At the beginning of November, I set an intention not to buy anything except food and household necessities that month. I called it a “Mostly No-Buy November Challenge,” and it’s good that I included the word “mostly,” because I mostly accomplished my goal.
Of course, the second November 1 rolled around, I was getting non-stop ads every time I went on social media or opened a website. It’s that time of the year! The prevalence and sophistication of modern marketing and advertising are among the biggest obstacles to reducing consumption. That is key to shrinking our collective impact on the planet, but it’s hard because we now see ads targeted to us based on our demographics and buying history. The whole month I felt like a laser beam had been pointed at my wallet.
For me, November’s biggest temptation came in the form of makeup. Both Facebook and Instagram started showing me a line of stackable makeup products in slim containers that seemed like they would be perfect for travel and doing touch-ups on the go. The company offers a quiz to help you customize your stack, working from the foundation you use to your eye color, skin type, and personal makeup goals. (If you’re curious, the company is subtlbeauty.com.) I am a sucker for a quiz, so talk about temptation.
Of course, after I clicked on the ad to find out more, I was flooded with ads for more beauty products, including products touted as “green,” “no-waste,” and “sustainable.” (Often, these claims are what’s called “greenwashing,” when the eco-friendliness of companies and their products are exaggerated or falsified.) In any case, after a week of seeing the ads several times a day, I took the quiz and built my personalized stack. If I hadn’t made an accountability pact on this blog, I almost certainly would have bought it, but instead, I left everything in the online cart. And, because it wasn’t on my list of things I planned to buy on Black Friday, I still haven’t bought it.
Advertisers use a lot of knowledge of human psychology to get us to buy things we don’t need and didn’t even want two seconds before we saw the product being marketed. To cut back on consumerism and reduce our ecological footprint, tactics like the pact I need to be in our back pockets at all times. I read the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life to help me be more focused at work, but the concepts and strategies author Nir Ayal explains in the book—like accountability pacts—have also helped me become a more discerning and responsible consumer.
I’m still seeing the ads, so the temptation remains, but I’ve been using self-talk techniques such as reminding myself how little space my travel makeup routine really takes up. And I already have a concealer and lipstick in my purse, so I remember I’m covered for on-the-go touch-ups whenever one of those beautiful ads appears. I’m not saying “never” to the purchase, just “not right now.” I’ll probably buy from Subtl or one of the other new makeup lines I’ve been introduced to when the concealer in my purse needs to be replaced.
Looking back on November, I had two purchases that weren’t gas, groceries, or items from the drug store. When the first snow fell, I remembered both my oldest daughter and I needed new winter boots. To avoid buying new, I went to ThredUp, where I found four pairs of boots for just $126, including a pair of Steve Madden boots that would have sold for that amount alone and Dr. Scholl’s ankle boots that look brand new and are the most comfortable pair of boots I’ve ever owned. (Check out the sidebar to see how much of an impact buying used boots instead of new can have.) An oven that wasn’t delivered on time necessitated buying a countertop convection oven. Waiting until December 1 would have made it impossible to host out-of-town guests I had invited to come back in October. I felt that both those purchases were in the spirit of the challenge.
When I set up the intention, I had specified I would shop on Black Friday for a few things on I already had on a list at the end of October. Somehow reducing my shopping for the rest of the month made it easy to cross things off that list when that Friday morning rolled around. I still got a few things we needed around the house, but my order list was a lot shorter than my to-order list had been.
Coming up in December, I will (bli neder) have tips for reducing your environmental impact at work and reviews of a few new low-waste products I’ve tried out in the last few months.
Wishing you a freilichen Chanukah,
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