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Mindful Consumption: Reimagine Your Relationship with Things

Living Sustainably

Mindful consumption might conjure up Tik Tok stars adding flavor packets to the water in their $60 Stanley Quenchers, or a kitted out Tesla Cybertruck at $100,000. Spending on eco-friendly brands can have its place. There’s more to mindful consumption, though, and it needn’t break the bank.

What is mindful consumption? First, it’s making thoughtful purchasing decisions where you consider what you actually need and truly want. Then, it’s fitting those personal choices into the context of what you can afford, the resources and labor used to make things, and the reality of what will happen to them after you’ve stopped using them.

Mindful consumption starts before you buy anything, when you recognize why you shop, renew your relationship with your things, and repair when needed. Being grounded in appreciation means your steps into the marketplace – whether to refill, reuse, or to buy brand new – will be conscious choices. You won’t merely be reacting, either to marketing or to your own mood.

Recognize that Shopping Feels Good

Memories of the dopamine hits from your last shopping spree linger, inviting you to rush out and do a bit of retail therapy. But overspending and credit card debt might be some of the very problems you’re trying to escape. As installment options, online shopping, and digital payments take more and more friction out of the buying process, you’ll need to find ways to put some back.

The title of The Friction Project: How Smart Leaders Make the Right Things Easier and the Wrong Things Harder, by Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao, says it all. As outside forces make thoughtlessly spending money easier and easier, you need to find ways to make it a bit harder for yourself.

Mindfulness, when applied to your personal finances, provides this friction: pause, become aware of the present moment, and remain open to creative solutions to your wants and needs. Your wallet will thank you.

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Renew Your Relationship with What You Already Have

Before buying anything new, take the time to appreciate what you currently own. Walk through your place and note what you like about each of your things. If you no longer use something, consider why you originally bought it and how it has benefited your life. Never liked it? Imagine how you might redesign, or simply reconsider, it. Time to get rid of an item? Find a good next home for it with a friend, through a swap, or by selling it.

Now spend time organizing. I’m a big Marie Kondo adherent, but you might consider alternatives. However you do it, place like with like, and structure your space so you can see a category all at once. Placing folded fabric items vertically provides at-a-glance choices. Consider matching hangers in your closet to give it panache and a sense of coherence.

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Shop Your Closet

With orderly possessions that bring more calm and happiness, now it’s time to reconsider them. Pick an occasion, whether going to the gym, attending a holiday celebration, going out on a date, or hanging with your child. Now play dress-up. Grab 15 minutes, preferably not right before you’re rushing to get out the door, and look at what you have. Try a different combination of colors and patterns, or combine favorites with a piece you haven’t worn in a while.

Repair, Learn to Repair, Even Borrow the Tools

Mindful consumption examples include fixing your bike, reupholstering your chair, and mending your pants. Extend self-care to your stuff. Bike shops – like Pedal to the People in Chicago – offer classes to teach you to fix a flat and maintain your brake system. You might check out needed repair items from your local library. The Richland, SC library even offers power tools in their Library of Things, free to anyone with a library card.

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Refill to Cut Down on Packaging Waste

Walk into a refill store – like Joy Fill in Denver, Colorado – with your own container emptied of its dish soap, body lotion, or laundry detergent. Refill it yourself from a large vat and pay only for the weight of the ingredients, not the packaging. Some shops prioritize concentrated brands so you won’t be paying extra for water. At Joy Fill, you’ll also find a range of solid shampoos and conditioners and cute, upcycled earrings.

Beyond the financial savings from your purchase, you net less plastic waste and fewer petroleum products used to manufacture and ship containers.

Not near a refill shop? Buy larger containers of household items and refill your small versions in-house. Ask your local coffee shop to top off your own mug. Clean and use glass jelly jars to store spare buttons.

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Reuse: Buy Used and Sell Things When You’re Done

The marketplace for used stuff flourishes. Mercari and Depop both give you online marketplaces to buy and sell used clothing for men and women, plus Mercari includes home goods. Mercari buyers pay for shipping, whereas on Depop the sellers do.

Prefer to see, touch, even try on what you buy first? Look for local thrift and consignment stores near you. Thrift stores accept donations, and the proceeds from the sales go to a charitable organization. Consignment shops keep a percentage of the sale and return the rest to the seller. Willing to pay a bit more or need to sell a stash of well-preserved clothes from long ago? Check out vintage stores. Want a medley of household items? Consider estate sales.

Mindful Consumption Nourishes You

Mindful consumption means that when you do buy something you’ll appreciate every step that went into creating it and bringing it into your life. Sign up for a CSA Box and get to know the farmers who grow your produce. Or read about A.J. Jacobs, who decided to meet and thank all of the people involved in bringing him his morning cup of coffee. There were 1,000 of them.

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