The Alternative Shopping List: Becoming a Caring Consumer

Can you grow it or make it yourself?

If not, then consider the following:

1. Do I really need this? Is there anything I can use instead?

Here’s where the joys of ingenuity come in. It’s fun to find  substitutes. For instance, do you really need a nightgown  or pajamas when a big shirt will do as well?

2. How will this item affect the quality of my life?

Will it help me engage in life more fully, like sheet music or gardening supplies or a swim suit? Or will it just make me more passive – like an extra TV?

3. Is the cost of the item worth the amount of time it takes to earn the money to buy it?
This is the question suggested by Dominguez and Robin in Your Money or Your Life.  For instance,
How many hours do you have to work to buy your daily espressos?
Is it worth it?
You may say yes, but at least you’ve thought about it.

4. Could you buy it used? Borrow it? Rent it? Share the purchase with someone else?

Does your area have a tool-share?
Does your area have a free-cycle group?
Can you get around by bicycle?
Annual transit passes are available in many cities.
Buying used can save up to thousands of dollars.
Can you buy it with someone else and share it?
Can you get along without one and rent one when you need it?
Can you use one of the car-share services (auto-share, zip-car, etc)?

5. Where should you buy it? Consider these possibilities:

A small, locally owned business that keeps your money circulating in the
A business you value, one that adds life to the community – like an
independent bookstore
A business that contributes to the community, perhaps by donating to a
A business that treats its employees well
A cooperative or worker-owned business, particularly one where you can be
a member and  have input

6. How will this purchase affect the environment?

Does it contain toxic petrochemical ingredients like fragrances, that other people also have to breathe in when you use them?
Is it biodegradable?
(compare your personal care, laundry, soaps and cleaning agents )
What were the environmental impacts during the creation and transportation of the item?
Did it pollute the air or water then?
Does it affect the air or water during use or disposal?
Are safer alternatives available?
Can it be recycled or repaired?  ( Avoid single use items and dispose of things properly)
Will it use up resources to maintain?  ( a hand mower uses up much fewer resources than does an electric or gas powered one )
Is it over-packaged? Packaging pollutes, uses up resources, and swells our landfills.  (If you can’t avoid it, try leaving the packaging with the store. )
Can you buy it in bulk and avoid packaging altogether?
How far do you have to drive to buy it?
Is it worth your time and your gas to drive a long distance to save a few cents?
Where is it made? How much energy was used to import it?
Think of the energy costs to ship that pineapple from Hawaii.
Do you really need a pineapple?
When you do purchase something not made here, try to buy from countries where regulations on environmental and social damage are stronger than ours.

7. How were the people who made it treated?

Were they paid poorly or well?
Was their health put at risk from pesticides or other working conditions?
Were local jobs lost so corporations could make bigger profits?
Remind yourself that the more we consume things made more cheaply elsewhere, the less likely corporations are to make high- quality things here.
Look into things that are certified FairTrade. Along with gift items which are available  in some smaller local specialty shops, coffees, teas, chocolates, and bananas are  everyday items that are readily available organic and fair trade. Whole communities benefit from these (and the extra few cents we pay).

(adapted ages ago from a list originally found in “The Circle of Simplicity”)

4 responses to “The Alternative Shopping List: Becoming a Caring Consumer

  1. This just in:
    “New Dream’s Simplify the Holidays Pledge offers many fun and creative actions you can take to add more meaning and environmental mindfulness to the holiday season. This year, take the pledge to simplify your holidays!”

  2. When we moved to DC we brought a car but soon learned that the metro and bus system are excellent and we were able to ditch the car. We switched to using the zip cars and car-to-go when we need a car, which is rare. We also use the Capitol Bike rental system.

    • That’s great Kimberly!
      I used to love the transit system in Toronto! It was much easier to use than the one in Montreal, where the bus routes often zigged and zagged all over the place. Montreal however, was a much better walking town. I loved walking there. It was visually so much more stimulating, and the people were friendlier to bump into…
      I’m hoping to be able to use public transit again someday, but I’m not sure when that might be. The amount of chemical fragrance, pesticides, wireless, etc are all barriers to access for me now. I don’t know if any municipalities offer fragrance free public transit?
      It would also be nice if eventually the auto-sharing clubs dedicate a car in every ‘hood as a fragrance and chemical free car.
      Still, that is feasible only for those who are still able to live in heavily populated areas. I’m in a suburb now and the air is still too polluted for me.
      I wonder if there are any other methods of safe transportation for people with MCS/ES? Other than hoping there are fragrance/chem free friends with cars who can offer lifts?

  3. A new and excellent article:

    Annie Leonard: How to Be More than a Mindful Consumer

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