wise consumerism

My approach to spending money is one that may be hard to fathom for a lot of people. Growing up, what I typically witnessed said to me that “more is better.” As in, you can never have too many sweaters, or — you like those boots? — go ahead and grab another color. We went to the mall a few times a month just because. It was fun as a teenager, and I really liked having new clothes, but in college, for reasons I couldn’t pinpoint at the time, shopping began to lose its appeal to me. The cute clothes my mom regularly brought home for me, just because she was thinking of me, made me squirm a bit because I already had a closet bursting at the seams with plenty of things I almost never wore. I knew that I actually only had a handful of tops that I wore over and over, while the others sat idle until my mom asked me why I wasn’t wearing them. Eventually, stacks went to Goodwill, while I felt both relieved and guilty.

Looking back, I think part of it was that I had begun working and really began to have a concept of how much money was being spent unnecessarily on clothes, even if it wasn’t my own money. I felt guilty and wasteful. For the first time in my life, I began to say, “No, I have what I need,” which was usually met with confusion from, well, everyone. Once I got married, I cut my spending even more, out of both necessity and a desire to spend money in ways that mattered. It was difficult making the transition in each case, but all of it shaped my thinking going forward, and I’m glad for the change. I no longer compulsively go to the mall out of boredom, and when I do go, I have the freedom to leave empty-handed and be satisfied. That in itself is a beautiful thing.

I would certainly never suggest that you shouldn’t buy things that you actually will use, or that you should only ever buy second-hand (although used items can be perfect, and even the founder of Patagonia advocates for buying used and not buying in excess). However, when you buy less, you’re free to spend a little more on something else — an experience, a nicer item, a charity donation, or an item from a small business. I have a list of small businesses I want to buy from, and when I got a job, I finally got to check one off the list — a Better Life Bag.

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Oooooooooooh!!

I first heard about this company on Pinterest, when I saw one of their gorgeous bags and read in the caption that they’re customizable. I was already hooked at that point, but then I found out that they employ women in the Detroit area who need the income but would not otherwise be able to work, often for religious or cultural reasons. This beautiful, sustainable way of improving the lives of families has stuck with me for the last couple of years, so I am thrilled to finally be able to say that we supported them — and got a darn nice bag in the process. Seriously, this thing is fantastic. It’s technically a laptop bag, although I’ll be using it as an everyday purse. It’s slim but roomy, so much so that I can easily fit my laptop in it along with my essentials if I ever need to. Not to mention it’s beautiful and has soft, genuine leather! So yeah, I’m a little happy with it 🙂 It was a splurge, but one that’s well worth it, in my book. And it will be years before I need another purse, so I will be sending older ones to Goodwill.

To be totally honest, 5 years ago I never would have bought a Better Life Bag. They’re not cheap, and I was all about getting the best deal I could on everything ever (and there are absolutely situations where we still need to be thrifty with our money).  But when you find quality and/or a cause that’s worth the extra cash, go for it. You won’t be sorry.

So, this Earth Day, I challenge you to take a different approach than normal. Look at your spending habits and your stuff. 1.) What do you have in excess that can be donated, passed to a friend, or recycled? 2.) Who/what cause is meaningful to you? and 3.) How can you make room in your budget and life to support them?

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