Ah, late November. The first thing that comes to many peoples' minds is this: Christmas shopping. Over the years, I've become extremely disillusioned with consumerism, materialism, capitalism, and the economy. And some of you might remember my old blog, SpendLocally.ca that was borne of my love of supporting local small businesses. It's hard not to become disillusioned with this side of the holiday season if you care about the environment, manufacturing ethics, your community, and let's not forget your own financial stability. But there are ways to make positive choices and impacts, even at this most consumerist time of the year!
Down with "stuff"
My approach to gift-giving has become very much aligned with my approach to shopping in general. And before any of that - handmade is amazing and also a top option for crafty folks! But if I buy things, it comes down to some basic tenets:
- Anything I buy must be either very practical or very special.
- Same for gifts: only give something if it's either extremely practical or extremely special. Note: special to the recipient, not to myself - this can be tricky!
- Don't shop just to shop - if I don't need something specific, I don't even go into the store. Once in the store, likeliness to buy goes way up.
- Don't give gifts just because of obligation - that pressure is manufactured.
The buzz of buying things and receiving gifts is short lived - how we treat our loved ones the rest of the year is what is really important. And we all have more than enough stuff, don't we? At least where I live in Vancouver, nobody has a huge home with a lot of storage space - we have to be selective about what comes into our space, when something comes in, something else probably needs to go out.
So when buying for myself or others, I always think: practical or special. (If neither fits, I strongly consider not buying anything - maybe instead make them a card and have some quality time together, it's so much more precious!) This is what I think of as mindful shopping - taking that moment to look beyond my impulses around shopping to really step back and consider what I'm doing and what the greater meaning is.
Values aligned shopping
When I do buy things, I put a bit of extra effort in so that I can spend my money in ways that are aligned with my personal values. This means covering the most of these bases possible:
- Is it locally and ethically made?
- Is it a more environmentally friendly option?
- Is it sold by a locally owned business?
- If not locally owned, is it a Canadian (or insert your home country) owned company?
- If it's not locally owned, is it at least an independent business or a family-run business rather than a corporate behemoth?
- Does buying it support members of my community, a local or small business, fair-trade or ethical manufacturing, environmentally-sound practices?
- Is the item well-made and durable, will it last a long time?
- Is the item special or beautiful and meaningful to me (or the recipient if it's a gift)?
Of course it's hard to hit all of these every time, but I just go for as many as possible in the given situation. It might seem like a hassle to figure this out, but we know too much nowadays to plead ignorance to the effects of our purchases - we all know that there is a load of environmental damage and human exploitation involved in producing goods. Every little bit of effort we can put in to make a little bit of a better choice really does add up and keep driving the economy in a more positive direction - that of quality over quantity, and sustainability over growth.
Mindful shopping challenge: Supporting our likes!
This brings me to a tangential but very important topic, and the mindful shopping challenge I would like to propose we all try out this holiday season! I mentioned this in my last newsletter and I think it's worth trying to spread this idea as far and wide as possible. The core of the challenge, aside from the above, is that once you decide you want to buy something special for someone, to support our likes.
Likes! You know, Facebook likes, Instagram likes, pages we follow, people we follow, blogs we read, newsletters we subscribe to, our favourite podcasts, our favourite musicians who we listen to free online... we LIKE a lot of things over the course of the year, don't we? It can't be just me. We consume a lot of these things, probably on a daily basis! And none of us pay a dime for it.
All these writers and artists and creative people are giving all these words and images and experiences away to us for FREE. They do it because they love what they do, and want to share it with the world. And they do it to try and advertise their work in order to make a living from it. But all of that content, the photos, art, writing, podcasts, inspiration, uplifting, and valuable advice on life, love, career...we've been consuming, day in day out, mostly for free. And the sad reality is, a lot of those creative people we love are really struggling to stay afloat.
So this holiday season, I challenge everyone: think of your favourite artists, podcasts, writers, photographers, musicians, instagram accounts, blogs, and every thing else. Think of your friend or relative who's trying to make a living off their own creative work and struggling. Think of the ones you love the most, the ones you'd really miss if they weren't around, the ones you liked over and over and over... You could even write a list, really see it down on paper (or maybe in your own blog post response to this!)
Now take that list, and go to those peoples' websites, and find a way to support their work. Do they sell art or art prints? Ask for one to be gifted to you by a loved one, or buy one for a friend. Did they write a book or a zine? Would you or your sibling enjoy it? Do they do consulting? Maybe you could give an hour of it to a colleague who's starting a business. Does their podcast accept donations? Make one yourself, or in honour of a friend who's a fan. Can you buy their latest album on a donation basis? Actually pay them for it. Do they sell a t-shirt or a tote bag (maybe fair trade and printed on organic cotton?) Get it for your cousin.
Look at how you can support the people whose work you love, and the people you care about in your community, whether at home or online. If we don't start doing this, that work we love will not be sustainable for those making it, and it will not be around for long. Reality is "likes" don't pay the gas bill or buy groceries, but dollars do. Make this holiday season a way to say thank you for all the amazing work you've enjoyed over the year. Make your dollars count.