1. Consider the Source -- Regardless of what you are buying, stop for a moment to think about not only where you are intending to make that purchase, but also where that item started its journey to you. Was it produced in a local shop, or come from somewhere else? Did the nation it came from have strictly enforced fair labour laws, or is it more likely from a more insidious economy? Who made it? How well was it made? What materials were used and how were they acquired/harvested?
If the answers to these questions are either unobtainable, or don't make you feel good as a consumer, we recommend looking up an alternative whether that means trading, bartering, borrowing, or learning how to make it yourself. When it comes to clothing, hit up boutiques specializing in higher-quality clothes. Yes, the prices will be higher, but the quality is insurmountable, and you won't feel as bad than if you are wearing something fast-fashion (that's a whole other problem we will tackle later). Additionally, consignment and thrift stores are a wonderful way to inexpensively refresh your wardrobe (and you can potentially sell some clothes back that you aren't using anymore!)
2. When possible: use multi-modal transportation -- what is multi-modal transportation? Simply put, it is a form of personal transportation outside of using individually owned smaller passenger vehicles. This can be anything from walking, bicycling, or roller blading to taking ride shares or public transportation like busses, subways, and trains. Basically, consider using your personal vehicle only for extreme circumstances: trips on highways to other cities where bus lines don't go, or if you are on a time crunch and absolutely must use your own vehicle.
Adjusting our living habits to incorporate multimodal transportation is challenging. Like most people, we are very used to just hopping in our vehicle to get from the proverbial A to B, despite having bicycles and a bus route that runs right by our house. It may take several months of work to try and formulate habits around multi-modal transportation, but even cutting 1 day of driving out of your week can make a vast improvement in living locally.
Side Benefit: in addition to decreasing costs on gas and even reducing insurance rates for vehicles that are parked for longer periods of time (ie all summer stored in a garage) multimodal transportation is a slower form of transportation that allows you to view your neighbourhood and area from a different perspective. By slowing down our travels to and from our regular destinations, we may find that we notice things we hadn't seen before: a new coffee shop opened around the corner, a new bakery, a hobby shop we'd never thought to stop in before, a piece of public art we never had time to appreciate as we constantly scanned for traffic patterns. All of this is a massive side benefit to living locally and employing mulitmodal transportation within our communities.
Not only that!: the more people use public transit, the better the services become and the more reliable they become. Because public transit is publicly funded, it relies heavily on usership statistics to advocate for its budget each cycle from city hall. By utilizing your public transit even once or twice a week, we can see vast improvements in the transit system as it will record increased usership.
3. Buy only what you absolutely need: When we shop at big box stores, we have a tendency to over-buy. Rows upon rows of product induce us to browse, which in turn opens up the opportunity to impulse buy items we may not need. This behavior can be devastating to a household budget, but stores are specifically psychologically designed and laid out to prey upon consumer behavior.
It might sound counter intuitive to tell folks to not buy things, but actually when it comes to living locally, this is one of the best tactics. When you DO buy, of course buy from a locally owned and operated store. Not only will you generally have a better experience, you will be keeping your hard-earned dollar in the local economy. Plus, getting to know your local shop keepers is a great way to learn about all the deals before they hit the shelves and create a sense of community. There is no better shopping experience than being greeted with a smile and being called by name because you know the person behind the counter. Sales clerks, when they know you and you know them, are also inclined to give honest opinions of products and will know what will best suit your needs. Opening up a consistent dialogue with these experts (because local shop owners are experts on the products they bring in!) will allow you to make the right decisions for both your shopping needs and your pocketbook.
The other part of only buying what you absolutely need is thinking of ways to extend the life of the stuff you already have. Instead of throwing out the jeans with the holes in them, patch or repurpose the fabric into something new. Figure out ways to re-use and re-create objects. Learn how to make things. If you don't know, find a local shop that can do the repairs for you and get it fixed there. Local artisans and tradespeople often have the skills required to do a little handywork for you.
More interested in going it alone? That's okay too. Some shops will provide classes for you to learn basics of a skill, and helpful tutorials online can also be employed (many of those video experts also have patreon accounts, so make sure you make a donation for their time and expertise).
By upcycling, re-using, and repairing our things, we can decrease the amount of waste going into the landfill, which will dramatically reduce our impact on the environment. Plus, making stuff can be really fun and knowing you finished a project and that it is used every day in your life feels really really good.
Living Locally: the act of conscious consumerism focused on a local economy and market. A general idea that by supporting local, the community benefits in a multifaceted way. A feel-good act of conscious consumerism.
By thinking about what we need to purchase, and critically thinking about where we are making those purchases, we can start to identify easy shopping habits that we can change to better and more easily support the local economy, and increase the prosperity of our neighbourhoods.
For example, when you need to get a new outfit for a social function, what places to shop immediately spring to mind? Are your go-to stores located in a mall, or are they independent structures? Are they chain shops or are they locally owned specialty boutiques?
Chances are, the vast majority of folks will think about these questions and realize that the answer is generally "a shop in the mall." It is reasonable, given the amount of advertising done by malls, shopping centres, and chain-stores, that the first places we think of when we need to buy new clothes are typically commonly-found chain stores. This is because the average local boutique doesn't have a big advertising or marketing budget, making it more difficult for them to be front of mind.
By thinking simply about where our goods are coming from: including things like groceries, clothes, and household products, we can be cognizant of whether or not we are choosing to support local or not.
Living Locally vs. Convenient & "cheap"
When we chat with folks, many of the reasons people give for defaulting to the box-stores is that they are a "convenient place where I can get everything in one trip." And it's true: superstores/department stores are designed to be a complete one-stop-shop destination where you can get everything you are looking for from food, clothes, basic household necessities, even more specialized products like hardware, paint, and gardening supplies. In terms of convenience it is a perfect formula.
However, there are hidden costs to this convenience that most consumers don't spend a lot of time thinking about. We will be going through a lot of these hidden costs in future posts: things like municipal tax deals, harmful labour practices, and wage gaps in the corporate structures. We will look at commute times to and from shops, multi-modal transportation and access, and the truth behind the "bargain" prices at these stores.
Shopping locally doesn't have to be inconvenient though. With some minimal planning, and practicing of conscientious consumerism, it's actually quite easy to shop locally. Next article, we will get into some handy tips and tricks for Living Locally and explain a couple of the best practices we have found. Until then, start thinking about how and what you consume, and take a look around your place of residence: how much of that stuff do you actually need?