Critiquing Consumption : Asking honest questions about the things we buy

Lately I’ve been trying to become more critical of my levels of consumption. This was initially spurred on by the fact that I didn’t have a job lined up until recently and even though I have one now I won’t be working again until the end of March. It’s funny though, when you cut back on needless spending, how quickly you realise what you do and don’t need. Over the past year or so I’ve  also become a lot more aware of the need to cut down on disposables and single use plastics and I’ve been trying to align the two values and become a more conscientious consumer.

In order to ensure that I am shopping in way that works for me, I’ve come up with some questions to ask myself when I am making a purchase:

Is it harmful to the environment?

  • Does it have excess packaging?
  • Is it overly processed?
  • How was it manufactured?
  • How far has it traveled to be sold here and is there a more locally sourced
  • alternative?
  • Is it single-use/disposable? Is there an alternative?

Is it harmful to my health?

  • If it’s food is it heavily processed – full of sugar and salt and additives?
  • Does the packaging contain toxins such as BPA?
  • Is the product toxic in itself and is it worth the risk? (alcohol, cigarettes etc)
  • Will consuming it make me feel guilty or unwell?

Is it harmful to someone else’s health or well-being (ethical purchasing)?

  • How was it made or manufactured?
  • Is it fair trade or ethically produced?
  • In terms of animal products, how humane is the production?

Is it harmful to my bank account?

  • Is it a needless expense? Can I live without it?
  • Can I find it cheaper? Is the cheaper version more harmful in other ways (above)?

In the instance of each thing I am contemplating, I rank the questions/answers in most to least important order for that particular item. When you answer these questions you should be able to determine which answers ring most important to you in terms of making the right decision for your own set of principles.

Because everyone seems to have an acronym, I invented my own to try and keep these questions at the forefront of my consumer decisions:

F– Financial
E– Environmental
L– Long-term Health

For example, my morning coffee. This has been a habit/ritual/routine for so long it’s essentially part of my DNA. I get up, get dressed and take the dog to the local coffee shop where I order a large long black.
F – It is definitely an ongoing cost that I could reduce. $4.00 a day isn’t cheap!
E – This is harmful to the environment because it uses not one but two plastic coated paper cups, plus a plastic lid.
E – I’m actually not sure where my local cafe sources their beans so I can’t be sure about fair trade, although I could ask them about it. My cafe is locally owned and operated, and it employs a lot of people so in that way I feel positive supporting them.
L – I’m sure it’s not the best thing for my health, but giving up coffee in the morning is not really an option, at least not now. I like the ritual, I like the addiction!

For me, the environmental and budgetary concerns are the highest here. Although I will keep it in mind to ask about their coffee source next time I’m there.

Once I’ve asked myself the above questions, I contemplate the purchase:

  • Is there a better alternative?
  • Do I actually need the thing at all?
  • Can I find it second hand?
  • Can I buy it in bulk without excess packaging?
  • Can I buy it locally sourced?

In regards to my coffee, I’m not going to give it up, so my options are:

  • Committing to using a reusable cup. I found the right size Keep Cup at a second hand shop, so I just have to commit to using it.
  • Even better, make coffee at home, in the reusable cup, and save money as well as waste while being able to select which coffee I use to ensure it is ethically sourced.

My goal is to slowly go over all of the things I purchase with this questioning to try to understand what I buy on a deeper level.

Now, when I move to buy something I ask myself: What do you FEEL are the consequences of this purchase? It helps me to easily determine if something is necessary or not. More often than not I end up spending much less than I did in the past.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. TheRoadToUnemployment says:

    Good choice on the coffee… it’s a consumption habit that is difficult to change, that’s for sure!


    1. Nicole says:

      Thanks! I just keep thinking what I can spend that extra $1000 a year on instead and it keeps me motivated.


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