Conscious Shopping Guide

Giving a thoughtful gift is a lovely way to show someone you care. However, consumerism also drives climate change and produces waste, and unethical working conditions are endemic in consumer goods manufacturing.  If you struggle like I do with enjoying buying and giving gifts but also care about your impact, you may find this Conscious Shopping Guide to be valuable to help you shop more thoughtfully. 

First, it’s critical to begin this conversation by saying less is more. There are other ways to express your feelings… a card, a poem, a painting, or a massage – simple but meaningful gestures can show someone you value them more than a disposable toy or ill-fitting garment ever can. Reducing consumption is ideal. (I put myself on a 1-month hiatus from buying anything non essential and it’s helped slow the tidal wave.)

Second-hand/regifting is totally legit. If you’re concerned the person may judge you for it, perhaps consider giving them a one-way ticket to somewhere they hate (and tell them to stay there.. You AND the planet will be better off! :)

Carbon-negative gifts can resonate with the eco-warriors on your list. Ex:

  • Gift trees to be planted from One Tree Planted
  • Donations to local nonprofits like the Lincoln Park Nature Museum. You may not realize that the Nature Museum offers education to people of all ages and backgrounds. My favorite education came from the Chicago Conservation Corps, which empowers Chicagoans to complete neighborhood sustainability and environmental projects that impact and engage communities across the city. 
  • Donation to Open Lands and mention their Tree Planters Grant, which donates trees to volunteers like our group to help increase the tree canopy.

Reusing & upcycling are prime ways to both creatively get rid of waste and also produce something new and interesting. Ex:

  • The Waste Shed provides repurposed art, craft, and school materials for art, craft, education, and material culture. They have workshops and multiple locations that can include classes and workshops that are fun and educational – check them out!
  • The Rebuilding Exchange reuses building materials, reduces construction waste, and trains, supports, and connects people seeking careers in building trades. It’s a great place to get less expensive and produce less waste in remodeling projects. I got all the materials in my bathroom remodel from here and it turned out terrifically.
  • Vintage & thrift stores remain a great way to reduce new product waste. Ex: Village Discount, Brown Elephant (that contributes to providing affirming healthcare for LGBTQ+ communities), and the Salvation Army are all in our neighborhood.

For more of a focus on ethical working conditions, you may want to check out these options:

  • Local Fair Trade Green Heart Shop sells beautiful home goods produced by artisans in ethical working conditions. Their products are gorgeous! And they come with a little card explaining the benefit of buying fair trade and the story of the artists who made the products. Green Heart Shop is a nonprofit and long-time Chicago organization.
  • The Galleria in Andersonville offers artisan-made apparel, jewelry, artwork, home furnishings, accessories, antiques, fair trade, and gourmet treats.

If you’re looking for creative gifts, try supporting a local artist, such as:

  • Dinner & a Show: enjoy a private concert with a local Elton John Impersonator in their costume shop where they put together the various stage costumes inspired by Elton John’s costumes from over the decades. This is a spectacular experience :)
  • Zak Blatt is a friend and insanely talented artist who has masterpieces already created and also does commission pieces. Highly recommend.

Gift certificates can also be a great way to reduce the waste of unwanted or ill-fitting items. Some of my favorite gift certificates include:

Lastly, don’t forget that every purchase you make on Amazon can contribute to a favorite nonprofit organization just by visiting smile.amazon.com and registering your nonprofit of choice into their system. It is an easy way to make even your Amazon purchases more thoughtful.

Being thoughtful takes time and energy, but you can vastly improve your impact on the world by being more conscientious with your everyday purchases.