shop at The Buckle again. After deeper reflection, I decided to take it a few steps further….
My goal is to make mindful purchasing decisions that have as little impact on the environment as possible, to become a conscious consumer.
For the past three years, I have been focusing on my food consumption. I can finally say with confidence that I am in control of what I eat. It’s been a long, arduous process full of ups and downs (and the subject of other posts). I mention it, because I’m applying the skill set I learned in making conscious decisions about what food I consume to what possessions I own.
I’ve always been interested in minimalism and more recently in a “zero waste” lifestyle, and I have been attempting to reduce my impact on the environment by consuming less and producing less waste since an epiphany I had on Thanksgiving 2017: an image of a spiral-shaped galaxy appeared to me, swirling and expanding outward. As it grew, it’s concentration became weaker and weaker as it finally dissipated to nothing discernible from the void of space.
The spiral vision was a macrocosm for the energy flow in our world. It’s an illustration of the consequences of failing to intentionally redirect energy and resources back to their source: they will eventually dry up and run out. Unfortunately, our economy isn’t even spiral-shaped, let alone circular — it’s linear.
A linear economy is one in which items are intentionally produced to experience a short lifespan, or even to be single-use. The line is from the factory to the landfill, so to speak. There is nothing I can do personally about our linear economy (other than to refuse to support it), and all my efforts in “zero” waste will be imperfect. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.
These efforts are important to me because they prove to myself, and to anyone else interested enough to observe me, that it is possible to reject the status quo, to make a lasting lifestyle change, to stand up and speak out against throw-away culture, to say, This is not okay with me, and I will effect change.
So what exactly does consuming consciously mean to me? It means I get excited about bulk bins and take my own bags shopping. It means I think twice about the difference between an impulse purchase and a smart purchase. It means I pay a little extra for the things I do buy so I can feel good about my decision. It means I talk to local growers and artisans a lot more often (which is a treat). It means I know where my coffee was roasted. It means I’m not the first owner of my car, furniture, dishes… damn near everything I own is secondhand. It means shopping at antique malls and thrift stores for items on my shopping list to avoid the blinding fluorescent lights of big-box retail, including virtual mega-stores like Amazon.
Ten Commandments for the Conscious Consumer
Before making a purchase, I invite myself to consider these ten points:
1. Is it on the list?
I keep a shopping list of things that would make my life easier. (I’m careful to avoid saying I need anything. All I need is a place to sleep, some food to eat, and a friendly face.) If I see something I want, but it’s not on the list, I think twice and
2. Sleep on it.
Making purchases without doing the research often results in regret. “Sleep on it” is an invitation to do a little more research so that I can buy it right and
3. Buy it once.
I’ll invest a little extra money in an object that will last a lifetime. I try to pay attention to the materials it’s fabricated from (plastic gases out and becomes brittle after a few years) and the quality of workmanship. Often, the longest-lasting items are vintage or antique. That’s why I try to buy
4. Used versus new.
Some things need to be purchased brand new, like socks and undies. Most things don’t. When I “need” something, I try and think if I can beg, borrow, or steal one. If I can’t, I’ll start looking at thrift stores, antique malls, and markets.
If I can’t get it used, my next preference is
5. Local or handmade.
I love having the opportunity to talk to and support makers, doers, and paradigm shakers. ‘Nuff said. My third preference is
6. Ethical and fair trade.
If I have to buy something that’s been shipped a considerable distance, I at least want to do what I can to stand against appropriation and exploitation. This goes hand-in-hand with supporting
7. Charitable and non-profit organizations.
In this (American) economy, you vote with your dollar, not at the polls. I consider every choice I make as a declaration of what companies and values I appreciate. All of the aforementioned stipulations should be combined with the requirement that items be
8. Sustainably sourced and eco-conscious.
Does anyone know where I can find bamboo basics (camisoles and undies, specifically)? Asking for a friend… I have a feeling I’m going to have to choose between Target, making my own, or ordering online. If I make a web purchase, I’ll have to
9. Consider the impact of packaging and shipping.
How far is it traveling and will it be packed in Styrofoam peanuts? And why doesn’t everyone use the starch-based packing? [Side note: I work with the guy who invented the cornstarch packing peanuts.] Finally, the biggest piece in my approach to consumerism has been to
10. Redefine luxury, comfort, and success.
I have no interest in keeping up with the Jones’, buying a second car or a bigger house (the one I have now is a little too big, really), or accumulating the latest and greatest any-fucking-thing. Luxury is a cup of freshly ground, pour-over coffee and a half an hour to do nothing but enjoy it. Comfort is my mom’s smile or a friend’s warm embrace. Success is living each day as closely to my truth as I can.
These are rules I attempt to live by, and I do so imperfectly. For example, when my French press broke, I was too desperate for new one to do my research, and I ended up with these from Walmart. They work great, but they have plastic parts and will eventually have to be replaced. Plus, I don’t like to support Walmart, but I sometimes end up there when I’m out with my mom.
Another example of a fail is this safety razor. I didn’t do my research first, and I brought home a broken one. [If you have spare parts or another broken AutoStrop Safety Razor, please reach out! Maybe to “brokes” can make a “fixed!”]
I also still collect books and vinyl, because they spark joy for me and I believe in supporting authors, booksellers, and musicians. I’m a little pickier about where I’ll get these “vices” from now. I try to support local book and music stores and independent labels. But you best believe if I find one of the 1969-1974 King Crimson albums I’m lacking, it’s coming home with me.
I have much more I’d like to share with you about my consumption habits and their impact. In the meantime, I’d like to invite you to follow my journey on IG @hoosiermystic. I regularly post about my capsule wardrobe experiment and consumption habits, in general.