Loving My Neighbor

Too often, I'm too disconnected from the stuff that I buy. I don't think about the materials that go into it, the people along the way that harvested, shaped, or created those materials, or the time put into the object. I just know I need this doohickey, and know that the price is right.

What if I did pay attention to where my stuff comes from? What if I cared?

Some stuff comes from down the street, maybe from the farmer's market, made or harvested by neighbors or members of my community. They charge a price that they think is fair for the stuff they sell. That's cool. I'll buy it because I know where it comes from, know how it was made, and know who made it. I want to support my neighbors. It's easy.

Then there's stuff at the store. Stuff marked "Made in China." I don't know who made it. I don't know where they live. I don't know if the price being charged will pay those people a wage they can live on. I don't know if the stuff was made with safe materials or in safe working conditions or is safe for the environment. But the people who made this stuff? They are still my neighbors.

What to do about this dilemma? How can I love my neighbor with my wallet? Locally, it's easy. I know them, I know what they need, I know what they're selling and how it's made. For the stuff I want to buy, but my "neighbors" far away made it, it's harder. Here's some tips I've found:

  • Buy Local - If I source items locally, it's more likely I'll know where they came from, how they were made, and whether the conditions were safe and environmentally friendly. Also, the items didn't need to be transported as far, saving on gas.
  • Buy Fair Trade - "Fair Trade" is the name given to companies and organization who promise to pay the makers of their products a fair, living wage for their area. Fair Trade products are often also made in a sustainable way, taking into account social and environmental impacts. By buying certified fair trade items, I can support my neighbor by supporting businesses that pay my neighbor enough to live on, and take care of my neighbor's environment and working conditions. See the kitchn's Fair Trade Valentine's tips 
  • Buy Used - If I can't find the item certified fair trade, can I find it used? By buying used, I am keeping items out of landfills and avoiding sending my money to corporations who don't pay their workers fairly. Someone's already bought it once, new, so there's no reason a still-usable item should go to waste.
  • Buy Sustainable - Given the choice between wood and plastic, choose wood, the renewable resource. Given the choice between wood and bamboo, spring for the bamboo- which renews even faster than the wood. If I buy more sustainable or organic products, I am loving ALL my neighbors by keeping fumes from the air and chemicals from the earth.
  • Buy from responsible employers. This goes along, sort-of, with the Fair Trade point. Not only should the makers of the products be paid a fair wage, the employees of the retailers should be paid a living wage as well. I choose to shop at retailers who are known for treating their employees- my neighbors- well, and avoid those who don't.
How can I afford this? Well, to be honest, I don't. I'm taking baby steps. I buy used items as often as it practical. I buy local, organic food as often as I can. Fair trade isn't available in as many products, but I was super excited to get a fair-trade purse (made by World of Good ) for Christmas and a fair-trade wallet (made by Maya Traditions ) for my birthday. I prefer bamboo kitchen utensils. I avoid buying plastic toys. Little things, added up, will result in a whole-lifestyle change.
Baby steps. 
Inching toward loving my neighbor better.

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