Since beginning this blog, and more specifically my series on the policies of stores in my local mall, I've been humbled and encouraged as people have approached me, called me, and sent me messages to say that they've been challenged by my musings, and are trying to be more intentional with their purchases. I'm excited to hear people are choosing to consider how and where their consumer goods are made before buying them.
But I've also, in a few instances, been met with a little bit of resistance. I've had people brush off the topic in conversation, flat out tell me they don't care, or send me messages telling me I'm being harsh. While I'm initially shocked, and more than a little frustrated by these reactions, after some considerations, I can understand their reactions. Changing the way the economic system works is neither easy nor quick. Maybe I sound ridiculous suggesting that if we make different consumer choices, we can affect change in the lives of people around the world. When faced with huge, international issues like child labour, slave labour, unfair wages and unsafe working conditions, trying to make a difference can seem very daunting. The size of the problems can choke us, make us feel useless, and lead us to believe we'll never succeed in changing the systems that disadvantage so many. And we'd rather ignore it, pretend we don't care, and go on living our lives like everything is just fine, than feel like we failed. And it's easy to do. We don't see those who suffer so that we can have our choice of $8 t-shirts. We don't know their names or their stories, so it's easy to ignore.
The problems are huge. They are overwhelming. And there's no way that one person can fix them on their own, or in a short period of time. This is a long-term project, one that requires everyone jump on board. A year from now, we'll still be discussing the same issues, because they will still be issues. But maybe they won't be in 2045 if we choose to make some small changes. All it takes to be part of the movement is one small step. Rather than look at the vastness of the problems, or your limitations, think of one thing you can do to move in the right direction, commit to doing it for a period of time, and when it becomes habit, just another way of life, think of another. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
Here are some small steps you can take to join the movement, without the complete upheaval of your entire being:
1. Commit to purchasing only fair trade coffee, tea, or chocolate for a year. Pick the one you consume the most, and move towards buying only those made in fair environments and from sustainable sources.
2. Commit to buying less of something you usually purchase, that may be made in harmful conditions. Clothing, sugar, coffee, etc. Pick one that you could probably cut back on and start using the money you usually spend on those on something life-giving, that benefits others. Be specific with this. If you just commit to "buying less clothes," you're not really going to know whether or not you were successful. Make yourself a budget for the year, or determine how many shirts you usually buy in a year and decide to buy half that amount this year.
3. Commit to supporting, and partnering with, a charity that is doing good work and helping those who our systems have disadvantaged work toward a better future. Support them financially. If you haven't written giving into your budget, maybe consider what consumer goods you spend most of your money on, reduce how much you purchase, and donate what's left.
4. Commit to purchasing clothes and other items second-hand. It's inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and socially conscious.
5. Find a few stores that you like that are doing their part to ensure people aren't harmed in the making of their products. Commit to purchasing only from these stores for a year. If you can't find what you need at them, see if you can find it second hand, or get it made locally.
These are just a few ideas. I'm sure there are a million more small steps we can take to move in the direction of socially conscious consumerism. All it takes to start is one small step. Choose one thing that you can do, one change you can make. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the problem, focus rather on the one small thing that you can do to be a part of the solution.