This post begins a miniseries on consumer alternatives.
The first option: Don’t buy so much stuff!
Humans are consumers, but we need to be aware that we are not limited or predestined to be identified solely as consumers. So often, we think of ourselves in terms of the products we buy. We curate collections – of movies, clothing, trinkets, shoes, even food – in order to present a certain image to ourselves, our friends, our communities, and our world (most often, via the internet). We’ve been taught that we are what we buy, and we seem to collectively believe it.
But we are dynamic creatures. We have the power to be more than a carefully manicured garden of products and slogans and “favorites” lists; it just takes some (or maybe a lot of) self confidence and determination (I admit that I am weak in this department).
The first, and best, way to pull out of a market of mindless consumerism is to do it cold turkey – that is, to not just seek out ethical options, but to limit shopping altogether. This is the most difficult option (I tried it once and failed), but it is the most useful in the long term. Because when we stop buying and comparing and advertising ourselves through what we buy, we realize that we don’t have to be defined by products. We can cultivate kindness, intellectualism, artistic talent, and efficiency because we aren’t so preoccupied with material self image.
I want to emphasize that you will rebel. You have been reared in a culture of materialism; you have been brainwashed by it. And you are bombarded by advertisements and sales emails and friends telling you not only that it is ok to define yourself as a consumer, but that you must consume to stay ahead, to be cool, to maintain legitimacy or attain respect.
And maybe they’re right. But that doesn’t make it right. In the oft-repeated words of … someone (or no one?):
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Challenge yourself and others to see humanity as more than people with varying degrees of purchasing power. Because the most effective way to shop ethically is to stop shopping all the time. If you decrease demand for quickly produced, on trend products, companies will have to reassess their standards. They’ll have to produce better, and less. That means that, when you do really need or want something, you’ll get something better and more sustainable.