Are you asking, just what is a conscious consumer? Well, it’s someone looking to have their purchases reflect their standards and principles. In some cases this is easier than in others, depending on access, information, interest, and time. Some of the elements to consider when thinking about whether you’re purchasing is in alignment with your values are as follows. Do you know how and where the item was manufactured? Are the materials renewable, environmentally friendly, recyclable, reusable, or simply waste at the end of the life of the product? Do the company’s values match yours? Is handmade and do you know the creator? And so on. You may create your list of “must haves” when shopping for items. This certainly may be an unfolding process too, where you refine that list as you become more intentional about the gifts you give.
As we move into the Holiday Season, our minds become focused on gift giving as our lives become inundated with holiday ads and promotions. As a culture, we’ve come to believe that we should show our affection for friends and family by gifting them items. We are all quite familiar with this process. Perhaps you are also familiar with having too much “stuff”, a situation many of us are in. It’s easy to accumulate items that don’t contribute to happiness and well-being. Perhaps this year, we go about gift-giving in a slightly more intention manner.
Thrift & Secondhand Shopping – Your dollar will go further purchasing gently used. Other benefits – you’ll find one-of-a-kind items, you aren’t directly supporting the creation of those goods, you are keeping items out of the waste stream, and depending on your favorite store and it’s affiliation, you may be funding the mission work of a non-profit (i.e. – Goodwill, Salvation Army, Common Goods, etc.). A great suggestion from HDT Staffer Nora, is to search out board games and/or movies that you enjoyed as a child, they make great sentimental, special gifts for new generations. Plus playing those games with the recipients is interactive and memorable.
Credit Patrick Q via Flickr Creative Commons
DIY/Homemade/Handmade – If you’re like me, you think about all the great gifts you could make for those on your list just a little too late to actually make all those items! If I were more savvy, I’d write down those ideas and schedule myself to begin working on them in June vs. November! Nonetheless, homemade and created items can be truly lovely gifts if they are useful and fun for the recipient. Meaning, if you love to crochet berets but your lovely brother only EVER wears baseball caps, this isn’t going to be a good gift fit.
Handmade doesn’t have to be your hands. There are many opportunities to connect with those that are making items. Check out Farmers’ and Crafters’ Markets and Fairs or shops that carry items from local crafters, artists, and makers.
Another way to look at this is to prepare and gift a kit for your recipient to make the item. This is only a good gift if that person is interested in creating their own. Otherwise it’s like giving a broken item to someone to repair before they can enjoy it; it will only sit around and mock them.
Shop Local/Shop Small – Hopefully you have locally-owned shops you can patronize. Shopping small and/or local helps create relationships with your retailers and community. When you are buying items in your local shops, those dollars are going further in your community. Your money is helping strengthen the local economy by providing jobs and salaries for those employees; supporting the community by increasing that shop’s ability to support things like sports, fundraisers, and activities in your community; and it keeps those products you like easily and reliably available in local retailers.
If you aren’t able to shop local in-person, try to shop small online. Choose to buy from smaller retailers vs. big chain or super-conglomerates (Walmart, Amazon, etc). Look at handmade items on Etsy. Buy books from used or new booksellers online (Alibris, Powell’s, etc).
Yes, it’s easy to cue up Amazon on an evening in front of the TV and go through your list and find something for everyone BUT is that the best long term choice? In the future, do you want to have only one choice for where to find goods? Do you want small companies to be forced out because the competition is too fierce for them to stay in the marketplace, whether they are creating clothing or fun and funky trinkets? Do you think jumbo conglomerates support small communities? How about their employees?
Wrapping Gifts – Alright, you’ve made or acquired gifts for everyone on your list, now what?! Wrapping! Consider some perhaps unconventional ideas for wrapping – wrap with cloth, try Furoshiki.
Furoshiki Diagram courtesy of Japanese Department of Environment.
Years ago I bought fabric in holiday prints and colors and each year I reuse the same wrap fabric and tie with fabric ribbon (furoshiki wraps don’t require ribbon, it’s simply tying the fabric). Once gifts are opened the recipients pass the fabric “wrapping” back to me for reuse. They are very welcome to keep it and use it to gift if they like but so far my family returns it for me to reuse. I left the raw edges on the fabric I use, though you could hem it under if you are sewing-savvy. With the limited use that these pieces get, there is minimal fraying.
Use reusable bags as wrapping. Either utilizing a reusable bag you already have or acquiring and gifting a new reusable shopping bag as part of the gift.
If you love wrapping with paper – consider using newspaper. You can embellish it with paint, ribbon, etc. This is also true of recycled brown craft paper. The options are nearly endless for personalizing a blank canvas of wrapping (coloring pictures, writing the “to: and from:” directly on the paper, and more).
These are just some of the many things to consider if you want to become a more conscious consumer this holiday season! For more information and ideas, check out the New Dream guide to simplifying your holidays. If you’re thinking about trying to avoid the gift giving of items all together, make sure to stay tuned for our next blog on the gift of experiences!