Being an adult is hard. If a person is considered an adult at age 18, then I’ve been adulting for longer than I care to mention. I should be killing it by now! Alas, I still have so much to learn.
My paternal grandfather used to say that a day without learning a new lesson was a waste of a day. I tend to agree. He also used to get quite excited when he learned something, would rub his hands together delightedly, and say that he was heading back to bed…but I digress.
I wholeheartedly believe that it is important to keep learning and growing. There is so much we don’t know; so many new avenues to explore. Where I’ve felt particularly challenged with adulting over the last year is when I looked more closely at the interplay and the far-reaching consequences of my daily actions. I’m not talking about basic cause and effect but the sometimes unintended ripple effects caused by my actions, specifically, my purchasing habits.
You know that feeling of angst deep in your belly? The one that shows up when there’s a disconnect between your values and your actions? Well, I’d been feeling that quite a bit over the last year. It’s impossible not to hear about the financial impacts of COVID - especially for small businesses. It seems like every day we hear about another coffee shop, restaurant or retailer that simply cannot remain in business after the numerous shutdowns and restrictions. As a small business owner myself, and a yoga teacher at local family-owned studios, I’ve come face to face with the truth that where we spend our money is actually a vote for the kind of future we want to see. Read that last sentence again.
I always knew that purchasing from a certain retailer or service provider meant that I supported them and by extension their practices. I knew that - on some level. However, a part of me was quite unwilling to explore that too closely. See, I have always been a shopper who loves to find a good bargain. Who doesn’t get satisfaction from buying something on sale? Most bargains are found in big box stores or offered by chain companies who can afford to let things go at clearance prices. I knew, intellectually, that most of the items I was purchasing were largely manufactured in countries that are not known for their fair employee wages or healthy working conditions. It was quite possible that their practices crossed numerous ethical lines but I shut that thought down and focussed on the money I’d saved. After all, I’m not the only one buying from these retailers. Everyone else is doing it! Even if I was to spend my money elsewhere, it wouldn’t really have much of an impact though, right? There was that uneasy feeling in my gut again.
I decided to stop avoiding the angst, to put my adult pants on, and to look at the matter more closely. In doing so, I learned a lot about what matters to me when purchasing goods or services. I don’t want to get all preachy here and shove “shop local” down my readers’ throats. Instead, I’d like to ask you to explore what it is you expect, at minimum, from something that separates you from your hard-earned dough.
When the pandemic started, our family decided that we would highlight birthdays and holidays with the gift of experiences we could do together, presents we could make for each other or gifts that were locally sourced. It allowed us to really think about the recipient and what might be meaningful to them.
There were many unintended consequences to that. I allowed myself more time to tap into my creativity. I made cards using watercolours. I sewed pyjamas and made stuffies. I even learned new skills and took up wood burning and playing with resin. Connecting to my creativity recharged my batteries and became an invitation for my daughters to connect to theirs. My younger daughter wrote poems as gifts, composed songs and explored writing in a way she hadn’t before. She discovered a new talent and has since entertained us quite a bit with her witty turn of phrase. I love that we ended up spending quality time together as we created things for loved ones.
When we shopped small businesses, I noticed three main points. First, we created connections; second, we got incredible customer service; and third, the quality we received was outstanding. Most artisans and business owners truly know their products and take pride in their work. For example, at Christmas, I was looking to have a watercolour painting I’d created printed on hoodies for our immediate family. The local lady who took on the project was (and still is!) so meticulous about her work. She likely could have slapped the image onto the garment and invoiced me but no. She gave me options, sent examples and really teased out how I wanted it to look. I was so thrilled with the finished product. It was so much better than I could have anticipated.
Once I started to research the artisans in my area of town, I was floored by the talent that exists. I started to crave originality and uniqueness. I have a bit of a leggings addiction…and I prefer wearing leggings that aren’t the standard run of the mill leggings either. So, when I found out that a local artist would be working with a Canadian company to transfer her paintings onto leggings, I was thrilled. Now, ordering online has its challenges. I emailed her and she was quite happy to help me out. I even drove to her house for a socially-distanced size comparison in her driveway! That’s customer service!
I even sort of fell in love with this online party-hosting concept that many direct sales companies have adopted. I realize that there are many different views about direct sales and many aren’t so positive. However, I found that the concept of the online party itself is quite ingenious. The hostess introduces the seller to her network thereby expanding the seller’s reach and sales potential. The hostess, in turn, gets a purchasing discount. Win-win! I hosted a party recently for a Canadian clothing company. The unexpected results here were the connections I made with the seller and those I renewed with my girlfriends who I haven’t seen - much less gone shopping with - in so long.
For me, shopping local has busted the myth that buying from local businesses equals spending more. In every single case, the experience was more rewarding and the quality of the product or service was greater than if I’d have turned toward a chain or big box store.
As for the everyone’s-doing-it and I-won’t-make-a-difference excuses, I realized that it was never really was about that at all. It was about eliminating that disconnect between my values and my actions. Do I believe that changing my shopping habits will cause sweatshops to collapse? Of course not! I am only one person. I can, however, decide where my money goes and cast my vote for the future I’d like to create. I choose to use my purchasing power in a way that encourages a talented woman to continue to create art. I choose to make sure my dollars contribute to extending the maternity leave for a funny, delightful young mom. It’s about knowing that I bought something I need and, as a result, I have helped a family offset lost wages maybe even just a little.
Adulting is hard. It can become quite complex - not to mention exhausting - to analyze our impact on our world by simply being us. Sometimes, we will get it right and sometimes we won’t. For me though, the barometer is and always has been my gut. If that angst in my belly shows up, it means I need to take notice and realign. That’s the only way I’ll know I’m on my way to killing it!