When my twins were six months old, a friend offered us some hand-me-downs. A few days later, he dropped off 11 boxes. My partner and I nearly fell over. “I threw in some toys our kids grew out of too,” my friend cheerily announced as he walked away from our new leaning tower of reused diaper boxes.
It was in that moment that being a parent felt real. Never mind that I had literally given birth six months earlier and had been struggling as a parent ever since. It was these colourful plastic things that heralded our new world: toys everywhere, clothes everywhere and boxes and boxes of stuff.
I’ve always been suspicious about consumption, but becoming a parent launched me into a world where objects are the easiest way to express something. More often than not, we celebrate events by obtaining stuff, usually by buying it. New job? New clothes. New apartment? New furniture. New season? New decor. New political movement? New tote bag (on top of new donations). Baby showers, weddings, retirements, birthdays, holidays – our celebrations are centred around the ritual of shopping.
“I’ve always been suspicious about consumption, but becoming a parent launched me into a world where objects are the easiest way to express something.”
Our collective obsession with spending has serious consequences. Canadians are spending 158 percent of what they’re making, on average, and our addiction to buying stuff is killing the planet. The fashion industry is responsible for a whopping 10 percent of CO2 global emissions, while transportation, including planes, cars and marine shipping, accounts for 24 percent. Couple that with the fact that much of what we consume is made by people working in dangerous factory conditions and making barely enough money to survive and it becomes uncomfortably clear that how we choose to spend our money is a political decision.
Many of us live by a set of principles that prizes fairness and justice for others. We share campaign updates on social media and maybe condemn injustices by writing letters or protesting, only to then invest our money in corporations that make fairness and justice impossible. When you buy a book, do you support major international corporations who pay minimum wage and whose workers experience high levels of workplace injury or local booksellers who pay a fair wage? When there is a difference in price (and sometimes there isn’t!), is 15 percent off 29 bucks worth choosing the less equitable option?
“Money is the most important force in our lives.”
Though talking about it can be taboo, money is the most important force in our lives. We work to pay off debt and provide the necessities of life. And when we approach our purchases with a critical eye, we take a small step toward demonstrating our ethics and condemning what we believe to be unjust. Individual choices alone won’t save the planet or end poverty, but we can make a small difference by curbing our consumption.
The fact that it took boxes of stuff to make us feel like we were actually parents reminded me that I needed to resist marking important life moments through consumption. We need to better align our politics with what we consume. This means being intentional and careful about where we put our money: buying local, supporting businesses with equitable practices and, often, simply not buying anything at all.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.