A brief history of consumerism
After World War II, Americans began to see a large increase in spending. Families were suddenly more prosperous, and they wanted to spend their money. Prior to that time, life was more about necessities.
We are well into the 21st century now, and both advertising and social media have only increased this issue of consumerism, exponentially so. We want to keep up with the Joneses. We are more stressed than ever before, and it feels good to indulge in some retail therapy from time-to-time. The availability of credit cards and online shopping, now allows us to act on our desires even when we don’t have a dime to our name and live in a small, remote town.
Unfortunately, there are consequences that result from these spendthrift behaviors, and they go far beyond our pocketbooks. Consumerism is responsible, in large part, for bringing our environment to its current damaged condition.
We don’t have to be a slave to consumerism though. Americans have the ability to ignore those ads and stop window shopping from turning into a shopping spree. They have the power to drastically reduce the drain on our natural resources, environmental pollution and toxin exposure that are a direct result of our consumer addictions.
Let me offer you some ideas for alternatives to purchasing new items every time something comes up. I’ll also help you learn to avoid temptation and deal with that desire to buy.
Alternatives to buying new
Clothing is obviously a necessity, but only to a certain extent. There are only 365 days in a year, after all; and wash machines exist for a reason. For a lot of people, clothing is a fun way to express ourselves. The thing is, there are so many opportunities out there to obtain new-to-you clothing that is equally stylish.
I love the variety of styles available that allows me to really mold my own personal look, regardless of current trends that don’t always feel like me. Did you realize that the clothing industry is one of the most unsustainable industries out there? There is an incredible amount of waste and chemical pollution with every clothing article produced.
Let’s face it; our children go through toy fancies like they do changes of underwear. And their overpopulation in our homes can happen almost overnight. No one wants to deprive their kids, but the truth is that–as in most cases–quality overrules quantity.
A lot of the plastic toys on the market are composed of chemicals like bpa, pvc and phthalates. Others contain harmful heavy metals. Since babies and toddlers tend to mouth items, it is most critical that they not be exposed to these types of toys. However, even older children are at risk for inhalation and skin absorption of these chemicals.
Good quality wooden toys are some of the best options for your children’s safety. As with clothing, these toys can be purchased used with a little extra effort. For example, when you are shopping on Amazon.com, you may notice there is sometimes an option to buy the same item second-hand. Swap.com and Ebay.com are a few other great resource for used toys.
But it doesn’t stop there! Summertime brings with it tons of yard sales where you can find some of the best deals. There are also so many yard sale apps out there now, so we are no longer limited to craigslist. And don’t forget your local Facebook marketplace–so many options!
You don’t have to limit yourself to wooden toys, either. Another great thing about used toys is that the plastics have had more time to off-gas prior to its arrival in your home. Do be careful about vintage toys though; besides outdated safety regulations, they are even more likely to contain heavy metals such as lead. Here is a list of toy brands that are considered safe for the environment.
Have you ever been to a children’s consignment megasale? Most cities offer at least a few annually, and they offer an abundance of gently used baby gear, toys and clothing. You can find used baby gear through many of the same resources that offer toys and clothing. If you have several friends and family members with babies, you can even throw together your own swap event.
The first, most obvious choice for used books, dvds, and other forms of media is your local library. They tend to offer a pretty thorough selection between all of the branches available. Libraries also do a good job of keeping up with new technologies, like the ebooks and audiobooks that are so popular now. I find that most of these libraries offer public sales on a regular basis, of books they no longer need.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to find someone’s used deoderant or toothpaste. . . but you could save a lot of packaging waste by making some of your own products. I have a pinterest board to inspire you give it a whirl. You can use “>half-pint mason jars to store almost any product you create.
There are some paper products, such as paper towels and kleenex, that can be reusable without making a purchase if you have some old bath towels, dishtowels or other fabrics on hand. Even if you have to buy something in this case, at least you know it will be used over and over again. I keep a basket of clean cloths out in my kitchen and a fabric bin under the sink for the dirties.
Thanks to Habitat for Humanity Restores locations, you don’t always need to run to a hardware or home improvement store for your repair and remodeling needs. You’ll also be helping other families secure adequate housing with each purchase. They offer just about anything you could need, from doors and faucets to appliances and even some furniture!
In this category, Amazon and Ebay are most people’s go-to sites. There are plenty of other sites selling used electronics, however. I’ve also seen some Goodwill locations called Goodbytes, that sell only electronics in their stores. I always find that one of the best ways to find all of the specific resources for something like this in my local area is to, of course, just google it. You can sometimes even find electronics recycling locations that are selling their donated items for cheap.
Giving experiences as gifts is often the simplest way to avoid purchasing something new. Parents of young children will always jump at the chance for a night out. A new mom would be eternally grateful for a few homecooked meals. Sometimes used toys and clothing can make great gifts for little ones, as long as they show very little wear. Think about what your giftee truly needs, make a list, and then think about how you could possibly grant one of their wishes without putting something new and polluting out into the world.
There are reminders to buy everywhere, but there are ways we can set ourselves up better for success against the retail madness.
Window shopping is dangerous
The biggest risk for failing out there is agreeing to join your girlfriend at the local mall, especially when you can’t think of a thing you truly need to buy. I know it can be fun, but if you truly want to live by a “no new purchases” policy, it’s really tough to stick by that when the drugs are all up in your face. Instead, you could suggest your friend join you in another bonding activity, perhaps even an environmentally-minded one. A few ideas are taking a hike, planting trees, or helping them clean out their clutter and donating it.
Engage in some decluttering
The act of going through the overabundance of possessions you likely already have, can really help you put things into perspective. I know I have found myself owning so many things that I probably never should have bought in the first place. Oftentimes, that breadmaker or sewing machine–while well-intentioned–ends up gathering dust in the corner. Sometimes, having all of those kinds of things sprawled out in front of you can help prevent you from doing further damage.
Develop a gratitude practice
Honestly, if we ever have any chance of finding contentment, it needs to start with appreciating and valuing what we already have. If we are just speeding ahead toward each new purchase goal, we are never going to truly be happy. That applies to more than just “things,” of course. By developing a gratitude practice, we can help ourselves feel enough joy in what we currently possess. It can help us to realize that the people in our lives and the little things we enjoy are truly what matters.
Remove media temptations
In today’s world, much of our temptation to buy comes not from the physical stores, but from ads on our television and in our online experiences. Because we have access to so many online shopping and quick shipping opportunities, the gratification is almost instantaneous. If this truly becomes a problem, you can always block certain sites to provide more of a barrier to your shopping.
Find new ways of coping with stress
We live in a stressful world where bad things happen and our lives often feel less than in control. For some, retail therapy may feel like a way to deal with all of that at times. However, there is always a better way that won’t put a dent in the environment. Here is a list of healthier methods of coping with stress.
Enact a “waiting period” rule
Oftentimes, its just a matter of giving ourselves a little time to “not want it anymore.” What may seem absolutely necessary one minute may not be needed tomorrow. Things can change and you might think of a way to borrow the item or simply create a new solution. Try giving it at least 24 hours in your cart. Then see how you feel.
You’ve got this!
You now know where you can get everything you need without any of it being newly created. You also know how to avoid the urge to buy new and other things to do in place of it. Environmentalism and consumerism truly do not mix. Do your planet a favor and rent, borrow or do without instead.