Mindful consumption is something my wife Maša and I think about every day. If you’ve been following us, you know how much we care about paring down to the essentials.
Combine this philosophy with compassion for people, animals and the environment, and you have yourself a minimalist vegan.
The core of our message is the intersection of minimalism and veganism, which naturally falls under the umbrella of another buzzword, mindfulness.
Aspiring to live mindfully is admirable—but also comes with its share of challenges.
Problems originate from the internal battle of consumerism.
Consumption is what drives commerce. Our thirst for more is what advertisers try to exploit for profit in a “free market” society.
It’s why we’ve become so disconnected from where our products come from to the point that our decisions are destroying the lives of others and the planet.
Well, that’s if you subscribe to mindless consumption. In other words, making purchasing decisions purely for your own benefit.
However, it’s not all bad…
If mindless consumption is consuming for yourself, then mindful consumption is consuming for yourself and others.
Mindful consumption definition
In their research paper, Sheth, Sethia and Srinivas state that mindful consumption is premised on consciousness in thought and behaviour about the consequences of consumption.
Let’s look at two hypothetical case studies that illustrate mindful consumption habits’ mindset and attitude.
Example 1 – Mindless consumption.
Anita is casually browsing through her Instagram feed and sees an ad pop up in her stream from a large women’s fashion retailer promoting their latest line of winter coats.
Anita loves the affordability and style of this brand, and even though she already owns multiple coats, she convinces herself that she needs a different coloured jacket to break things up. So she clicks on the link and is taken to a collection page on the brands’ website.
She instantly spots this gorgeous long burgundy leather jacket. Of course, it’s on sale, so it was obviously meant to be!
She pays for the jacket and excitingly waits for it to arrive in the mail.
Next winter season, she repeats the same process. Anita is pleased with herself. She bought a luxurious jacket at a reasonable price, and all of her girlfriends think she looks great in it.
To many people, this is a pretty straightforward transaction.
However, as you dig deeper, it becomes apparent that this is not an act of mindful consumption but instead an act of mindless consumption.
For that jacket to be available at a reduced sale price, animals were slaughtered, workers were underpaid, harmful chemicals were used, and the environment suffered. All because Anita found a bargain at her favourite fast-fashion store.
Example 2 – Mindful consumption.
Jamie does not buy clothes very often and has a tight rotation in her wardrobe.
However, it’s becoming apparent that Jamie needs a coat for winter because she literally has no other options.
Jamie considers herself to be a mindful consumer and takes shopping very seriously. She wants to find a jacket that looks nice but is also vegan, fair trade and eco-friendly. She’s also happy to pay more for it if it’s better quality, lasts longer, or even better if the brand offers a repair program!
She proactively looks online and offline to find her ethically made jacket.
After a few weeks of looking, she comes across an ethical fashion retailer in London. All of their garments are made in Europe and are cruelty-free.
Jamie is ecstatic to find a retailer with the same ethical values as her and orders her high-quality jacket at full price and told all of her friends to consider shopping at this store.
She feels good because she solved her wardrobe problem while dealing with the least amount of harm to others.
Sure, resources were used to make this garment, and there’s no escaping the negative impact. But it’s far better than the harmful alternatives.
Jamie ultimately stays true to her values.
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want. – Anna Lappé
Creating a decision-making system for mindful consumption
Jamie’s feeling when she found this ethical fashion store is the same feeling we want to re-create for each purchase we make.
But to do that, you need to develop a framework for how you make buying decisions.
Think of this as your mindful consumer code.
We used to run an online store called Fairlings, curating ethically made essentials for our passionate customer base. Fairlings had a particular selection criterion that each product needed to tick. We still use this criterion today when deciding to consume things today.
I’ve outlined the steps below to give you an idea of our process.
Note: this is simply a guide and an aspiration. Try your best to tick the boxes, but don’t stress if you can’t find products that meet the criterion. Celebrate any progress!
Step 1 – Determine our need
The first step in our selection process is determining the need for a particular product. As minimalists, we aspire only to keep what is essential.
How do we define essential?
We look at essentials as the things you need to live daily, not things that you want. So, for example, you need underwear but don’t necessarily need a one-off dress.
We understand that essential means different things to different people. Ultimately we define it as the things you use regularly.
Your need for a product will naturally occur as you come across problems in your life. As these problems arise, make a note in a wishlist of what you need to buy.
For example, as of right now, in our wishlist, Maša and I both need house slippers, and I also need a new notebook.
I’ll also be updating my personal uniform soon, so I’ll add the clothes I need to order.
Planning what you need in advance, in its very nature, challenges you to be more mindful about your future purchases.
Another question to ask yourself before deciding to buy something is; can you find a free alternative within your existing network?
For example, we’re considering removing slippers off Maša wishlist because her mum had some spares that fitted that she wasn’t using.
There’s no need to make additional purchases if you can already find economical, low-waste solutions.
Step 2 – Apply our product criteria
After determining a need for a product, we set standards to which the product must meet. In order of priority, here are our selection criteria:
- Performance – first and foremost, we seek products that perform. We’ve bought many natural products in the past that simply do not get the job done. We ask for recommendations from friends and family; we scour through online ratings on product pages. We look for reviews on blogs, YouTube channels, and social media.
- Vegan/Cruelty-Free – here at The Minimalist Vegan, we believe in reducing the harm and exploitation of animals. All of the products that we consume are vegan and cruelty-free, and they always will be. This is an absolute non-negotiable. Note: this is our mindset, knowing very well that we can’t 100% avoid harm.
- Organic – beyond performance and cruelty-free products, we look for items that are made without the use of any harmful chemicals. Organic certification has a lot of influence in the food industry and is growing in everyday consumer goods. Toxin-free is the best way to be.
- Fairtrade – we must support brands that do not exploit workers. This often involves researching a brands website to get an understanding of their supply chain. Some brands also register for a fair trade certification, which is another thing to look out for.
- Sustainable – this is often the hardest box to tick when you consider packaging, freight and postage alone, but it’s something we take very seriously. We do our best to purchase from environmentally conscious brands and try to reduce waste in their production process.
Step 3 – Find brands
When we’ve established our criteria, it’s time to find the product. To tick the fairtrade box, our first preference is to support local brands. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee better working conditions, but it’s proven to be a good place to start.
If we can’t find a product that meets our criteria locally, we expand our search abroad. We’re committed to finding the best we can find that’s still reasonably priced, and sometimes that means looking internationally.
From our experience, finding brands that meet this criterion (outside of food) means typically looking online. Mindful consumerism, while on the rise, still only represents a small fraction of consumers.
The ethical brands that we worked with when we had our store didn’t have a lot of money to invest in the shelf-space in major supermarket chains or to pay exorbitant rents and establish their own in-person shops. It was more sustainable for them to sell directly to their customers online or work with online distributors.
Step 4 – Research ingredients
By this stage, we’re feeling reasonably confident in the product. But to be absolutely sure that it meets our criteria, we take a detailed look at the ingredient and/or materials used.
We look at the organic components and all of the derivatives. We also look at the sustainability of textiles and materials. Sometimes this involves emailing the brand directly with questions.
Again, in our experience, it’s tough to find products that tick all of the boxes, so you need to be reasonable.
Step 5 – Get context on the founder/creator
Once we’re happy with the product, we generally like to get an idea of the founder’s philosophy. This involves a quick google search to read the about page.
Sometimes we’ll dig deeper to find interviews that we can quickly read. This is not a necessary step, but it’s a habit we’ve gotten into. It just helps to feel more connected with your purchase and support people trying to do the right thing.
Step 6 – Purchase and review
At this point, we’ll decide to buy a product. But once we start using it, we’re quick to assess the quality to see if this a brand we can continue to support in the future.
Sometimes we find a winning product. Sometimes it doesn’t perform. And sometimes, unfortunately, the brand will close.
That’s why it’s important to spend money as a mindful consumer to keep these ethical brands alive. But don’t just buy products you don’t need because you want to support ethical businesses. There’s a balance.
All you can do is your best
So that’s our process of finding products. Not every product is 100% perfect, as we all have different needs, and the technologies and supply chain is just not there yet. But going through this process ensures that you’re practising mindful consumption. And really, that’s all you can do as a consumer.
Do your best. Go that extra mile. Ask the extra question. Be more considerate. More mindful. One purchase at a time.
With each buying decision, we create a signal for systemic change for our future. Capitalism is based on market opportunity. We, as consumers, represent the market.
What about you? Do you have a process for practising mindful consumption? Let us know in the comments below.