How to Be a Responsible Consumer

Over the past few years, and especially since reading the book 7, I’ve tried to become a more conscious consumer. What exactly does that mean? For me, it looks like this:
1. Consume less
One of the easiest ways to become a more responsible consumer is to consume less! I realized how often I spent on things just because. How many things I bought that I didn’t really need. I was donating clothes with tags still on them! Now before I buy something, I ask myself if it is a want or a need? If it’s a need I can get it (and sometimes, boots in black, gray, AND brown are totally a need!) If it is a want I question myself more. Have I been wanting this item for awhile, or did I just pass it on the shelf and thought it looked cute? Will I use it often or is it for a one time thing? Is it going to benefit others or just me? I also try to keep my wants at a minimum by limiting my browsing. I find that I am pretty happy with what I have…until I walk around a department store, or flip through an ad, or click through a website, and see all that I don’t have. Finally, if it passes the need/want test, I look at things I already own to see if they can do the trick. Can I put my clothes together in a new way rather than getting a new outfit? Do I have home décor items buried in storage I can dig out rather than buying a new vase? If I only need something for a short time, can I borrow it rather than buy it?
2. Shop Reuse or Consignment
Once I do decide to consume, I think about where I’m going to get something from. I buy almost all of my clothes at Goodwill or consignment and I’m not poor. I love these stores! I like how the clothes are already washed so I have a better idea of how they will fit me. I like that there are not 20 of the same item behind the one I’m getting. I like that, when shopping at many thrift stores, my money goes towards good causes rather than corporate bottom lines. True, you have to look a little harder. You have to check for imperfections carefully. It might even smell a little bit. But the benefits of shopping thrift and consignment far outweigh the drawbacks, for me. And I haven’t even mentioned the money you can save! I’ve done this for so long now that I have a really hard time even shopping for new things. Paying $70 for a pair of jeans just seems absurd to me, especially when they probably cost $4 to make. Where’s that money going? Designers, marketing, bottom lines. No thank you. I’ll take the same design for $8, thank you very much. And half of that will go to charity. That’s not being cheap, that’s being a good steward of the money you have.

There are some items that are hard to find in thrift or consignment stores. For those items, I turn to CraigsList. If you get frustrated checking their less-than-browsing-friendly site, try their mobile app. It’s much easier to search through the listings. Garage sales are another option.

I got this desk on CriagsList for $20.  Sanded it, stained it, and spraypainted the gold hardware...a pretty simple project even for an uncreative girl like me!  The bench is from our old piano.

I got this desk on CriagsList for $20. Sanded it, stained it, and spraypainted the gold hardware…a pretty simple project even for an uncreative girl like me! The bench is from our old piano.

Some things just can’t be bought reused, though. And sometimes I’ll shop reuse for weeks and not find what I want/need. If you have decided to get something and you can’t find it secondhand,

3. Buy Repsonsibly
By that I mean, can I buy it in a way that supports fair working conditions and the Earth? Where was it made? What materials is it made out of? Are there fair trade options available? For electornics or appliances, are there certified refurbished options available? Etsy? One of my favorite items in our house is our coffee table.
coffee table
It’s made with upcycled wood taken from the floorboards of an old Missouri grocery store built in the 1800s. A local woodworker made it. It cost more than most conventional coffee tables, but it is a quality item and I was happy to spend the money.

Basically, when I do have to buy something new, I try to buy a fairly-made, quality item that will last a long time- and I’m able to do that with the money I saved by doing the things above.

I can’t claim I follow these steps for every item I buy, or even every big item I buy. I don’t. But it’s what I’m going for. I look at money as a great blessing that comes with great responsibility, and I want to feel good about what I’ve done with that responsibility. What did I miss- have any other tips for me?


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