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What is Conscious Consumerism and Does It Matter?

written by Sam and Veren November 19, 2020
What is Conscious Consumerism and Does It Matter?

What is conscious consumerism and how can we be more mindful consumers? As Black Friday and holiday deals proliferate, we thought it’d be a perfect time to look at how to make more mindful, ethical, and sustainable purchasing choices. We talk about our purchasing mindset and process as well as why conscious consumerism isn’t the be all end all. 

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What is Conscious Consumerism?

In a nutshell, conscious consumerism means being more mindful about your shopping and spending habits, and not just buying things willy nilly, but thinking about what you’re buying, why you’re buying it, and who you’re buying it from.

The reality is that there are very real world ramifications of our consumption habits. A lot of the situations we’re in, in terms of the environment and social welfare, have a lot to do with our consumption habits. Now of course, they’re not the only factor. There’s a lot of accountability that needs to go out to institutions and corporations and businesses, governments etc.

But we believe that individual habits are important as well, when it’s possible to adjust your habits. But this is often the hardest thing to do because it means closely examining your habits and your modes of operation when it comes to consumption.

Conscious consumption is NOT saying that you can never buy anything or treat yourself again. It’s being mindful about those times and with what you treat yourself. 

Making More Mindful Choices as a Conscious Consumer

The most important thing to remember here is that this is a process. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you aren’t immediately making the most ethical, sustainable choice each and every time that you buy something. You can make more conscious choices little by little.

A perfect time to examine your habits and create more mindful ones is when you’re replacing something or you need/want something new.

An example that we like to use is chocolate. We all love chocolate. Unfortunately, child labor is still used in many countries that export cacao. So if you had a choice between buying it from a country that doesn’t regulate labor in their country (and allows for child slavery), or you can buy your chocolate where the cacao is sourced from a country that does have fair labor practices, why not go with the more ethical option? (Use the Ethical Chocolate App to help you in the grocery store!)

Now we’re not insisting that people who don’t have access to basic needs like food, shelter, and healthcare (unfortunately too often the case even in wealthy countries like the U.S.) pay more for ethical chocolate. But for those who do have that option available to them, why not? It takes a bit of extra effort, but the reward is great for not contributing to harmful practices.

And yes, in the grand scheme of things, it would be great to not have to approach things this way. But while we fight for a better world, we’re still living in this capitalistic world. Buying things is what makes the world go round right now, so regardless of how you feel that should be the case or not, that’s the reality. We’re gonna keep consuming things so we might as well think about it before we buy another thing. 

Conscious Consumption Examples: Mindful Shopping Around Big Sales

Being a mindful consumer can be especially difficult around big sale times like Black Friday and holiday shopping periods. It seems like all of November and December are either talking about sales to come, or companies promoting sales with “the BEST PRICES OF THE YEAR!”

But sales like Black Friday can be a great opportunity to examine your habits and get things that you truly need at a discounted price. We’re not saying to not engage with Black Friday at all. In fact, we have gotten many blogging products and services – that we’ve been eyeing for some time – on Black Friday sales.

Throughout the year, we create a list of things that we need or would be “nice to have” and set them aside. If it’s not an urgent need or replacement, then we’ll wait until a sale period, like Black Friday. This helps because it removes the emotional purchasing that happens when you see something and then immediately buy it. Setting something aside to reflect on whether you really need it in your life is tremendously helpful.

Practicing mindful shopping in this way equips you with an armor to deflect all the incessant assault on your attention and videos. Ads are everywhere, telling you that you need to buy this and that. So when you go into a situation knowing what you’re gonna buy, then you can ignore all that noise. Having a plan of action that will protect you from unnecessary spending.

Does Conscious Consumerism Mean Minimalism?

Conscious consumerism espouses only buying what you actually need. Does that mean its basically minimalism?

It’s easy to think that, and there is definitely a lot of overlap. We have some minimalist habits but don’t necessarily consider ourselves minimalists. By that we mean that we don’t subscribe to a particular definition of minimalism or the minimalist aesthetic that you’ll commonly see on Instagram, all white walls and sleek wood furniture in an empty room with large windows.

That being said, there’s a very practical value to minimalism that we do incorporate into our lives. As full time house sitters, we spend a lot of time in different people’s houses, and it’s easy to see how quickly homes fill up with unnecessary stuff. We (normally) travel full time, so we literally cannot accumulate too many things. But even if you aren’t a nomad, accumulating stuff takes a mental and emotional toll (not to mention the toll on your wallet).

When you buy fewer things, you’re able to invest in more ethical, higher quality items that will last longer. When a company is pays fair labor wages and uses more sustainable materials, their items are a bit more expensive. But that’s because you don’t really see the cost that goes into making fast fashion items. So over time, you’re most likely saving money AND you’re supporting ethical businesses that are doing right by the planet and the people working for them. Wins all around!

Sustainable Shopping

We recently did a deep dive into sustainable shopping with our blog post, ethical alternatives to Amazon. Definitely check that one out for more insights on why to avoid Amazon (there are many reasons) and some suggestions on where to shop instead.

But basically, it comes down to shopping secondhand and supporting small businesses. Thrift stores, especially in the U.S. (due to the widespread consumerism) can be a treasure trove of useful things, from furniture to clothing, and even electronics!

If you can’t get something secondhand, support a small business instead. If you live near small businesses, support those brick and mortar places. They’re what make up the fabric of our cities and small towns, but they need our purchasing power to survive, especially given the pandemic where more people are ordering online than ever.

If purchasing in person isn’t an option, the good news is that so many small businesses are either built entirely online, or have moved to have an online shopping option. Try to find and support small businesses that align with your values.

Quick Conscious Consumerism Tips

To round things off, let’s quickly recap how to be a more mindful consumer this holiday season, and every day of the year!

  • Shop secondhand when possible (circular economy ftw!)
  • Avoid emotional spending by having a plan
  • Only buy what you truly need
  • Support ethical small businesses
  • Remember that it’s a process!

Lastly, we want to leave you with the reminder that while individual action is important, this does not let big corporations and governments off the hook. There needs to be way more accountability to the larger forces at play. Conscious consumerism is absolutely not the be all end all. But it is a great place to start.

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