Shopping is one of the most detrimental activities for the planet. All new items require new materials - trees from forests, minerals mined from the earth, cotton grown from high intensity agriculture - coupled with large amounts of energy, water and waste. (Watch The Story of Stuff for more information.) Indeed, "shopping habits represent such a large part of greenhouse gas emissions that even if every household switched to renewable energy and stopped driving cars tomorrow, total household emissions would fall by less than 20 percent."
Even "sustainably produced" items aren't all that much better. Forests are cleared in the Amazon for our "organic cane sugar" from Whole Foods. Organic cotton still takes away habitat from birds, bees and other wildlife. For a real eye opener on how the green economy isn't all that green, check out Green Capitalism: The God That Failed, but only if you've got a glass of wine and a strong stomach.
What's a girl to do? We're born to shop, right? Or, more accurately, conditioned to shop. If you were raised in a Western country, chances are you've gone on a shopping spree with friends. You've felt the urge to put something new and pretty in your house or on your body. You've felt satisfaction from a full shopping cart.
All that new stuff, though, is killing our planet. It is time to kill the urge to shop. If guilt alone doesn't do it, here are some tricks that have worked for me:
1) Shop Your Closets: Visiting family over the holidays, I happened upon a scrumptious new set of Christmas china. Because doesn't everyone need one, two or even three sets of dishes for use just one week a year? Still, I was sorely tempted and our daily dishes were seriously used and abused. I might be able to use them all winter long, I reasoned.
Then I had an epiphany. I moved our "good china" to daily china, my great grandmother's china to the "good china" - so now it will get used for the first time in two generations - and still have my mother's wedding china in case I need a dish fix at some point in the future. My daily dishes found a new home with a senior group at the local church and everyone was happy - including the planet.
2) Think Outside the Bucket: In my glee to plant a wildlife garden amidst the biggest drought California has ever seen, I decided that I needed new hoses and watering cans to help me get water to the right places. Instead of rushing down to Home Depot, I switched three of the hoses around in my yard - moving a longer one here, the shorter one there and so on. I decided that a bucket would work just as well as a watering can which leads me to ...
3) Dumpster Dive: Pulling out of our driveway, we spotted a large plastic bucket for birdseed in my neighbor's recycling bin. I am not above pulling stuff out of a trash can. If you've not done it, dumpster diving is as much more of a thrill than shopping. Long story short, the birdseed bucket now helps water my bird-friendly plants, providing a new life to everyone.
4) Swap With Friends: I've yet to attend a clothes swap but boy would I like to. That said, I do pass along items that I no longer use to friends and hit friends up for short term use items, like ski clothes and evening wear. Messages zing around our school mailing list regularly asking to borrow crutches, crockpots, garden supplies.
5) Farmers' Market or Native Plant Nursery Shopping Spree: There are two places where I let my inner shopper run free. My farmers' market and native plant nursery. There, I am naturally constrained by what we can eat or plant but otherwise, I figure my dollars are doin' good.
6) Second Hand Scores: I've long fed my shopping urges by hitting garage sales and thrift stores. This stuff is just headed to the landfill, I tell myself as I load up the car. I've come to conclude, though, that second hand shopping is really just a bridge to the world of no unnecessary shopping. I still love a good yard sale but try to only buy what I need. Environmental impact aside, where am I going to store all this stuff ...
And finally, when all else fails, follow the old adage,
7) Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do, Do Without.
Do you try to avoid shopping? How do you tamp down the urge to shop?