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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sustainability and the Shopper...a tale of two loves

One of the hardest things about trying to live a sustainable life is my love of shopping. Now, those who know me know that my shopping love is one of thrift and frugality...I am a window shopper, deal-finder and coupon user.(In other words, I am cheap!) But, as my husband once said when looking at our spending habits "You are going to twenty-dollar us into debt!" And, there lies my problem...I would make lots of small "good deal" purchases that eventually added up to a LOT of money. And, unfortunately, my "good deals" were often cheap and didn't last long. As I worked to make sustainability a goal at my house, I have learned some easy ways to move towards that goal and to keep my inner need for retail-therapy at bay...

Here are my top three ways to achieve sweet sustainbility for the shopper:

1. Shop from your shelves.

This premise is simple but is easily overlooked. Take inventory as to what you actually possess. Write it down (I am a compulsive list keeper, I will confess.) I guarantee you that you will find atleast one or two pieces of clothing that had gotten pushed to the back of a drawer or closet that will freshen up an outfit. Doing this in the kitchen is also a great way to be fun and frugal (more on that later!) Make a goal to eat only out of your pantry and freezer for atleast a week, buying only fresh produce and milk. Find all the crafty things you have bought for your kids (play dough, markers, craft paper) and actually use it! Read books and magazine you already own! Play old video games, watch old movies or break out that dusty deck of cards with your family. The things you find when you take inventory of your house WILL amaze you...

2. Support sustainable shopping practices.

Living sustainable is about living "lightly" on the earth. I want to make the least amount of imprint on the earth and my budget. This step accomplishes both.

After you have taken inventory of what you have and you discover things that you will not ever use, consign or sell these items. Take the money you get back and put that in a jar/envelope/bank account where it is kept seperate and use it for any special shopping or spending ventures. I strongly believe in the negative impacts of clutter so this helps me clean out things that are taking up room in my home/life and creates a little economy of only spending from what I actually have and what I took the effort to make. This makes you actually think about what you are spending and what you are spending money on.

(I also strongly support donating items from your home...this may not actual make you any money, but most thrift stores are run by very efficient charitable organizations and will give you a reciept for tax purposes for any donations.)

3. If you must buy, buy responsibly.

Like I stated before, I often compulsively bought cheap things because I thought they were a good deal. However, I am slowly learned that really thinking about my purchases really pays off- for me and for bigger purposes. Cheap stuff can be sold cheaply because it is made cheaply-either by using cheap materials or by using cheap labor. Supporting either is not supporting the sustainable life I am striving for. If you are spending money consciously, you should consider atleast these 3 things:

1. how it was made
2. who made it
3. what it is made with

Some people prefer to buy vintage or used goodies instead of new organically made things. Both are sustainable options. Many great vintage goodies were made years ago, by hand in American factories, are extremely well-made and will last you much longer than the cheap-o item at a big box store. There are alot of great "green" options to buy new that are very well made, made responsibly by people paid fair wages and support a retail movement that brings green living to the "regular" marketplace. (Buying handmade often accomplishes both of these options...there are alot of great artists on Etsy and other handmade marketplaces that work towards these goals by upcycling, using organic material and paying themselves fair wages through their prices!) Sometimes buying in one these ways can be more expensive or require more effort than buying cheap, throw-away items. Thinking or researching about your purchases does make it more difficult to buy willy-nilly...but isn't that the point?

As a conclusion, I will share that I am doing the "shop from your shelf" step right now in my own kitchen. I have been really enjoying the creativity aspect that this requires...I have some apple cider packets in the pantry, 3 red apples starting to get a bit soft on the counter and a total over-abundance of applesauce in my pantry. Unfortunately, I had no oil or baking powder and I was not allowing myself to buy anything this week. After reworking an apple cake recipe from a forgotten cookbook and praying hard that they would actually turn out editable, I ended up with these yummy muffins:

They were, surprisingly, one of the most moist muffins I have ever made. My little guy stole one off the rack before they had a chance to completely cool. There are only half of them left this morning!

Do you have any other ways that you balance a sustainable life and the draw of the current predatory retail market place? Share with me what YOU do!
And don't forget to check out my current giveaway going on here!


Sarah said...

What a great post! I try to shop sustainably and buy responsibly, and high street shops really don't make it that easy, but this post is an inspiration! With that, I'm off to shop from my shelves to find something to wear tomorrow!

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