How to Shop Mindfully: A Guide to Conscious Consumption

low- and zero-waste slow living Apr 15, 2024
In the foreground, a woman is shown from the waist down. She wears mended jeans and holds a shopping bag made from an old button-down shirt. In the background are the well-stocked shelves of a supermarket.

Making an effort to live more sustainably can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. We know that the big players in most production industries (think oil, fashion, agriculture...) need to make some big changes. But on an individual level, how can we live more sustainably? 

Many of us know that the key to sustainability is reducing our consumption. Of course, it's not possible to stop shopping entirely (without taking some extreme measures!), so today we're talking about how we can be mindful about our purchases when we do need to make them.

What is mindful shopping?

Ethical consumption, conscious consumerism... Mindful shopping goes by many names, but the idea is the same: making choices about purchases that reflect our personal values and do the least harm possible to people and planet. 

It's important to note here that nobody is perfect, and a little bit is more than none. While making only sustainable purchases is a noble goal, it's also very hard to attain for most of us. We may not always have the resources to make the purchase decisions we'd like to make, but it's still a good idea to put thought into every purchase and make the more ethical choice where we can.

Why shopping sustainably matters

Everything that we buy has an impact on our planet and people; resources like water, land, and labour were used to make, grow, or raise it. We are already seeing some of the effects of our consumerism in the more frequent and worsening storms, rising sea levels, floods and droughts, and even rising food insecurity. What's worse is these events tend to affect marginalized people in developing countries more than anyone else - the people who are already being exploited to make the things that Western consumers are using.[1]

By reducing our consumption in general, and shopping mindfully when we do consume, we can vote with our dollars to combat climate change and end the exploitation of people and planet.

Embracing sustainability: Tips for Shopping Mindfully

Becoming an ethical consumer sounds hard, but it doesn't have to be! It just requires a little planning, and admittedly, a little habit-breaking (especially for those of us who struggle with impulse buying) - but with a few small changes and a good dose of self-forgiveness, we can shift our mindset and create new, more sustainable patterns. Find my top tips below!

Mending jeans with Sashiko to extend their life.

1. Separate wants from needs. Mindful shopping doesn't mean that you can never buy anything you don't absolutely need, but it does mean that we should be considering whether something is a want versus a need before we buy it. Turning these things over in our heads before we make a purchase is a mindfulness practice in itself!

2. Think repair before replace. Throwaway culture has taught us that when something breaks, the easiest thing to do is toss it in the bin and buy a new one. Let's not forget the first 'R' of reduce, reuse, recycle - repairing is a great way to extend the life of a product and reduce demand for a new one! Using Sashiko to mend your clothes is a great example of this.

3. Research before you buy. For many of the things that we purchase on a day-to-day basis, there are quite literally hundreds or even thousands of options to choose from. By doing a bit of research into the sustainability and ethics practices of brands, we can make more informed purchasing decisions. Don't forget to check multiple sources for information you can trust - with ethical consumerism on the rise, there are plenty of brands out there who are greenwashing or misrepresenting information to look more sustainable and ethical than they really are!

4. Quality over quantity. When you're doing your research, it doesn't hurt to look for information on the durability and longevity of a product. The reviews are a great place to start! Higher quality items can be more of an upfront investment, but will need to be replaced less frequently than cheaper alternatives - reducing consumption and often saving you money overall. This brings to mind the German saying "buy cheap, pay twice"  because we often have to replace cheaper alternatives more often.

5. Reduce, reuse, recycle! When purchasing something, think about what happens at the end of its life. Is it something that you can turn into something else, like a candle that would be a cute plant pot once it's burned? If it's something that will be thrown away at its end of life, is there an alternative you can use instead, or can you borrow it from a friend or buy it secondhand? Don't be afraid to get creative - for example, I rarely buy new fabric for my projects, opting instead for thrift shop/op shop fabrics, blankets, and jeans! 

6. Buy second hand. I know I mentioned above that I repurpose fabrics from my old worn out clothes and from thrift stores, and another way to mindfully shop is to check out websites that sell second hand items. Whether its Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, Craigslist or the Gum Tree, there are lots of places to find much loved treasures. And it's true what they say; one person's trash is another person's treasure.

This pouch is made from the legs of a pair of jeans purchased secondhand.

While becoming a mindful shopper can seem like a daunting task, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Taking small steps to put a little more thought into each purchase can go a long way in helping reduce overall consumption and easing the exploitation of the Earth and its people. With a little planning ahead, research, and thought, we can make more ethical decisions every day - and every small step towards conscious consumerism matters. And one of the additional benefits of being a mindful shopper often is that not only are we saving the earth, we end up saving dollars too!


Do you practice mindful shopping when you need to make a purchase? Leave your tips in the comments! 

Hi, I'm Kate!

I am a strong believer in starting where you are and using what you have, wherever and whatever that may be.

Everyone should get to experience the joy of connecting to others through learning, experimenting, and creating.

Creativity doesn’t have to be expensive or wasteful. Whether we’re using natural materials, reusing materials, or shopping our own stashes first, creating mindfully goes beyond being present in the moment - it extends to being mindful of our environment and the other communities around us, too.