Conscious Consumerism – Living Well by Choosing Well

Every day on social media we are bombarded with ads and somehow the algorithm knows what we want better than we do. How do we assess the endless cycle of temptation, buy, temptation, buy and get into conscious consumerism?

Conscious consumerism involves making choices about the influence we have by how, where, and from whom we purchase and consume goods, services, and resources. When these are sourced from entities that support our environment and sustainability, it contributes to a healthier and more positive future.

First we must begin with understanding what consumerism means and how it affects our life. Let’s explore more about this area we each have personal influence on.

What Is Conscious Consumerism?

Conscious consumerism is the habit of buying using decisions that have positive social, economic, and environmental effects. These impacts can accumulate over years and ultimately help define the culture and shared vales we have. Ultimately, it influences our future and can do so in profoundly positive ways.

Department store shopping carts - Conscious Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Department store shopping carts

What Is Consumerism?

Consumerism is the promotion and protection of the interests and habits of consumers, or the people buying goods. It is mainly focused on getting people what they want (or told that they want), in a most efficient and satisfying way.

Consumerism is the idea that the more you consume, the better off you are. It encourages people to define themselves by what they have or the goods they accumulate, which is often influenced by marketing and pressure from society.

What Does Consumerism Mean?

Consumerism means that increasing the consumption of goods and products is beneficial to the economy. The idea is that people consume what they want, and that is a positive thing. Further, the organizations that produce what is consumed, are considered beneficial, and sometimes critical, in this flow of goods and services. Thus, there is a perceived positive loop between consumers getting what they want and producers making the things people want.

What Is a Good Example of Consumerism?

Anything that involves spending or buying more is an example of consumerism. One example could be buying a brand new wardrobe every season even though your clothes from last year are fine because the fashions change so quickly.

Is Consumerism a Good Thing?

Unfortunately, modern consumerism leads to a lot of over-buying products we don’t need and subsequently causes us to create more waste. Economically, it might be a good thing: finding ways to go above and beyond a consumer’s needs. However, in today’s market small businesses, the environment, and laborers often suffer under egregious consumerism

What Is Hyper Consumption?

Hyper consumption is simply put, buying excessively more than we need to live. It’s buying non-functional goods due to social pressures relating to how we identify or express ourselves. 

What Is Blatant Consumerism?

Blatant consumerism is buying not because you need something but because in that moment you felt the need to have it. When someone posts something online with the caption of “I just bought this because of the packaging” it speaks to blatant consumerism in that this person didn’t need the product, wasn’t looking to buy the product, and it may turn out they don’t even like the product, it was bought because it looked a way that appealed to their personal style

What Is Unethical Consumerism?

Unethical consumerism is any consumerism which negatively impacts the environment, workers, future people, and people in poorer countries. 

What Is Social Consumerism?

Social consumerism is buying products that meet the buyers needs, profit a business, and contribute positively to a social issue. For example, there are shoe brands that for every pair of shoes you buy, they donate a pair to someone who needs them.

Is Consumerism a Social Issue?

Consumerism, particularly hyper consumerism causes more problems than there are benefits, particularly when it comes to the environment. We buy way more products than we need which means we throw away products we could still use. We don’t really need to buy a new phone every year but there is a lot of social pressure to do so and the batteries in most smartphones cause detrimental effects on our environment.

Shopping online can benefit the environment - Conscious Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Shopping online

Consequences of Overconsumption

How Will Overconsumption Endanger the Planet and Society?

The more we consume, the more we throw away, and the more we throw away the more overwhelmed our landfills become. overconsumption worsens climate breakdown and increases air pollution. 

How Do Consumer Choices Affect the Environment?

Consumerism operates in that the consumer votes with their dollar. The more people who buy plastic lunch bags, the more bags end up in our landfills and oceans, and the more bags that need to be made. A higher demand for a product means it will be produced more by more companies; if we can change our buying habits to ones that don’t affect the environment, then more environmentally friendly products will be made. 

If we can change our buying habits to ones that don’t affect the environment, then more environmentally friendly products will be made. 

How Does Globalization Affect Consumerism?

Globalization has reduced the price consumers have to pay for goods because labor can be exported to countries whose cost of labor is cheaper. So people can buy more of what they need (or more often, don’t need) which is a good thing, but it comes at the health and safety of those who make and package the products.

What Are the Effects of Overconsumption?

Environmentally, the planet can only support so much waste before it becomes uninhabitable and a huge contributing factor is being pressured to buy more and overconsume. Simply put, if consumerism continues at the current pace, our planet will run out of resources. 

The Fundamentals of Conscious Consumerism

What Is Conscious Consumerism?

Conscious consumerism is when buying practices are driven by a commitment to making purchasing decisions that have positive social, economic, and environmental impact.

Should We All Try to Buy and Consume Less?

wherever possible, we should all try to buy and consume less. Some conscious consumer habits are difficult, expensive, or time consuming but those don’t have to be the ones you start with. There are plenty of small steps anyone can take to buy and consume less that won’t break the bank. 

Is Conscious Consumerism a Lie?

Well, no,  but it is also only one small step in helping our environment and helping improve the lives of workers. The onus is on large corporations using excess resources to produce goods that that no amount of recycling can fix. However if enough people consume more consciously and stop giving money to companies that harm the environment, change can be made

What Is Mindful Consumption?

Mindful consumption is just being thoughtful and conscious about the purchases you make before you make them.

What Are the Ethics of Purchasing?

Ethical purchasing is the practice of buying products and/or  services that are produced in a way that minimises any environmental or social damage. It is subsequently avoiding products and services that have a negative impact.

What Are Examples of Ethical Consumerism?

 Sometimes, ethical consumerism means not buying anything at all. Not ever, but being able to assess when you really need to buy something new versus when you can reuse or repair an item you already have. Most clothing and shoes can be fixed and worn longer, plastic containers from food can be reused–sometimes to even grow more food! But other than that, doing research on the products you buy or the companies you buy from is a great place to start.

Ethical Purchasing Tips

1. Buy Local

Buying local is great because the supply chain tends to be pretty small- as a consumer you know exactly where the product is coming from and how it was made. Farmer’s markets are a great place to buy locally grown and in-season food. Local and used book stores are great for finding books and they usually have sections featuring local authors. Lastly, when looking for decor for your home or gifts for others, start by looking into local artists and artisans to really support your community.

2. Shop Second Hand

Rather than buying brand new clothes every time the trends change, find your own personal style at second hand stores. Most clothes sold through popular stores are considered “fast fashion,” or clothes that are made fast to be sold fast and replaced fast which leads to a lot of clothing in landfills.

Places like thrift stores which are the cheaper version of vintage stores that are more curated and more expensive are good, there are also online thrift stores. But it’s not just clothing that can be purchased second-hand: furniture, electronics, dishes, decor, all of these things can be bought easily second hand. 

3. Consider Purchases Carefully (Don’t Impulse Buy)

Before buying anything, the purchase should be carefully considered. Why are you drawn to this particular object? If it’s appealing because the packaging is appealing, or because it’s on sale, or if it was a targeted ad then you’re buying the product because the store is saying you need it.

Before buying anything, ask a couple questions. Will I still want this a week from today? Do I already have this at home or something that works just as well? How long will this last before I throw it away or give it away? 

4. Pay Cash

Paying cash helps us visualize how much money we have and how much money we are spending. Subsequently, the more aware we are of how much we’re spending, the less we’re wont to impulse buy.

5. Know Corporate Practices

It’s easy to buy a lot from a company when you don’t know how they operate. It’s easier to eat a hot dog when you don’t know how they’re made. So it is important to know where and how the business is spending your money. Are they treating their workers well?

Are they using materials and production practices that actively harm the environment? Do their values align with your own? If you wouldn’t want to work for the company ethically, you probably shouldn’t buy from them either. 

6. Buy the Best Quality You Can Afford

Part of conscious consumership is not overbuying, however that can be difficult when products today are built to break, or at the very least, built cheap and fast enough not to last. Over time you can not only save a lot of money, but reduce a lot of personal waste if you spend a little more on a product that is made well and will last. Sometimes you don’t even have to break the bank: if you’re a skilled deal hunter, you might be able to find a high quality product being sold second hand. 

Thrift shop - Conscious Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Thrift shop

Helpful Insights:

Why We Are Consumers

We are consumers inherently by nature. As living creatures, we need things to survive. Mainly, these are food, shelter, and clothing. As those needs are taken care of more efficiently in evolved societies, we can then focus on wanting, and consuming, more specific goods and services. For example, specialty items, recreation vehicles, entertainment electronics, etc.

What is a consumer?

Everyone is a consumer! A consumer is someone who purchases goods for personal use. Since, as humans, we all consume (food, experiences, water, time, etc.), we are all consumers on some level.

What are examples of consumers?

Usually consumers refer to people who purchase goods for themselves. So, someone buying groceries is a consumer, a family buying a car, all consumers.

What is a consumer driven society?

Rather than buying items to live, we are living to buy more. More than we could consume, and more than we need. This is because our society is consumer driven. Businesses operate on, not making items that consumers need but making goods that consumers cannot live without. Our attention is constantly being drawn towards ads and what layout, colors, and music will cause us to buy the most before leaving a store or website. 

What is consumer culture marketing?

It’s marketing that focuses on the relationship a consumer might have with a product or service. Generally, consumer culture marketing is studying the factors that will yield the most consumers.

Is American society still dominated by a consumer culture?

Yes. Success in America is still largely centered around how much one is able to buy. And since the generation of millennials who owe too much money in different kinds of debts can’t afford big luxurious purchases like homes or new cars, they tend to spend on a lot of small, very trendy items to prove that they are successful in some way. 

Why does overconsumption happen?

There are quite a few contributing factors for overconsumption. Planned obsolescence is one big one, i.e. products are built to break really quickly so you have to buy a new one sooner. Phones are guilty of this, many vacuums, oftentimes the things made to break are goods we need and therefore can’t spare time saving up for a new, more long-lasting product when the old one breaks.

Our purchases also say something about who we are as a person which we can show to others via social media. Sometimes we purchase items we don’t need because we are pressured to be on trend or have our own style that we can flaunt with the newest shoes or bags or couches.

Consumerism and Happiness

Does consumerism make us happy?

Short term, consumerism makes us happy. That’s why people become addicted to shopping or impulse buy a lot. Buying something new for yourself feels good, getting something in the mail feels good, wearing new clothes feels good. But these are fleeting feelings that very often only last a couple days, and then you need your next fix. Consumerism makes us happy for a moment, but it’s not a sustainable happiness.

Recycle - Conscious Consumerism - Gone Minimal

How does consumerism affect our stress levels?

Even though on average, people own more cars, eat out at restaurants more often, and so much in our lives is affordable, studies have shown we’re not more content than past generations. And yet the drive to buy more because “maybe if I buy this thing, I’ll be satisfied” perseveres.

The rise in consumerism has also come in conjunction with a rise in social media and in constantly comparing ourselves to our peers, we think we have to be unique, on trend, and successful and what’s the easiest way to seem that way? Buy more stuff of course! So consumerism generally affects stress levels negatively.

Why does buying things make you happy?

When you buy something that appeals to you, your brain releases dopamine which is a short lived feel good chemical. This is partially why we fall into bad consumer habits. Dopamine isn’t sustainable, it’s for short bursts of pleasure, not long lasting so when something gives us a burst of dopamine we look for the next hit.

What is the relationship between happiness and consumerism?

The more we buy, the more dopamine we receive, so the more we consume, the happier we are. Well, not forever. Just for the moment we buy something we get a rush of dopamine but it doesn’t last, dopamine isn’t meant to be long term. We have to ask ourselves, is the short burst of happiness we get from buying new things worth the environmental impact? Or worth the health of workers?

What is the connection between owning buying material things and happiness?

Some studies (like this one from the Science Daily) have shown that if we equate accruing material possessions as happiness results in lower levels of happiness overall. Put shortly, don’t rely on the burst of dopamine that comes from shopping for all your happiness.

Top Corporate Watchdogs:

As You SowFounded in 1992, As You Sow harnesses shareholder power to create lasting change that benefits people, planet, and profit.
CDPCDP is a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts.
Violation TrackerViolation Tracker is the first wide-ranging database on corporate misconduct. It covers banking, consumer protection, false claims, environmental, wage & hour, health, safety, and other cases.
Just CapitalJust Capital measures and ranks companies on the issues Americans care about most so you can then act on that knowledge.
CeresCeres is a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.

Other Resources:

Understanding consumerism is the first step to being a conscious consumer. Once we understand how businesses attempt to get consumers to buy more we can put in the conscious effort to buy more mindfully.

Related Topics:

What is an ethical food choice?

One of the best things you can do is buy and make your own food. The problem is, a lot of us live in apartments or rentals and can’t grow all the food we need, or keep cows for milk, or even chickens. So the next best thing is to buy local. Almost every city has a farmers market where local farmers sell their home-grown goods. Buying locally has a much smaller impact on our environment and supports local businesses. Plus who can beat locally made butter?

What is mindless consumption?

Mindless Consumption is purchasing goods in excess, without thought or consideration for the life cycle of that purchase. While this might have short-term feel good effects, often, longer term, there are other approaches that are more fulfilling and satisfying.

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