A reader asks:
How do you decide when to focus your energy on better choices versus choosing convenience? I think it can be so hard to opt for what’s right over what’s ready (example: the pants I know fit from Banana, versus seeking an ethical and sustainable new brand when I need new pants now…)
This is a really good question and I’m not sure I have figured out the best approach.
I totally get it. If I want new clothes, going to Target or Old Navy or Gap and having the immediate gratification is far more satisfying (if I find cute stuff) than researching to find the best options.
Here are a few things that come to mind:
Examine your motivations & avoid the panic purchase.
This is key for avoiding purchases that leave us with stuff we don’t even use and might compromise our values.
Sometimes purchases can be made to fulfill emotional needs. If I’m feeling insecure or unhappy, I might try to buy my way to happiness with new shoes or pants, telling myself I deserve it. Or feeling like if I have this particular outfit, I’ll feel better about myself.
I know this is true for me, so I’ll repeat it: if I’m feeling like I need new clothes, it’s probably more of an emotional thing. I’m trying to fill some void where I don’t feel good enough, pretty enough, or stylish enough. I want to buy my way to fulfillment instead of feeling enough outside of what I wear or have in my home. Burying those emotions is so much easier than just buying stuff.
If I have a shopping itch, I will reread this post.
And then there are panic purchases. If I avoided every panic purchase, I’d be a richer woman. Panicking before an interview, I purchased an expensive blazer I wore once and ended up donating 3 years later. Panicking before the holidays, I worry I don’t have ‘enough’ for someone and spend $20 more on something, anything to assuage that worry. Panicking before we go to a potluck, I make even more food that ends up going uneaten.
How do I avoid the panic purchase, though? I think by preparing in advance and talking yourself down from not feeling like you are/have/are giving enough. Kinda deep, but also kinda the root of a lot of purchases.
Prioritize your values.
One option I keep coming back to is making priorities when it comes to difficult decisions. Essentialism inspired me to set out a hierarchy of values when it comes to decisions, which could also apply to decisions like what clothes to buy, what groceries to purchase, or even what kind of house to live in.
Let’s say my priorities for clothing purchases are: (assuming, of course, looking good on me have been established):
- Store workers’ treatment (fair wages, working conditions, etc)
- Production workers’ treatment
- Environmental impact (is this company part of the problem or the solution?)
I might evaluate these with how urgently I need it and the price and how much I love it. Everyone’s budget and comfort level is different.
Seek other options.
Using your example, maybe it’s not all or nothing (perfect brand that makes ethically produced clothes vs. sweatshops). Look outside that paradigm to see more options.
For example, I love Loft’s clothes. I know what size I am and the clothes consistently fit me well and hold up. So I can check out eBay or thredUP for gently used clothing in my sizes and current styles – it’s secondhand, which means it’s a little better for the earth and my wallet. (Plus, I feel like I don’t need to worry as much about the ethical standards because someone already bought it.) (I might be lying to myself.)
Seasons change, life circumstances change. We have babies, we move, we start new jobs, we work too much, we have more time, we quit jobs.
If things in my life are stressful, hectic, and generally just a lot to handle, I choose convenience. This means different things at different times, but it might mean we disposable diaper on a road trip or in the middle of moving craziness. It might mean take out or cereal for dinner.
The problem is, can become an excuse for me. If I find myself continually taking the path of least resistance (in a way that isn’t in line with my values. Not, like, paying for a housekeeper, that is a path of least resistance that would be awesome) for a prolonged period of time, I try to challenge myself with a goal that will shake me out of the rut.
It’s super personal depending on what your ideal vs. your current reality, but my favorite way to get out of a materialism rut, for example, is to do a Buy Nothing month. It clears my head and changes my habits. Buying coffee at Starbucks instead of making it home and you want to change that? Maybe challenge yourself to go an entire month without buying coffee.
Sometimes the inconvenience isn’t as inconvenient as we expect.
Finding a company that produced ethically produced pants seems like a Herculean feat, yes? But taking a look at this guide, I can see there are actually quite a few mainstream options.
Last summer, Mike really wanted to do our CSA and I did NOT because I was having a baby in June. It seemed like a huge hassle and I didn’t want to have to cook or have the commitment.
He promised he’d help with the chopping and washing of the vegetables, so we signed up.
And I’m glad we did! It ended up being far less of an inconvenience than I expected and filled our bellies with healthy, fresh food (and actually meant we could grocery shop less – an unexpected convenience!).
Little steps count.
Above all, be gentle with yourself and realize that perfection can be a goal but not necessarily a reality. Maybe you aren’t buying your entire wardrobe ethically produced or your carbon footprint is larger than you’d like – but taking little steps in that direction is totally valid.
Just a little step today, then a little step next week, and before you realize it, you’re worlds closer to your ideal than you were last year. Even feeling a little uncomfortable with the ethicality and sustainability of your clothing production is a baby step!
Have compassion with yourself and make movement, ever so slowly, towards the direction you want to live your life.