Transforming lives on four continents

Shop smart, shop right, shop less

Legalism kills. We all know that. And the fastest way to turn enthusiasm for doing the right thing into resentment, tiredness and eventual disillusioned apathy is to turn simplicity into a set of rules that are a drudge to follow (or worse: something about which we judge and hassle others). Simplicity should be a way of removing the clutter of materialism, greed and selfishness from our lives so that we can enjoy the true gifts God has given us. Cluttering our lives back up with rules or unrealistic expectations would be as much of a mistake as only committing half-heartedly to genuinely helpful principles for minimising the harm we do in our daily lives. So here are some tips and principles, not rules, to guide you through the maze of consumer life, ethically:

Shop smart

Advertising is not there to help you make an informed decision. It is there to influence you into thinking you need things. From suggesting you're a bad mother if you don't buy a certain cleaning product to suggesting your love-life will improve if you buy a certain gum, it's good not to take advertising too seriously and best to cut it out of your life altogether. You'd be amazed how good you feel about yourself without adverts telling you that you are too fat, too unfashionable, too old or too uncool. If you can't avoid advertising (and most of us can't), always remember that what you are seeing or hearing is not truth, but an attempt to get you to buy something you probably do not need.

Once you are aware of it you will be amazed at the power that advertising has over you, even at a subconscious level. Notice how you mistrust products if they are not effectively branded and how you subconsciously assume that some products are superior because you recognise their colours or packaging.  Marvel at how suggestible you are, how you become thirsty after walking past a soft-drink advert or suddenly feel the strong desire to own the newer, more impressive-looking razor, when your old one shaves you just fine.

Avoid supermarkets as much as possible. It's easier said than done, but the fact is that supermarket layouts are essentially three-dimensional, interactive adverts, designed to get you to buy as much as possible, regardless of what you need or can even afford. Think of it this way: when was the last time you were able to walk into a supermarket with the intention of buying just one item and were able to walk out having bought just that one item? Row upon row of beautiful, interesting and useful-looking objects are on display, just begging you to spend your money on them and justify it later. You don't need them. Stick to your list.


Shop right

Ethical considerations may be fashionable right now, but don't let that pretentiousness put you off. Doing the right thing never stays fashionable very long unfortunately, and it is rarely smiled upon to take it to its logical conclusion.

Shop locally as much as you can. The less transportation that has gone into getting it to you, the less of a negative impact it hass had on the environment. Shopping locally obviously also means shopping at independent stores. Independents have a hard time competing with large chains, which can afford to lower their prices on certain goods in order to put small, family-run operations out of business. Local independents may be cheaper or more expensive, but supporting them is at least less likely to be enriching a shareholder who has money to burn than keeping a small community going.

Buy ethical products where they are available. Fair trade, sweatshop free and cruelty-free products are more and more common and while many of these products are more expensive, the reason is simple: no-one is being done-down in the deal. It is better to support companies and brands who only operate ethically than those who have 'ethical lines'. Ethical lines are basically the business world's way of patting ethical consumers on the head and deciding to make a littel money out of us rather than losing our business altogether. Best not to buy any of their chocolate unless it's ALL fairly traded. Best not to buy any of their frocks unless NONE of them are made in sweat-shops. After all, just a little injustice is like just a little stealing or a little violence. We shouldn't encourage it just because sometimes they behave better.

The business model of your shop may seem like a rather dull concern, but it really isn't. Documentaries like The Corporation demonstrate that if a business is only in it to make profits for shareholders, it is likely to behave unethically if it can (small businesses have less power, so are less likely to be able to get away with it).  Co-operatives, family businesses, small businesses, social businesses and charity stores are a good way to go, as are online retailers or wholesalers with an ethical focus.

Always remember that if your shirt or whathaveyou only costs a few quid, it is unlikely that the person who made it or the farmer who grew the raw materials was paid a fair price. And if that means that you can't afford to buy as much anymore, all the better. You probably already have enough. I know I do.


Shop less

The idea that we can shop our way to a better, less consumerist world is similar to believing we can bomb our way to peace. It is unrealistic. The fact is that we need to shop less if we are going to make a personal impact on the world.

We simply need to buy less stuff. That includes food, consumer electronics, magazines, books, toys, clothes, phones, gadgets, treats and all the really random stuff we somehow come home with from a trip to the shops.

But doing that is easier said than done. We see so many things as basic and essential that we have a hard time recognising them as luxuries or excessive. An easy exercise is to imagine BMS was buying your week's groceries or your year's big-spend items for families in an African community.

Would you be comfortable with us buying flat-screen TVs, gossip magazines, every new fashion and more extravagant food than they could eat without throwing tonnes away for a refugee family in Congo? Then what makes it essential to your life?  Why is it okay for us to spend so much of our money buying things for ourselves that we believe are unnecessary and extravagant for the world's poor to have?

There are better things we can do with our money than buying junk we do not need for people who already have too much.


Don't shop at all

It's old-fashioned, I know. My grandparents would be proud (and a little amazed) to hear me say it: but we need to get back to growing our own food, making our own gifts, sewing our own clothes and crafting our own toys, furniture, crockery and decor.

Why? Because it leaves more money to be shared with good causes we currently feel we can't afford to support (and please don't see this as a BMS sales-pitch. There are many many organisations also doing excellent work who could use your extra money). Making our own things also brings us closer to each other and makes us feel more fulfilled in ourselves.

Yes, it won't look like the brands in the shops, and no, it doesn't come quickly. But that is all sort of the point, isn't it?

Better still, see if you can simply do without that thing you're craving. It's an exercise of will that builds muscles of freedom from manipulation and dependence on money. And those are muscles worth having.

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