The pandemic has changed the way we spend our time and how we spend our money. It has changed the 'how' and 'where' of consumption - whether that be due to new financial limitations or the physical restrictions of shopping - and for me, these slight changes impacted 'what' and 'why' of my purchases too.
Under normal circumstances, I typically only buy something when I need it. I try to be reflective of most purchases. I take my time to compare my options to see how they align with my values and with my budget. Then, the 'where' and 'how' fall into alignment with my values as often as possible. Whether it be finding a secondhand, vintage, or local shop, a small business, or a women-led company to support - my why is aligned with my values, and contributes to the world in the way that I want it to.
During this pandemic I've made purchases impulsively, I have created more post-consumer waste than the entire previous year, and haven't been able to support as many small businesses as I normally would. At first, I was hard on myself for not being a conscious consumer and felt bad, and guilty about the new items I brought into my life.
Thankfully I didn't stay in that mindset. As I became more accustomed to the reality of living in a pandemic, I learned that, while there have been innumerable changes to the makeup of our consumption, it is still possible to consume consciously - its just a little different.
Here are a few practices I've started applying over the last few months to be a more conscious consumer during COVID.
Keeping a wishlist of things I actually need. After a few impulsive purchases, I started keeping a handwritten wish list of things I actually need. Then, I unfollowed companies on social media and opted out of their newsletters. These practices have enabled me to avoid making emotional and impulsive purchases of items I might not need and to put more thought into all of my purchases - especially if they weren't on my list.
Shopping secondhand online. Many of the usual thrift & vintage shops might not be the best options right now due to public health recommendations or personal precautions, but we can still give a second life to lots of items. I've recently discovered that there is a panoply of vintage clothing and accessory shops on Etsy and Instagram that sell beautiful high-quality and affordable pieces, and I've also purchased books from Thrift Books, which sells secondhand books in varying states for low prices.
Supporting ethical & sustainable companies. I see my purchases as a vote or a small investment into the kind of world I want to see. Since I want to create a world that is ethical, fair, and environmentally sustainable, I like to purchase products from companies whose practices align with these values. I believe that this way of consuming makes the world better and that it is especially impactful when it is supporting shops in your local community.
Opting out of gift wrapping and asking for as little plastic packaging as possible. Another reason to shop small & local is that these people are open (and often happy) to use recycled materials or less plastic if you ask for it. Whenever I buy something online I leave a comment saying that I'd love to have as little plastic packaging as possible and that I'm happy with recycled wrapping! I've gotten lots of lovely handwritten notes from owners on reused LCBO or Value Village bags.
Saying no to two-day delivery, and to Amazon. Whenever possible, I select the slowest delivery option to hopefully alleviate some stress from the postal workers that are processing and delivering packages. I don't think it'll change the world but if it minimizes the pressure for one worker, I'm happy! I also generally stay far away from Amazon because their operations and treatment of workers just don't at all align with my values, and I don't want my money to support such a company.
For me, being a conscious consumer means contributing to the world in a way that is sustainable for the planet and for people all along the supply chain. It also means consuming in a way that is sustainable for me too! This means striving to align purchases with my values as often as I can, without striving for perfection.