The days of the mindless consumer economy are over.
In the 1980s, the movie Wall Street said “greed is good.”
In the 2020s, the biggest corporations in the world have Chief Sustainability Officers, and the most valuable car company in the world makes electric cars.
What’s behind all of this?
You. Us. The people out there making daily purchasing decisions. At scale, these millions of decisions and expressions of individual values create meaningful change. When consumers pay a premium for locally-sourced, sustainable products, companies have no choice but to respond. When we buy fewer, higher quality items, it’s noticed.
In aggregate, these millions of individual, conscious shopping decisions are just economic data. But on an individual level, these personal buying decisions are known as mindful shopping.
Mindful shopping means keeping your values and personal goals in mind when you buy things. It’s a way to consider the impact an item has on your life, on the environment, and on others.
Let’s explore more about what mindful shopping is, how it can save you money, the impact it can have on the environment, and easy ways you can implement mindful shopping in your own life.
An introduction to mindful shopping
Mindful shopping and sustainable shopping has exploded in recent decades.
As a writer who works online, I’d love to give partial credit to the Internet. Consumers have more information and choices than they ever had before. Meanwhile, environmental scandals and thoughtless sustainability practices can become a public relations nightmare for companies, especially in the age of viral online content.
Maybe the best way to understand mindful shopping is to define its opposite: mindless shopping.
Mindless shopping would be to buy things impulsively, without consideration of your budget or savings goals, your personal values, sustainability, or the quality of the item.
Mindful shopping takes one or more of these into account. When you pause before buying something and weigh one of these factors, you’re practicing mindful shopping.
Here are a few reasons people practice mindful shopping:
- Environmental sustainability
- Saving money
- Buying less (minimalism)
- Buying quality (so products last longer)
- Expressing other values (like animal welfare)
- Supporting companies that do good
- Supporting local businesses
Let’s explore these in a bit more detail.
Saving money with sustainable shopping
Most people first arrive at mindful shopping because they’re managing their budget.
You don’t want to blow a month’s salary on a new pair of shoes!
So, you look for options that allow you to do more with your money.
For some people, shopping mindfully and respecting their budget is a challenge. Shopping can become an addiction (see the common trope of “shopping therapy”). It can be a welcome distraction from other things going on in your life, and buying something gives a quick rush of adrenaline as you absorb the novelty of having something new.
Whether you’re being careful with your budget or dealing with a shopping habit that’s become problematic, the first step is to slow down.
Make a list of what you want to buy. Then, wait a week or so. This can be a great way to give some relief to your mind (because you’ve written the item down), and then decide a week later whether there might be an acceptable substitute.
Perhaps you decide you don’t even need it at all.
Environmental sustainability is another big motivation for mindful shopping.
Think of the huge change in consciousness around using plastic bags versus reusable bags at grocery stores, just to name one example.
Avoiding plastic materials is an easy-to-understand sustainability goal that many people connect with.
Another is to buy local products that also benefit the environment. One example is buying local honey instead of mass-produced honey. Buying local avoids the environmental impact of global or transnational shipping. And buying from local beekeepers means there is a healthy population of bees to pollinate your area, which is crucial for local ecosystems.
Sometimes, what’s most sustainable isn’t clear cut.
Is online shopping a net negative or positive on the environment? How about having your groceries delivered to your house instead of driving to the grocery store?
It takes gas to drive to the grocery store, and the food there is spread throughout refrigerators and freezers that are placed in an energy-inefficient retail layout. And delivery trucks can make multiple deliveries per trip, while you’re driving only in order to pick up items for yourself.
On the other hand, deliveries to your home are done by big trucks that aren’t as energy efficient as smaller cars. Plus, products are covered in cardboard, and food often comes with refrigeration packs to enable it to stay cold during transportation.
There isn’t a consensus on this issue, but as supply chains become greener and more electric this decade and recyclable packaging becomes more widespread, the balance may tip in favor of delivery.
Expressing your values
Mindful shopping is also about expressing your own values, whatever those may be.
For example, minimalists strive to buy as little as possible, and ensure that what they do buy is high-quality so it can last a long time.
Supporters of animal welfare buy fewer or no animal products, as a way to reduce their involvement in the poor treatment of animals in industrial settings.
People concerned about the health of our oceans may focus on using less plastic. For example, I often notice that beach communities are the first to ban plastic straws and plastic grocery bags, both of which contribute to ocean debris. Those towns on the coast are the ones who deal with the consequences each day.
You can’t be mindful about everything.
But you can be mindful about what matters to you.
All of this thinking about which choices are most mindful and most sustainable can be overwhelming.
That’s why many people choose to “outsource” their decisions to businesses and brands they trust. Buying from organizations that you know are more sustainable is an easy way to shop more mindfully. For example, buying from a certified B Corp is an easy way to know that you’re buying products that were created in a responsible way.
If supporting your local city’s economy is important to you, then you might choose to buy locally as much as possible.
If supporting nonprofit organizations is important to you, you might look for what you need from a nonprofit, or donate automatically via the AmazonSmile program.
Whatever matters to you, choosing the companies and local businesses you want to support can make life easier than making an individual buying decision for each purchase you make.
7 ways to implement mindful shopping in your life
We just went through quite a few ideas, so let’s do a quick recap. Here are all the ways you might implement mindful shopping in your own life:
- Pause before you buy something. Take a mindful breath and think about how it will impact your life and the world around you.
- Counter impulse buys with a “future shopping” list. Wait a week to see if you still want the items on your list.
- Avoid plastic. Use canvas bags instead of plastic grocery bags.
- Buy local.
- Buy fewer things of higher quality.
- Buy from Certified B Corps.
- Participate in the AmazonSmile program, which donates a percentage of your Amazon purchases to charity.
Becoming a conscious consumer
Mindful shopping isn’t about making radical, immediate changes in the way you go about your daily life.
It’s okay to digest the concept, and consider what decisions you can make based on what’s most important to you.
For example, I tend to trend towards minimalism by default, as a matter of personality and habit. I don’t need much. I’d much rather buy fewer things of higher quality, and go shopping as little as possible.
For you, what fits into your lifestyle, personality, and passions may be an entirely different angle.
Just pick something that matters to you, and find a way to work it into your buying decisions. Because the way change happens is millions of buying decisions like yours and mine.
Over time, these decisions shape the world.
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Hi there—my name is Ryan. My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 after I joined a ten-day silent retreat. I started Mindfulness Box because thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.