consumerism, minimalism, work, & the holidays.

Recently, as an effort to procrastinate making progress on my actual work-related research I have been researching saving money, budgeting, and investing. At least I’m productive, eh?

I’ve decided to share all of my thoughts on money and consumerism with all of you because spending the money you made at work is 100% related to sustainability. And with Black Friday/Cyber Money and the winter holidays coming up, everybody is spending all of their hard-earned money. And often it’s not in ways that are respectful of our environment or the people who make our goods.

Consumerism & work

Why do people work? Well, part of the answer lies in the need to sustain ourselves by providing ourselves and our dependents with shelter, food, and clothing. But there’s more! We are persuaded to work more and more so that we can consume other goods too. We want to surround ourselves with fancy things and purchase cool things in order to show off how hard we have worked.

Although it might seem benign to use your salary to purchase things you want, there are many politics at play here. The market is oversaturated with goods and advertisers have learned to take advantage of people – in particular, women and low-income folks.

Women have been the main targets of marketing companies, with society constantly reinforcing the idea that women are “born to shop.” Women are often oversaturated with messages saying that they need to buy the newest clothing items from fast fashion brands with the promise that keeping up with fashion trends will be a surefire way to make her respected in the office. At the same time, women must deal with a gender pay gap and societal messages that tell women they are bad at handling money.

Low-income folks have also been victims of mass-consumerism and overproduction. They get targeted with crappy quality items that tout their amazing price points as a reason to purchase the items, while the producer knows the item will fall apart in just a few months. Companies to profit from poverty.

My overarching point here is that work is often touted as a means towards becoming financially independent but when we live in a consumerist culture that goal is constantly a moving target that has social and ecological consequences.

Consumerism, the environment, & ethics

There are more goods out there than we truly need and the goods we buy are of crappy quality. But we buy them because we are told me need more and that if we have more people will think more highly of us. We know that because goods are cheap we can easily replace them when they break and thus they hold no true value to us.

Most people fail to consider where the trash goes when the trash person takes it away or who made your goods. Consumerism directly feeds into social and ecological problems: wasteful production processes, wasteful disposal of goods, poverty, unethical labor standards, health hazards, etc.

Consumerism creates an unsustainable production process. That’s literally your hard-earned salary going to the landfill.

Consumerism, the environment, and your wallet: An ethical & sustainable guide to the holidays

So what do you do with all your hard-earned money? You have to buy presents and take advantage of the deals, right?!

I’m not advocating that you don’t spend during the holiday season. For folks who have small salaries these sales are a miracle, so I think taking advantage of sales is great for making your salary go further. But I do have some tips:

  1. Consider your needs.
    1. The first thing you should always do is evaluate what you already have and figure out what you really need. Does your office really need more books?
    2. If your workplace is doing a gift exchange, consider opting out or purchasing a gift that will actually be useful and meet somebodies needs rather than a useless trinket.
  2. Research what you want/research the companies.
    1. Spend some time researching your options. Figure out if the item is right for you or if you should be looking into a different type of item.
    2. Research the companies and their policies on sustainability and ethical labor. Please consider boycotting brands that have questionable practices and instead supporting small, local, sustainable, and ethical brands. Vote with your dollar.
    3. Companies that promote ethical and sustainable practices will often have detailed mission statements – be on the lookout for those! If a company doesn’t clearly state their mission and practices, don’t buy from them! If you want a list of companies I think are good, check out my resources here.
  3. Make a wishlist/shopping list.
    1. Figure out what you want and create a wishlist/shopping list that will guide you as you buy things. Make these items specific. Rather than saying “I want a fountain pen,” write down which brand/make you want. This reduces decision fatigue and will help curb impulse buys you might regret.
    2. Send your wishlist to people who might be getting you gifts and ask them to send you their wishlist. This will cut down on the awkward gift you/they don’t want or don’t like. It’s also the best way to ensure that you don’t waste your money or time on products/gifts you/the giftee don’t want or need.
  4. Plan ahead.
    1. Researching what you want and making a wishlist is just one part of the puzzle. Figure out when sales are happening and who is having them. Maybe consider keeping a document with a running tab of when/what sales have happened in previous years. When sale day comes, you won’t be overwhelmed by choices, you’ll have a plan of attack!

Here are some guides I’m digging:

Green Gift Guide by Verena from My Green Closet

Zero Waste Gifts for Every Budget by Lauren from Trash if for Tossers

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