A look at consumerism, packaging and your purchasing power

We live in a world where consumption is intertwined into our daily lives; where shopping isn't just a necessity, but also an activity. The more often we hear phrases like "hey, let's go shopping, we can make a day of it!" or "I'm going shopping with my girlfriends," the more we start to view shopping as a hobby. Shopping for fun has become a standard part of social life and societal norm.

What are we shopping for?

You name it: clothing, appliances, makeup, anything to make us feel better about ourselves. 
In my twenties, I became a buyer for a large retail chain just to satisfy my deep need to shop. If I was feeling exceptionally stressed that day, I would place orders for thousands of dollars and, somehow, that would make me feel better. It wasn't even merchandise for me, but the mere action of consuming, in some way, filled this deep void inside of me.

I've come a long way since those days, and I can tell you I'm far from perfect, but meaningfully purging my own stuff and making conscious purchases has had a huge impact on my life, emotional wellbeing and wallet.

Our society places consuming goods high on the priority list, and that is truly unfortunate (my opinion) for several reasons:

  • There are so many people drowning in debt, yet still spending money they don't have...buying stuff!

  • Time is precious and limited. We spend valuable time shopping for stuff to buy. Then, once we get the stuff home, there comes the task of finding a place to put everything. Oh, and don't forget the regularly-needed maintenance and cleaning of all that stuff! And, of course, once you're done with the stuff, you have to spend time packing it up, storing it, and/or getting rid of it. Our time would be better spent with friends and family, out in nature, or working on a fulfilling hobby.
  • “Keeping up with the Joneses” — competing to buy increasingly expensive material items, perceived by others as “lavish” and “luxurious,” to project one’s own wealth and social standing. This ideal is rooted in deep insecurity and a need for approval and recognition from others. A good therapist would be a far better investment than more stuff.
  • There are emotional consequences for having too much stuff. When you look around and all you see is stuff, it can be overwhelming — especially when it comes to cleaning, organizing, and feeling at ease in your own home. If you run out of space, your stuff will overflow, creating more anxiety just by looking at all your stuff. You may find yourself saying: "I'll clean that up tomorrow," but tomorrow never comes and you simply don't know where to start. Too much clutter in your home creates too much clutter in your mind. Think about how good it feels when you clean up a room and you can see the floor and surfaces… ahhh, peace.

Stores are methodically designed and arranged with increased consumerism as the first and foremost priority. Of course, their number one goal is to get us to spend more money. Women do 75% of the shopping on average, which is apparent the second you walk into any store. To fight off the urge to look at the new swimsuits or check out the latest purses, go into the store with a clear plan and a handwritten list of exactly what items you truly need. Buy only those items and get the heck outta there!

What kind of shopper are you?

Do you like to look at everything before you buy? Or are you more of a grab-and-go shopper? Are you a coupon shopper or purchase only what’s on sale? Do you like to check out the latest and trendiest stuff? Income is definitely a factor in shopping habits, and many communities are limited by the access of stores in their area and selection available to them. In any of these cases, becoming aware of your purchases is a great first step.

Ask yourself these questions before buying.
  • Do I really need this?
  • Does it fit my needs perfectly?
  • Is it in my budget?
  • Do I have a place to put this once I get it home?
  • Does this manufacturer exploit their workers?
  • "Does it spark joy" – Marie Kondo.

Become a conscious consumer.

You know what clothing styles you're most comfortable in and what colors you feel your best wearing. When you keep that in mind, shopping becomes way easier. It's simple: only look at those styles and colors that suit you, and bypass all the rest. If a blouse is on sale but you prefer a different look… don't buy it just because it's on sale! I promise you, you'll wear it once and realize how much you dislike that look and never wear it again. This is also true for the color of a garment. If you buy an unflatteringly colored shirt or sweater, you’ll likely regret the purchase when you try it on and look in the mirror. Know yourself, your style, your color, and your needs before heading into the store. The same holds true for home furnishings, makeup, shoes, accessories...you get the point.

The packaging dilema.

If you were in the market for a new shampoo, how important would the role of packaging be in your decision? Let's face it: packaging can make or break the decision to buy a product. Consumers only have the packaging to go by, so it's the only way to determine what to purchase. We look at the shape of the bottle, the name of the product, the label’s color and size, etc. These all play a really important role in determining the products you buy. Not to mention, the wording used on labels is intended to produce a desired image in consumers’ minds, even if they do not buy the product.

Here, I’ll let you in on a few terms that will make you look at packaging a little bit differently:

Greenwashing: When a manufacturer misleads consumers into thinking a product is more natural, organic, and/or environmentally friendly than it really is. For instance, an all purpose spray cleaner with several toxic ingredients will likely proclaim the product as "All Natural," "Biodegradable," "Green," or "Free and Clear." Consumers are thrilled to find these healthy choices for new cleaning products, but the reality is that such products are just as toxic as others without the false claims of “being green.”

Greenwashing is a dishonest, misleading practice that most box store companies employ. Being aware is a good first step, and will help you steer clear of greenwashing.

Greenwashing not only applies to green products, but has also morphed into a term used for any manufacturer that makes false claims to mislead consumers into purchasing their product.

Pinkwashing: When a manufacturer uses the color pink on a large portion of a label, or adds the pink breast cancer ribbon on a product, to mislead consumers into thinking that the manufacturer donates money from the product’s sales to breast cancer research or that the product is safe for those concerned about getting breast cancer.

Fairy Dusting: When a manufacturer misleadingly claims that a key ingredient in the product has great benefit for the consumer. An example would be a rose hand lotion claiming that the rose is soothing and healing to dry skin. In reality, the only rose in the hand lotion is a fragrance. There is zero chance that a synthetic rose fragrance will help heal dry skin.

Healthwashing: The activity of a food company to claim that a product is healthy and nutritious when it actually adds to poor health. Don't be mislead and fooled by these labels, Doritos don't magically become healthy just because they switched up to organic ingredients.

Becoming a conscious consumer also includes being aware of and not falling for these false advertising ploys.

Changing the world with your purchases.

As a consumer, you hold a great deal of power in your hands (and your wallet). Consumers can use their purchases, or lack of purchases, to send a clear message to manufacturers. Supporting companies that offer genuinely safer products for your family and operate with ethical business practices is a great way to use your money for good and know that you are making a difference with your purchases.

There is a sourcing principle for companies to ensure their products are manufactured ethically, known as Impact Sourcing. Impact Sourcing is when a company uses suppliers based on the positive impact those suppliers have on communities and the environment. If you want to check and see if a manufacturer is using impact sourcing, just visit their website! Companies that use impact sourcing will eagerly tell you all about the impact they are having on people's lives around the world.

Companies can be part of a larger impact sourcing group, or choose to investigate on their own and find suppliers globally who match their values.

Dr Bronner's Soaps comes to mind as a great example of impact sourcing. They were unable to find a sustainable source for the palm oil needed to make their soaps, so they created their own company in Ghana — using local farmers to grow and harvest organic palm oil sustainably. They pay their farmers a fair wage and fund ongoing projects that benefit the local community.

There is also an app you need to know about called Buycott. Buycott lists campaigns that you can choose from to support as a consumer. When you scan a UPC code at the store with the app, it will tell you if that product’s manufacturer supports the campaign you chose. You can check out the Buycott app for yourself — it’s a fabulous tool!

So you need a few things at the store, put your new know-how to the test!

Before heading into the store, remember:
  1. Make a list and only buy what's on your list and what you truly need.
  2. Be aware of retailer ploys to get you to purchase extra stuff.
  3. Know yourself and only purchase the perfect clothing for you.
  4. Ask yourself important questions about a product before placing that item in your shopping cart.
  5. Don't fall for Greenwashing. Read the labels and check the companies’ websites for misleading information.
  6. Shop with your heart and support companies that share your values.
  7. Download the Buycott App.

Do you have any other tricks that you use when making purchases?
Please share them in the comments below!
I look forward to reading all of your ideas!

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