20 Ways to Take Your Power Back from the Consumer Machine — Part One
Spring is a nice little break from the larger part of the year when the bombardment of consumer season is happening. It’s also a slower, more relaxing month for many of us. That makes it a great time to sit back, reflect and think about ways that you can take power back from the consumer machine. That doesn’t mean that you need to stop buying anything and go live in a tree in the forest (though we have great respect for people who make that choice). But it does mean that the purchases that you’re making should be consistent with your ideals, beliefs, needs and the future you want for the world. In fact, in some ways, you can make a bigger impact on the consumer machine when you purchase occasionally than you can by not purchasing at all, as long as it’s grounded in the how-much-is-enough mindset. This month, we’re glad to be focusing on our favorite ideas for taking power back from the consumer machine.
We’ll be covering our top twenty ideas in groups of five throughout the month. Today, we’ll begin with our top five.
1. Be Aware of Consumerism. The First Step is the Most Important.
The very first thing that you need to do is to become aware of the consumer machine and all of the ways that it infiltrates as well as stresses your life. We like to think we’ve given you plenty of tools to do this within the Postconsumers website, but we’ll run down a few basics to be aware of. Don’t buy into trends — they’re created to make you feel like you need to buy more and more and more. Don’t buy into society’s definition of success being achieved by having more “stuff.” Success is defined by satisfaction and fulfillment. You’ll never find those if you’re constantly trying to buy more and more and more “stuff” because there will always be more to buy. Be aware of all of the media you’re exposed to every day — the television, radio, internet and even the digital ads that pervade our physical lives. They’re all working to create a purchase response in you. Finally, be aware of how shopping locations are set up. Even their physical designs are structured to create more purchases. This paragraph is really just a sampling of all of the ways you’ll need to be mindful of the consumer machine. Not to worry, we have plenty of articles to help you absorb all of this information (and more!).
2. Vote with Your Dollar.
What you buy matters, and it matters a lot. We’ve talked about why it’s important to try to avoid big box stores just to get cheaper merchandise. But it’s not just where you shop that matters, it’s what you buy there. For example, whether you love or hate Walmart, they did begin to carry organic produce because shoppers demanded it. If we want to change the way that workers are compensated, developing nations are (or aren’t) exploited, how the planet is treated and so many other issues, we need to demand it. The reality is that there are things that you need to purchase. Nobody can live without underwear after all! (Or, perhaps you do, and that’s a freeing choice to make!). When you say that you’ll only purchase products that are ethically, organically and responsibly made, you force manufacturers and retailers to create and sell those products. It is true — you will likely be able to buy less if you set high standards for what you buy. But as we’ll talk about later, it’s really not about quantity.
3. Do the Research. Trust Us, Research is Sexy.
But how do you know what’s “ok” for you to buy and what’s not? Firstly, we’re not going to tell you what that line is. One of the essential beliefs of Postconsumers is that every person needs to find his or her own comfort level with consumerism after weighing the mental health consequences. What may feel right to you may not be enough for somebody else. Or what may feel like just enough for you may feel like too much to somebody else. But you’ll never truly learn what you’re comfortable endorsing or discrediting with your dollar until you do the research. The internet doesn’t always need to be used for evil! There are so many valid reports by organizations like Consumer Reports, the United Nations and dozens of environmental groups out there that can help you to determine exactly what parts of the world are being impacted by your purchase. And that includes not only what practices your manufacturers and brands are partaking in but also what the stores you shop in are doing. Are they paying living wage? Are they outsourcing garment production to unregulated developing nations? Designate time to research the brands you like and make sure that they support the goals that you think are important. If you like, do it while wearing sassy research eye glasses to make yourself feel hotter!
4. Download the Buycott App.
Much like not all internet focus is evil, not all smartphone apps are evil (though when it comes to apps, we think less is more, it’s not just your closet where a clutter mentality can take shape). One of our favorite tools in the fight to take back power from the consumer machine is the Buycott app. This app lets you quickly research any brand or product and keeps a massive database of the brand or product’s red flags and performance in a host of social and environmental areas. If your product or brand doesn’t get the “all clear,” Buycott then suggests similar products or related items that have higher social, ethical and environmental scores. You can be on the spot, ready to purchase, and do a quick piece of research that can change your mind and possibly even point you in a better direction.
5. Adblock, Adblock, Adblock.
The consumer media machine has two parts: the consumer machine and the media machine. Part of how you take power back is to limit your exposure to what is often the manipulation of the media arm of the machine. Throughout these articles, we’ll have tips for you on how to do just that. But right now while we’re all reading this online, we’d like to start by suggesting that you turn Adblock on. Adblock is software that blocks many (but not all) ads from your computer. You’ll need to be using a specific browser (Chrome, Firefox or Opera) or using an Android smartphone for it to work. Trust us, if you are fond of another browser you will already be doing yourself a favor by switching to Chrome (though you are then playing in the backyard of the Google empire). You may not realize how much you’re being impacted by brand repetition via online advertising, but anything you can do to minimize it will ultimately help your overall effort to separate yourself from the consumer rat race.
Today’s five tips dealt largely with big picture, big dollar changes you’ll need to work on. Next, we’ll focus on more personal and intimate details.