How I Confronted My Own Consumerism & Learned To Shop Mindfully

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It all started with hiking.

I wasn’t truly cognizant of my own consumption until I met my partner, Edmund. Before him, I wasn’t much of a hiker either, but he had such a strong affinity with the natural world that I became one practically overnight.

When I had gone out on the trail by myself, I enjoyed the quiet rhythm of the walk. Walking with Edmund is different. In the beginning—and if I’m honest sometimes even now—I found it almost maddening having to constantly stop to wait for him to pick up a scrap of derelict plastic or a stray tissue. Every few steps, it was a perennial refrain of “Oh, here’s some scrap,” and another and another. We’d return home with pockets full of trash.

Almost immediately, I realized that my irritation had less to do with our continual pauses on the trail, and more to do with the fact that, without Edmund’s diligence, the trail would be littered with packaging and debris.

What eventually struck me was how much litter and packaging surrounded me, my family, and my community, and how much of it ended up in our environment. I started to notice the plastic sandwich bag containing my lunch, the socks I'd throw away instead of repairing, the plastic wrapping around my granola, and so on.

All of these excess materials started to add up until eventually, I felt the need to confront my own consumption and re-evaluate what was necessary versus what was consumed.

Over the years and many shopping trips later, I’ve developed a framework of mindfulness toward sustainability and reducing waste. I’ve discovered three tiers of “effort” when it comes to mindful consumption, ranging from the simple, everyday act to efforts requiring me to reimagine how I live my life. Here they are:

Tier 1: The Small

The small is really about the everyday. Thinking about my habits and tools helped me understand what everyday objects I should invest in. I’m also continuously asking myself how I can reduce, especially when it comes to the nonrecyclable packaging in my life (and am still trying). Here are a few things I’ve come up with:

  • Instead of using disposable plastic bags while shopping, I opt to carry a reusable cloth one.
  • Paper towels, tissues, and that wax bag around a pastry can all be replaced by washable dish cloths, hankies, and my hand (I will be eating that pastry immediately, anyway!)
  • Invest a little in a great water bottle. It's amazing how much less I spend on one-off plastic water bottles and how much more water I drink. I always bring my metal Klean Kanteen water bottle to work and feel healthier (and more hydrated) as a result.
  • I buy in bulk and love to refill. I use my own containers and spend time thinking about what I need for the week. I found that I’m less wasteful and can keep my grocery store visits to a minimum!
  • The family compost pile. A few years ago, Edmund built us a compost tumbler for our roof and now our kitchen scraps get a second life.
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Tier 2: The Medium

The “medium” is about extending the life of the possessions I already have. Our society gears us to buy new rather than keep the old, but I’ve opted to slow down and invest more time in the things that have served me well. I think first about what is salvageable and then I figure out how to make those repairs happen.

  • Find your neighborhood cobbler and repair those soles. It’s so much more economical to resole a favorite pair of shoes than find new ones that I actually like.
  • The same goes for my old clothes. I take them to a seamstress or turn an old silk top into a dress for my daughter.
  • Hold on to that old bike frame! Fix those tires!

Tier 3: The Big

The largest efforts I’ve made toward more mindful consumption are those that also require the biggest initial investment. The third tier is the result of a shift in perspective in regards to my consumption needs and needing to take a step back and think about myself as a consumer and the waste I generate.

I felt the need to be honest with myself and my needs and then allow myself to spend my time, energy, and money on something that I truly want and use, and to seek out those companies that align with my own ideals. I’m drawn to companies that stand by their brand and offer to do the same things I do in my own home: repair and salvage.

Of course, this kind of investment is hard to make, and I am grateful to have this kind of luxury in my decision-making process.

These decisions do result in actions that everyone can take: slow down, be honest, and follow the age-old adage of choosing quality over quantity.

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