Conscious consumerism

It’s time to apply for The Simple Year 6! Click HERE for details, or check out “The Handoff” link above. Deadline is April 15.

A cup of virtual coffee for you, Internet friends! (Thanks, public domain photos!)

Tomorrow marks the Walker Four’s one year anniversary as a zero waste family. (I guess I can own that now, huh?, if it’s been 12 months of working towards the goal?) I remember it very clearly because A) Tax Day and 2) I hadn’t slept in, like, almost two weeks, not since Tracy emailed me and told me I’d been chosen as the Year 5 blogger, because I was too excited and nervous and afraid that I’d sink this whole gorgeous ship that Kerry graciously let me borrow.

What’s been truly amazing about this experience is you all — it’s so easy to keep pushing forward when you have an entire cheering section rooting for you to succeed. There were times I had to admit some ugly truths and was expecting to get hammered in the comments … but that never happened. The Simple Year community is the best. If I could take you all out for coffee (in our reusable mugs), I totally would. You guys are awesome.

Um, that sounds like a goodbye, and we’re still not quite there. I just wanted to mark the occasion is all. I am a big fan of taking stock.


So here’s what I actually planned to write about today: Does choosing minimal / less / zero waste on a personal level actually make a difference? Does conscious consumerism really work?

I ask that because I recently read two blog posts on both sides of the coin: One was like, nope, you’re better off putting your money into causes and groups, and the other was like, heck yeah, it makes a difference!

Here are the articles:

Conscious consumerism is a lie

Conscious consumerism is NOT a lie 

… And here are my favorite parts / thoughts on each:

According to the lore of conscious consumerism, every purchase you make is a “moral act”—an opportunity to “vote with your dollar” for the world you want to see. We are told that if we don’t like what a company is doing, we should stop buying their products and force them to change. We believe that if we give consumers transparency and information, they’ll make the right choice. But sadly, this is not the way capitalism is set up to work …

The problem is that even though we want to make the right choices, it’s often too little, too late … (Conscious consumerism is a lie)

So yeah, I totally buy in to the “lore of conscious consumerism,” because the long and short of it is that as a consumer, I have the final say about what goes into my home. (Um, unless it’s Eric or Abby or Johanna doing the purchasing, I suppose.) I don’t think that my not buying a skirt is going to change an entire company — who cares? Other people will — but I do believe that making eco-friendly choices on this end does make an impact long-term, because I’m not alone in this; there are so many people who are (aspiring, perhaps) zero wasters, minimalists, or just watchful of their environmental impact. That has to add up, maybe not on a personal level, but on a community level. Right?

But seriously, sing it sister on the part about “too little, too late.” That’s been my experience. I want to buy the right products, but it’s so hard to do so — mostly I just end up purchasing whatever is the least horrible. That doesn’t mean it’s the best — it’s just the best I feel like I can do. Which is depressing.

Next article!

… What this statement fails to do [responding to the charge of “too little, too late” — TW] is put any responsibility onto the consumer to make the right decision. Rather than donating a blouse that is still in good condition, the original owner should wear it down until it is no longer wearable. 

… At what point do we take the burden off of “the Man” to make good decisions and place it back where it belongs, in the hands of individuals? (Conscious consumerism is NOT a lie)

All right! Now we’re getting somewhere! I like very much this idea that I have an individual responsibility to act in accordance with my values. Using something completely instead of dumping it off at Goodwill and making it someone else’s problem (and, to be honest, I am totally guilty of that) is an interesting way to look at the problem and is a solution that never actually crossed my mind until now. (This is why we read!)

Would donating money otherwise spent on more expensive items, a la conscious consumerism, help environmental causes that are the beneficiaries? Yes, I have no doubt. Would that be a more effective way to change policy? No idea; I’m an English major, and I only minored in history because I like stories. I guess it depends on what you’re donating to.

But to discount totally what an individual should — or could — be doing seems … bleak. And if it’s true, then what am I even doing over here?

Well …

True story: In high school, I started reusing my paper lunch sacks. (Uh, ignoring the plastic baggies inside the sack, whatever, I was 17 and it made sense at the time.) My friend Mara’s boyfriend asked her in a stage whisper one day why I was reusing my bags — what difference did it make in the long run? Mara said that the idea is that I wasn’t the only person doing it, that somewhere, other people were doing the same thing, and together we were making a difference.

I still believe that. And that’s why, ultimately, I believe conscious consumerism works.

Next up: I’ve got some general updates to share, but it won’t be until Wednesday. Easter weekend, etc., and a whole lot of family time.

P.S. Happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for reading and all the nice emails you send me about the blog.

9 Responses to Conscious consumerism

  1. Your story of the paper lunch bag reminds me of my father. He was an engineer at NASA, and he took his lunch to work in whatever paper bag my mom could come up with. And he would use that bag for days, until it fell apart. He was very much into reusing, but I think the fact he grew up in the Depression had a lot to do with it. My siblings and I always thought he was crazy and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t “just buy a new one”. Now, I get it.

  2. Your friend Mara was awesome, to stand up for you like that!

    I have to believe conscious consumerism works, because that’s all I’ve got. I have to work for change somehow, and if I set an example and do the best I can, I have to hope that other people are working together and we will make a difference. Also, I’ve always like the Margaret Mead quote “Never think a small group of people working together can’t change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I like to believe it’s true.

    • Mara is the best!

      I’ve seen that quote too, and I agree — it’s kind of amazing when you think of how many people are trying!

  3. I’ve absolutely loved your writing and journey on The Simple Year. My husband is the more conscious of the two of us about recycling. Confession … sometimes, it’s just easier for me to throw that piece of xyz in the trash. Though, I am getting better about it. I’ve also tried to be more cognizant of the amount of things we bring into the home so that we don’t have to deal with what to do with it later (from groceries to knick knacks to supplies). At the end of the day, individual responsibility is all we’ve got. Looking forward to your updates!

    • I honestly think awareness is half the battle. And it’s amazing what you can reduce by thinking about what you bring in before you buy it — that’s why our recycling and trash have both gone down this year, we’re just not bringing it in.

      And thank you. I’ve enjoyed the project very much because this community!

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