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Monday, October 17, 2016

Fair Trade Month: Minimalism


Fair Trade impacts everything: the environment, the development of impoverished communities, justice for the oppressed, and even, the simplicity and reclaiming of our lives and what "abundance" really means.

Just before I left to study abroad in France over a year ago now, I had a slight panic as I sorted through what would come with me on the journey and what would be left behind.

A giant black suitcase was nearly full in front of me filled  with jeans, sweaters, and books I couldn't fathom to live without for a few months. The space was becoming less and less, and I thought to myself, "How am I going to get by without more coats and tops?"

I had a few pair of pants. A couple sweaters. A black and a white top. Minimalism wasn't my initial plan when thinking about how fashionable I wanted to be while traveling Europe, but it happened organically as I learned the power of living with less so I could see and become more.

Traveling with less meant going farther. It meant hopping on a plane with my olive green backpack and not caring that my jeans may have been dirty or I may end up outfit repeating. I was traveling Europe. I was ooh-ing and ahh-ing at this big world's crazy beauty. Did I care if someone would notice that my shirt was the same one I had on the day before? Absolutely not. Do I look back on my travels and think, "If only I was dressed in cuter clothes?" Definitely not.

Returning back to the U.S. and my giant closet, I felt the weight of everything I thought I had needed. I got back to my room and couldn't believe all I had collected. Holding on to physical stuff is also holding on to old ideas, old ways of thinking and being, and my initial biggest fear: what happens when I choose to just let things go?

I started to look at my clothes and the sheer amount of stuff  that I buy. Why had I made the choice to make these purchases? Most of the times, I didn't need what I was buying. Most of the time, I saw an ad. I received an email about an amazing deal I thought I couldn't pass up. I saw beautiful girls with cool styles that look happy and put together and I wanted that too. When we look at why we make our choices, we have to be honest and willing to see if it's for us and what contributes to our best self, or if it's for other and what we think will make us look  like we are our best self.

I think often, what is essential to my being? My goodness, it's so very little. Kind friends. Good conversation. Faith and dedication to living for something bigger than myself. Days for my own solitude and reflection. Time outside when the sun is bright or covered. Food that makes me feel strong. Love that humbles me. When I think of what I value, stuff that makes me look good  is never written on my list. Cute clothes that take up all the space in my apartment,  is never what comes to the forefront of my mind. But how many times do we ignore our true values to look the part of a role we don't even want to play?

This newfound truth has let me pull away from always needing something. I also think long and hard before I make a purchase. Do I absolutely need this? Is the quality of the item reflective of the quality of the life that created it? How many do I already have? (anyone else guilty of having five black V-necks??)

As people, we fear not having enough. That somehow it's linked to not being enough. We live in this culture that has changed how we view an abundant life. Despite what society preaches at us: no amount of things will make you feel full in your life. It's not the amount of stuff you can show, but how much you can give, be apart of, and grow. It's all of our essential truth that what we really need is within us when we quiet the noises and pressures of society. Sure, we need to wear clothes and have basic household and toiletry items, but beyond that, we need so very little.


Minimalism and becoming a conscious consumer allows us to make room for what is important. It puts less focus of material possessions. It allows us to slow down and ask questions of the massive corporations we are buying from. Are the workers being treated fairly? Do I know the origin of my purchases? Where is my clothing made and where is my money going once I buy it? We can begin to ask these questions of everything we buy: food, coffee, beauty products, household items, and more. We can love what we have and care for it. We can be part of a culture that reflects equal opportunity, empowerment, and gratitude. Every purchase has an impact so when we ensure that the impact is building and supporting, not oppressing and exploiting, we are helping re-shape the world we've watched fall so far away from it's true potential.

Image via Pinterest

If you want to learn more, check out these articles:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-lipman/be-inspiring-consume-cons_b_9301618.html

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/what-is-minimalism/

http://www.fairtraderesource.org/uploads/2007/10/The-New-Conscious-Consumer.pdf

https://www.newdream.org/programs/beyond-consumerism/rethinking-stuff/buy-green

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tips & Tricks for Ethical Shopping




One reminder that helps when I feel overwhelmed at the amount of injustice being done by clothing companies: one person can make an enormous difference.


When I started Sister House Collective, my goal was to share my love of beautiful, handmade things while helping some communities in Cambodia where were jobs were being provided for women living in poverty and disabled people who were shunned from society. This may be repeat information for those who know me or have read previous posts, but I truly wanted to live in Cambodia for some time and help with the production of goods and rehabilitation of women/ children who had been trafficked. Once there and seeing the programs that existed, I couldn't think of anything but coming home and sharing the stories of these incredible programs and the people behind them; I wanted to sell their beautiful handmade things in the US, where people throw money around at the drop of a hat. How much rehabilitation and growth could take place in these communities if people here had the education of how most of the world's population lived and were choosing to support efforts for sustainability in devastated communities?

Fast forward almost two years and here I am meeting people in my own community who want to see change- in the way we think, consume and spend time and money. In a society where shopping is a social activity and consumption has become thoughtless beyond what's tangible, here are some things that have helped me shift my perspective:

1. Shopping ethically often does not happen overnight.

It takes time to learn what brands are reputable and what stores have more ethical guidelines. It has taken me many long nights in front of the computer, reading article after article- feeling guilty for my part in blindly harming others in my "need" for all of the things that were never actually needs. If you become overwhelmed with guilt, the natural reaction is to throw up your hands and say, "well this is too much. I can't change. This problem is too big. How could I possibly make a difference?" But you can. Slowly, and give yourself credit for trying. Being a more conscious consumer forces you to ask yourself, "do I REALLY need this (fill in the blank)?"

When I started shopping more ethically, I thought I would spend a lot more money. I assumed the only ethical clothing or make up I could find would be SO much more expensive than what I had been buying, that it seemed daunting. I found out that is so untrue- and I hope to make it easier for you to find this truth out too. If you buy items that are made better (and as a result, last longer!), no doubt you will not need to be buying as often. I have actually been saving so much money since I began to shop more ethically. It does take time though so go easy on yourself. In my experience, I began to make small changes in my habits and routines and realized things I could live without (like excessive amounts of cheap make up), and things I could do some research on and feel good about supporting, like companies that provide education, counseling and new life to people who have been abused. 


2. Shopping doesn't have to be the enemy. It can still be a social thing!

I still go shopping with friends or family on occasion. I grew up thinking that shopping was just something you did for fun with the girls. (And let me tell you, I was that girl who went shopping a few times a week because I was always on the hunt for a bargain- buying lots of cheap things because I was sure I couldn't afford anything better.) In learning more about WHERE to shop, (Nordstrom Rack, TJ Max and Marshalls being some stores that carry USA made clothing which is almost always more ethical than clothing made anywhere else), I feel empowered to make conscious decisions about which companies I support. And shopping with that in mind, I'm able to share what I know with whoever I am shopping with.

Will I still walk around the mall with my sisters and mom around the holidays? Probably. But that's the point- I can do just that. Walk. And talk. And enjoy the company without needing to consume things I don't need. Like more shirts, skirts, jackets that will just end up taking up space in my closet, maybe being worn a few times. If you're like me, you've probably emptied your closet every few seasons and thought, "well look at me! I'm going to do some good. I'm going to take my enormous trash bags full of clothes I never wore to Salvation Army and they are going to go to a good home." And in the back of my mind, I was kind of thinking, 'well now there's room for me to buy MORE cute stuff I'll never wear and do this all over again!' Okay, I'm joking a little. But really, many of those quick "Oh, I need that!" purchases are just our brains telling our hearts that we will feel a little more fulfilled with a new purchase. Once you start making more conscious decisions, that little signal in your brain will start rewarding you for making SMART shopping choices, like saving money by only buying what you actually need- or paying a little more for something that will last you a lifetime rather than saving a few dollars for something that will only last a few wash cycles.

SHOPPING TIP! Thrift stores are pretty darn awesome. If you like to 'hunt' for deals, these are great for doing just that. Usually, you can easily find out which thrifts in your town value their employees by providing transitional housing/ vocational training/ counseling/ youth guidance- a lot of times there are various opportunities provided to employees of different thrift stores; find one you believe in and support them by shopping there!

3. You don't actually "need" all the things.

In the last year, I've become more aware of the clothing industry in particular and as I've learned, more and more I feel in my gut when I actually need to buy a new article of clothing. Before, I would buy something for the sake of it being cute, or for a certain occasion, or because I was stressed out, or I needed a pick-me-up..the list goes on. Now, I only buy something if I actually need it, and when I actually need it, it's important enough to me that I find it made ethically.

Unfortunately, things like lamps and cutting boards and lots of little household necessities are very hard to determine ethical. But there's part of the transition that will likely always exist- knowing that even your smallest efforts of shopping more ethically make an impact to someone, somewhere. It may be near impossible to be a completely ethical consumer, but anyone can be conscious of their purchases and the impact that they have. My suggestion is to do a little research; find clothing brands whose style you admire. Or your favorite store, what companies are they buying from? Are the items made ethically? If not, is there a company that exists that produces something similar but has created an ethical model? 

I want to help you find these brands, make information and education more accessible and inspire you to take small steps to a more ethical lifestyle. Keep your eyes peeled for the ethical resource guide that will be coming soon! I am currently compiling ethical brands for all sorts of goods to create a shopping guide for those of us who want to impact the world in a positive way with our purchases. Want to join me by sharing your favorite ethical brands? Send an email to sisterhousecollective@gmail.com

Change is on the rise,

Ashley
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