As I sat in my therapist’s office the other night, chatting about how complicated life is, the topic of self-control came up. It was refreshing to hear someone else who found our culture of instant self-gratification to be disturbing and unhealthy. We were specifically talking about porn and the demonization of sexual self control, but the more I think about it, the more I see how our modern culture promotes unhealthy levels of self-gratification. If people have the money, they can go shopping and find exactly what they want without ever having to consider the laborer, laboring, and materials used to create these items. We can go to the grocery store and grab whatever we need without having to consider the farmers, earth, processing, and transportation that went into putting it in the store. We can consume anything and everything our heart desires without ever realizing the history behind the items.

If you walk into your closet and look at the clothes hanging there, do you see the people who made them? Do you feel their labor? Do you know if they were paid appropriately for their work? What about the food in your pantry and fridge? The tea or coffee in your cup? What about the furnishings in your house? The sheets on your bed? The electronic device you’re using to read this right now? Perhaps if we could comprehend the human and ethical costs of the many things surrounding us, we’d feel more kindly about paying the true cost to the people who make them. Of course, for those of us who struggle to get by, we often have to choose between buying cheap or simply doing without. I would love to purchase a pair of fair trade/handmade pajamas, for example, but the cost is more than my budget can currently sustain, so I will likely look for a nice pair at a thrift store (which is where 90% of my clothing comes from anyway).

I’ve been working on crocheting gifts for people in preparation for Christmas, and my hours of work and love have illustrated to me the true cost of things. Machines may be responsible for knitting and making so many things nowadays, but people operate those machines and are responsible for growing and preparing the fibers used. People are sitting in sweatshops around the world stitching up clothes that they will not be fairly compensated for, but those clothes will go in shiny department stores where other people will buy them and add to their already-stuffed wardrobes. We are consumers. There is no perceived reward for exercising self-control and taking only what you need. There is little thought given to the spiritual harm being done to oneself and others when we become consumers, not to forget the harm being done to Mother Earth.

As we head into the season of buying buying buying, pause and consider the real cost of your purchases. Are you supporting consumerism and modern day slavery? Could you make it yourself or support a small business by asking them to make it? Could you purchase it from a fair-trade rated company? Do you need to buy it brand new or can you find it secondhand? Do you or the person you’re purchasing a gift for really need more stuff? Could you gift an experience (special trip or activity, etc.) or food item instead?

Resources:

Fair Trade Certified: Your Purchase Matters. Quality products, improving lives, and protecting the environment.

Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade helps Catholics live their faith in solidarity with farmers and artisans through fair trade crafts, coffee, and chocolate.

Trusted Clothes is an organization linking people, organizations and brands that are ethical, environmentally friendly and health conscious.

Buycott App: Vote with your wallet

WorldCrafts: Bringing hope and dignity to impoverished people around the world, WorldCrafts is a fair trade nonprofit importer of beautiful handmade crafts.

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