With the winter holidays coming up, it is easy to get lost in the great deals and the need for the latest and greatest item. I love to get great deals when shopping for gifts as much as the next person, but we should stop and think about how our shopping habits are impacting the world around us.
In the last seven years, I have tried to live my life more mindfully. Recently I was inspired by the documentary The True Cost (2015), directed by Andrew Morgan, so I created a list of questions to ask myself before handing over my cash:
1. Who manufactured the product?
This is a big one. So many of our purchases are made in sweatshops that exploit the needs of the workers in other countries. According to Morgan (2015), these workers are provided unhealthy working environments, slave wages, and horrible treatment. If a fraction of the maltreatment occurred in Canada, to white Canadian citizens, we would be outraged. So, why do some lives matter more than others?
2. Where did the materials come from?
It’s important to take into consideration the environmental impact of the materials we consume. Some of the pesticides used to create products we buy are causing serious environmental damage, as well as damage the to the cognitive and physical development of the people living near the land. Morgan (2015) says that the crops used to produce the material can waste gallons of freshwater and there is a high rate of deforestation in order to create farms of cotton and other materials to make clothes.
Additional Note (trigger warning: suicide)
Many companies will exploit workers in other countries, originally offering the farmer a large sum of money to produce their material, but continually demanding more and more money until the farmer cannot make the payments. This leaves farmers with no hope for any form of income. There have been many cases of farmers going into their fields and drinking a bottle of pesticide to end their life. This is one of the results that comes from over consumption and greed.
3. Was my life living in deficit without this product?
When I walk through a store and I see something I like, I ask myself “was I missing this in my daily life?” or “how was I living without this product up until this point and, had I never seen it, would I be missing it in the future?” If I can honestly say that if I felt that a part of my life was missing without the product I want to buy, I would consider purchasing it.
4. Is there anything in my life that has manipulated me into buying this?
Think about how many ads you see in a day. Every time you scroll through a webpage, look at a bus driving by, pass a billboard etc., you are subconsciously being told you need to buy something. Ads suggest that you are not happy or that you will be happier if you buy that product. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Statistically, according to Morgan (2015), people suffer from more anxiety and depression when the value they place in material possessions increases. If you want to be a rebel, love yourself and love your life, regardless of the products
5. What will I do with it after I am done with it?
Fashion is the second most polluting industry after oil. The average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste a year. Even if you choose to donate your clothes likely only 10% of what you donate actually gets reused (Morgan, 2015). This is why it is important not to over consume and, when you do purchase something, try to purchase things with hardy material that will last a long time. The environment is suffering from our constant need for newer and better things.
6. Is there a mindful alternative to this item?
Sometimes, a product is something you really need, you’ve been thinking about it a lot, it isn’t an impulse buy, and it really will add value to your life. But maybe it was made by some little kid in a sweatshop or through environmentally unsound materials. Think about if there is a mindful alternative. Perhaps a second-hand store, or a fair trade store sells the item. Maybe a locally owned business? There is often another route to get a similar product with the same (or better) value!
7. Who is benefiting from my purchase?
People frequently complain about the ridiculous salaries of greedy CEOs without realizing they are the ones paying it. When you buy something from a local business, it helps the local economy and thus the purchase will be much more financially meaningful to the owner than it would be to the CEO of Walmart.
Overall, this list might seem daunting, making it nearly impossible to shop. It can be really difficult to shop mindfully, and it is understandable if it can’t happen all the time, so try not to be discouraged. Fair Trade is expensive and there are certain things that you just can’t get at a thrift store. I think the first step to mindful shopping is to reduce your over consumption and only buy things that you really need. I used to shop as a coping mechanism, but finding other outlets for fulfillment and stress relief can significantly decrease your need to constantly consume.
Remember: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” – William James