Friday, February 25, 2011

The "Un"Consumer

I've been trying really really hard not to shop in big box stores this year. I think I've done a pretty good job mostly because I don't NEEEED anything (except yarn). Until this week....there was an unfortunate accident with the faucet and my french besides the more pressing need of not having any coffee...Yikes! I knew I was going to have to break down and find a new one. So I went down my preferred list of ways to get stuff. First I posted a request on Freecycle! No response. Then I checked most of the nearby thrift stores. No luck. I tried outbid. I was kinda glad about that one though, it wasn't quite what I wanted and I hated that the shipping cost more than the item.

I started to think I was going to have to go to Target or Bed Bath and Beyond or some such place until I remembered this cute little kitchen shop, Beans About Cooking! Aha! It's a local business, and that is included in my list of meaningful places to shop. And so I picked up the glass replacement, and a pound of delicious gourmet coffee and felt good about my purchase.

Contrast this with last Sunday and the first birthday party of my friends' daughter. She received gift bag after gift bag of clothes and a couple toys all with the same characteristic big box look. She will probably only have a chance to wear each item a couple times before she outgrows them. It seems like such a waste of resources. Granted I was tickled pink with those kinds of gifts 20+ years ago when my kids were little but today I'm thinking less about "stuff." It's a shame that most people's first reaction when they get an invitation like that is "Let's go to Toys R Us!" I gave her a handknit dress wrapped simply in some tissue paper. It was the only gift that got passed around for all to admire.

And my last feel good purchase of the week was my toothbrush. Yes, I's just a toothbrush but all our purchases have consequences. There is a green way to get your teeth clean....Preserve toothbrushes. They are made from recycled yogurt cups and for $13/year, a uniquely designed toothbrush will appear in your mailbox along with a postage paid envelope to send back the old one so they can recycle it again. Plus you don't have to drive to the store.

Maybe if we all did a little research and thinking before our purchases we could make them more meaningful to us, the sellers and the environment.

How do you make shopping more meaningful?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Borders Closing

I was saddened when I heard earlier this week that Borders was closing 30% of its stores, including the one that I can walk to,(#593) in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Then I realized, based on my behavior, that it was inevitable. After all, I hadn't purchased anything at Borders (or Barnes and Noble) in quite some time. And it's not that I'm not a reader. I often go to Borders to browse new titles and skim through the new knitting books and magazines, but when I'm ready to read my first thought is always the library. I even try to get the books that I need for my classes from the library instead of the campus bookstore. My next stop is, my rationale being that purchasing a used copy from an actual person and not the big box will have a greater impact on that person, my bank account and the environment. I guess it's also having an impact on the big box.
Irony or coincidence? I finished reading Rachel Botsman's What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (CC) which I, of course, borrowed from the library. After watching her Tedtalk, following her on Twitter and expanding my knowledge of the concept of (CC) I still gleaned some useful bits. First, underlying all the economic and environmental reasons for sharing, is that human need to belong. Our use of social media reflects this need and Rachel connects it to CC by saying, "We can now show status, group affiliation, and belonging without necessarily having to buy physical objects" and "Now we express who we are by what we join."
The second big AHA! is that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift. She says, "We hope this period will be regarded as the transition away from consumption for consumption's sake, and away from the fear of what will happen to the economy when this ethos is abandoned." I can personally illustrate this point in two recent instances. Last week, my dad, who is staying with me for the winter, called me at work to say that he had broken the french press coffee maker. He felt bad and wanted to go buy a new one. I said not to worry I would get one. My first thought, unlike my dad's urge to go to the store, was to check out the local thrift stores or even better--Freecycle! And speaking of Freecycle, a few weeks ago Deron Beal, Freecycle's founder, came to speak at our Rotary meeting. During the Q&A, one of the more senior members of our club wanted to know if all this sharing wouldn't put drill makers and car manufacturers out of work. He and my dad, are still stuck in the old paradigm and experiencing the fear that Rachel was talking about. But that is the way of paradigm shifts...those who can see it coming, embrace it and those who can't, fear the change.
So I really shouldn't be so sad that Borders is closing. There are so many new ways to find books to read. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Spending and lending

In my year of sharing I have been participating in group buying with both Living Social and Groupon. I tend to opt for deals that involve either services/adventures or food. I'm trying to buy less "stuff" but am keen on new places to eat or skills to learn. So this last weekend I went to redeem a few of my deals. I got a great assortment of gourmet food from Land and Sea Market, some frozen yogurt from Berryism and picked up my pottery from Pikasso Kiln and Kork. I also purchased a couple more, a massage and a brunch at Feather Sound Country Club. I shared those deals on my facebook page and I got a couple of referrals which made my deals even better and is the concept behind those services. Tell your friends, and they tell their friends and before you know it there are millions of members and local (and some national) companies get much needed exposure.

A few months ago there was also a Groupon for Kiva, which is a site to encourage microfinancing of entrepreneurs around the world. I had been interested in this since I first heard about it at one of my Rotary Club meetings. I made a loan (with about 100 other lenders) to a knitter from Peru to purchase yarn to make hand knit items to sell. She has already started to pay back her loan and I like to think that I'm making her life better.

One of my fellow Etsians has started a Kiva team on Etsy for others, like me, who are interested in connecting their handmade shops with lending to Kiva. It's a community within a community.

My next plan is to use some of my income tax refund to start a small account on and lend some money peer-to-peer. I do have one problem with Prosper: on the riskier loans they charge the borrower upwards of 30% interest. I find this figure usurious and will not lend to those borrowers. My priorities will be people looking to do energy efficient improvements or pay back school loans or pay off debt.

I feel better with my sharing this week, after last week's unsuccessful mass transit experiment. Coming soon, my random knitting connections and other sharing adventures.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Not quite ready

I attempted an experiment last week. Something most of my friends, and Americans in general, would think is crazy: I was going to ride the bus. I figured it would be no big deal. After all I live a few blocks off one of the busiest roads in Pinellas County, I work at 2 places that are also on major roads, the price of gas was going up, and I had just seen Rachel Botsman's Tedtalk on collaborative consumption. Even my school was on the bus route. My schedule is flexible enough that I could adjust it to the transit system's schedule and it would be a piece of cake. Or so I thought. After looking at all the PSTA route maps, I bought myself a one week unlimited bus pass for $20. I calculated that if I rode it for 144 miles in the week I would be saving money. I did not add all the other costs of owning a car, just the gas. 2 trips to school would be 50 miles and back and forth to work would get me close, but it wasn't just about the money.

I hopped on last Saturday morning, off to meet my friend for a trip to the St Pete Farmer's Market, then I would head to a writing workshop at school which would give me an idea of where the bus stopped in that part of town. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the walking that was involved with going to and from the bus stops. The ride to school after the market was also pleasant. I even had a backup plan with a fellow student in case our class ran late on Monday night. That is where I made my mistake. I checked and rechecked the schedule to make sure the bus ran 'til 10:30 pm, in the school neighborhood. I neglected to check if it ran back up to my did not. I would have been stranded about a mile from home on a busy street after 10 pm. Fortunately for me, I noticed this on Monday morning and not Monday night and so scrapped the idea. Now I could have gone back and forth to work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday but I decided instead to give my bus pass to someone who takes the bus because they have to and hope that the little financial boost would help them out.

So while I love the idea of not having a car and all the expense that goes along with it, I'm just not ready for it yet. I will definitely consider taking it again when I go to the St Pete Farmer's Market or other excursions and will be dreaming of the day when Zipcar comes to town.