Thrift stores, coffee beans, and ethically-sourced goods: how conscious consumerism can help us grow in charity


October 9, 2020

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I have the most distinct memory of walking home from a local thrift store about a year ago, carrying a beautiful, large antique basket under my arm to decorate the new apartment my husband and I had just moved into. The woman at the check out had agreed with me that it was a “good basket,” and I was thrilled with it. 

I was surprised by my own excitement, and as I walked, I considered my contentment in direct contrast to years past. In my many years of shopping trips to the mall, I would often return home feeling dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and always wanting more than I could actually buy. 

I’ve done a lot of work to rewire my instincts around spending because I know the grasp that material things can have on me. As a victim of a consumer-driven society, I still find myself bogged down by feeling like there are lots of things that I “need.” I love beautiful things, and I love buying them. I’m a sucker for every beautiful shop window and curated ad that pops up on my Instagram feed. But I found that consumerism wasn’t filling my life with beauty; rather, it was filling my heart with dissatisfaction. 

Reframing my consumer-driven mindset

To confront my consumerist tendency, I began working toward shopping as a conscious consumer. I started with little things, like bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. As time went on, it became easier to make bigger changes, like resolving to only buy secondhand clothes in 2020 (which hasn’t always been easy). 

I was surprised by my own excitement, and as I walked, I considered my contentment in direct contrast to years past.

While “sustainability” covers all the ideas and practices focused on humans coexisting with our natural environment (recycling, composting, replacing single use with reusable home goods, etc.), conscious consumerism is centered around buying ethically sourced and produced goods. 

Both modes of thinking helped me press the pause button on my desire to just buy something. In a world that tells us to buy things that promise to make us happy, it’s not always easy to slow down. But doing so has helped me to focus on what’s important and lasting, and what’s not.

Working toward sustainable living and ethical purchasing has also helped to reframe my mindset about spending by considering this question: Who is affected by this purchase other than myself?  

There are families all over the world striving to create their homes, just like us, and I can love them through the choices I make as a consumer. Though it may seem like we lack the power to effect global change, collectively, our buying choices have the ability to participate in solving issues like harsh working conditions and unfair pay for workers in foreign factories and farms. 

In a world that tells us to buy things that promise to make us happy, it’s not always easy to slow down. But doing so has helped me to focus on what’s important and lasting, and what’s not.

Sustainable living and ethical purchasing keeps me from seeing problems and people outside of my immediate sphere as “other.” Building a habit of considering how my buying practices affect others has helped me cultivate compassion towards my fellow man, and for that I am grateful. 

Small steps make for big change 

I realize that shopping exclusively in this manner isn’t an option for everyone, myself included, since ethical options are often more expensive. But, I try and do what I can. In making thoughtful decisions about where to invest, I’ve found that I can do small things here and there, knowing that my efforts, whatever they may be, matter. At the grocery store, I can opt for Fair Trade coffee, and put the extra snack back on the shelf that I don’t really need. 

When shopping for clothing, I’ve learned to cut back in quantity and be very mindful of quality. I swore off fast fashion a few years ago, and really haven’t looked back. It has helped me avoid impulse buying, and focus on pieces that I love, that will last, and that I won’t get sick of as quickly. The best part is without the option to buy a new outfit for dirt cheap, I don’t feel the need to keep up with every passing trend. It’s been so fun to experiment with and appreciate what I already have in my closet. 

I also try to regularly shop secondhand for many home items. It took a little bit of an adjustment to make this change, but I am now hooked! Many thrift stores are connected to charitable organizations, like Goodwill or the St Vincent de Paul, so an upfront practical benefit is that my money is going to a good place. 

Thrifting has also helped me to realize—and humbly accept—that I really don’t need to have everything brand new. I’ve also begun to better recognize how blessed we are in America to have access to so many options for things, when there are many who don’t have any options at all.

I may not find the exact type or color or style of thing that I’m looking for when thrifting, but most of the time that’s completely fine; it’s been a good reminder for me that happiness and satisfaction doesn’t hinge on things always going exactly my way. 

Ultimately, through conscious consumerism, I’ve changed. I’m better able to focus on what will truly fill my heart with joy, and fill my home with things that come at less of a cost to others. That is an empowering reality for me.

I’m a relatively new mom, and my efforts to establish a home firmly rooted in love are in the early stages, but as I strive to find ways to foster charity in my home, I look forward to having my children share my journey of learning to love others through intentional and sustainable living.

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