I’m not sure that I’ve said it in as many words before, but our Waste Not project is incredibly empowering, in so many ways. One of those ways is coming to understand my purchasing power – the ability to affect change simply by choosing where and how I spend my money.
In the past, I wasn’t too concerned with where my goods were coming from, or how durable they were. Oftentimes if I needed something I’d simply drive past Walmart on my way home and grab whatever was cheap (only to replace it down the road because of said cheapness). It was easy for me to distance myself from basically every ethical concern, from sweatshop labour through to shady corporate practices taking a toll on our ecosystems, instead prioritizing my “need” to have something immediately.
Our Waste Not project has helped me to redefine a lot of things for myself; my sense of what qualifies as a “need” rather than a “want” has certainly shifted, and my understanding of “cost” has broadened to include more than just the price tag on an item. The result is that I buy a lot less, more thoughtfully, and more proactively (though there are still those “oh crap, I need this thing, and I need it now!” moments every once in a while!).
Initially, I was more paralyzed than empowered by my new-found sense of ethical responsibility. I literally wandered around barefoot for a few weeks in the summer when my old flip flop sandals fell apart, because somehow that seemed easier than actually researching where to find sandals that weren’t made in a sweatshop. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the many options, opinions, and factors to consider in the conscious purchasing process, so I try to make a bit of a plan when I need to buy things now, so that I’m not indecisive and panicked when I get to the checkout.
Here are a few things I like to keep in mind when shopping these days:
1. Buy or Trade Used
This one is an easy answer to most of my immediate needs! I like to check out Value Village or the Village Green (on 20th Street) when there’s something I need. I also like to know a bit about the thrift shop I’m supporting; some are privately owned, some are run by a non-profit, and sometimes it’s a simple as taking advantage of a yard sale, clothing swap, or hand-me-down opportunity (My sister Sam usually checks if I want any of her old clothing before donating it, and that’s pretty sweet.)
Back in early summer, I bought an old mountain bike from a friend and began my new life as a bike commuter (more details on how AWESOME biking is will be in another blog post). The bike needed some repairs, and I discovered the Bridge City Bicycle Co-op. A yearly membership costs $20, and gets you the experience and assistance of their knowledgeable volunteers to help you learn how to fix and maintain your own bike. Parts are available by donation. What a beautiful system!
2. Read the Label
What material is your shirt made of? Where was it made and how far did it travel to get here? What brand is it, and what can you find online about that brand? There are many sites online that have so much information on the environmental and human impact of various brands, and it feels really good to enter a store knowing that they carry a brand that meets your criteria!
I love shopping at the Better Good, because they have an absolute wealth of Canadian-manufactured goods, and are committed to sustainable consumer solutions. I’ve had great luck with toiletries, clothing, kitchen items, and cleaning supplies there so far! I also really love the brand prAna (available at Outter Limits) – many of their products are made with hemp (arguably the best environmental option for textiles on the market right now), and they are beautifully structured garments. When I finally solved my sandal dilemma, I ended up purchasing a pair of Sanuk sandals from Clothes Cafe (the banner picture for this post), which are ingeniously crafted from recycled yoga mats! They are as comfortable as you would think.
How many things do you own that you use once, or seasonally, or actually not at all, but you keep it because Aunt Martha gave it to you? This particular tidbit is probably in lots of other peoples’ wheelhouses, but it was new to me! I’ve been able to lend and borrow quite a few things over the past few months (from tools we needed for renovations to a massive projector that we needed for a show we were putting on at the Academy), rather than purchase. The net result? I save money, there’s no need for me and my neighbours to own duplicates of everything, especially if we’re not consistently using them, and I’m forming relationships through interdependence with the people around me. Again, probably not news to many of you readers, but “old me” definitely would have just gone and bought a projector.
Ultimately, my foray into being more intentional with what my money is supporting has been very empowering. It also reminds me that in order to live, one will impact everything and everyone around them. So it’s not really about not spending money, and not having the things you need (or even the things you want), it’s just about remembering that there are a lot of industries that benefit from telling you that your dollar is only one dollar, and has very little impact – like a drop of rain in the ocean. But they are wrong, and the tide is shifting. 😉