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Shopping smart: Small steps can make for a smaller footprint

Illustration by Anna Weimholt


Our economic system is built so that shopping acts like gasoline in an engine; our dollars are oxygen in the fire that makes the line charts trend up. It can’t burn without our input, our dollars, our constant throwing away of things. It’s just that simple. When we hear the words “shop smart” out of a power-hungry big business, it should immediately put us on alert as consumers, because this behavior is that of a cornered animal trying to save itself. Framing consumption of their products as smart shopping is one of the craftiest moves a corporation can make to exempt itself from its own destructive practices. The kicker is that their idea of smart shopping will not save us, the planet we live on or the air we breathe from being decimated completely. That’s reassuring!

But we can’t live in this country without participating in the economy; It’s how we get food on the table and clothes on our backs. Espousing advice from a pedestal in an op-ed isn’t the revolutionary act my ego thinks it is, and I’m no saint. I fall victim to the dopamine rush of shopping, the self-satisfaction of the worthwhile purchase, the excitement of a shiny new piece of tech. It’s intoxicating, that’s just the reality of it. Shopping smart isn’t about what you’re buying, it’s the exact opposite: shopping smart is about avoiding purchases.

Shop local. Supporting small businesses and avoiding large ones is one of the best steps you can take to improve your consumption practices. With local sellers, the purchase often supports owners and workers more directly, allows those workers better conditions and puts dollars back into your community. Farmer’s markets, local artists and secondhand stores are excellent alternatives to shopping online or in a big box store.

Avoid the temptation of one-day delivery. You know what else can deliver your goods in one day, and reduces the carbon footprint of your shopping needs drastically? Your feet! Get out and walk for those groceries, bike to the coffee house or ride the bus to the clothing shops.

Don’t roll with trends. Trends aren’t cool — be a trail re-blazer. Confidently wearing something brutally out of style is what brings trends back into style. Real heroes never threw away their mom jeans, they’re the ones that brought them back.

Re-teach yourself the value of longevity. Reminding yourself that longevity is more important than instant gratification is an essential step to becoming a more conscious consumer. Purchases that stay useful for years can be much more satisfying than a shirt you’ve worn twice and given away.

Watch where it’s made. This can be the toughest one to keep track of, but watching where products are coming from is an essential step to becoming a conscious consumer. Do the research! Avoid unethical companies, child labor and long imported shipping routes wherever you can.

Want vs. need. I’d hate to sound like an old man here, but this piece is the most important part. Too often we find ourselves throwing away things we purchased under the impression that we needed it. Truly reassessing necessity can help us consume less, the most essential aspect of shopping smart.

The American shopping system is designed to be thrilling and to develop addictive tendencies; we as consumers can reframe this system from thrilling to fulfilling. Having an eight-year-old T-shirt that has stories behind it is fulfilling. Putting patches in your jeans and bringing honey jars back to the farmer for a refill is fulfilling. Don’t get duped into the cycles of fast products and faster disposal. Having a connection with local farmers, tailors, craftspeople and sellers is healthy,

and rediscovering that health is a radical step in our quest to reclaim our spending power from a broken system. It feels like a small step, but that’s a good thing! Small steps make for lighter footprints on our environment and our mental health, so don’t be afraid to take them.

Justin Vorndran ’23 is from

Osceola, WI.

His major is English.

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