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Shopping Sustainably – Habits To Adopt

Sustainability isn’t just about what you buy, it’s also about how and where you buy it – and whether you even need to buy it in the first place. This can be a little tricker when it comes to crafting, as you might need to purchase supplies from different places to create the garment or item that you want to make. Shopping sustainably need not be a difficult task though – it just requires a little forward thinking and planning.

Why should you even think about shopping sustainably?

While this sounds like an odd question to ask, it’s still a valid one. Lots of people already have established shopping habits and favourite shops to purchase from, so it can be difficult to make the change to shop more sustainably. 

That being said, there’s lots of businesses out there who don’t seem to be putting much or any effort in at all to combat the climate crisis. It’s something we absolutely can’t ignore and we all need to do what we can to minimise our impact on the planet – after all, this is the only home we have, so why burn it to the ground?! 

It doesn’t take much effort to build a new habit, though it does require some dedication. 

Getting started

First things first, do an inventory of what you already have. This includes your fabric and yarn stashes, your collection of threads, patterns, buttons, zips and other notions. Anything that you use to sew, knit or crochet with that you might need to replace at some point, such as sewing machine needles or yarns.

Doing this will help you to highlight what you actually already have so that you can use it before buying more. It’ll also help you to see what you actually do need to get – for example if you’re planning to sew, do you have the right size needles for your fabric?

It’ll likely really help you to know what you have for future projects, so write everything down: what you have and how much of it there is. You could create a spreadsheet, use Trello, or even a simple notebook – whichever works best for you that you’re going to find easiest to manage in future. Commit to keeping this up to date as well – it’s no use planning to make something from that fabric or yarn in your stash if you’ve already used it all on another project!

Now think about the projects you have planned. Make a list for each one detailing what you’re going to use – this works great in a project journal, where you can keep notes of the adjustments you made and any other relevant details. Look through these lists and identify what you have that you can use and what you need to get.

It might be quite a task to begin with, especially if you’ve got a huge stash to work through, but it’s worth spending the time going through it all. Then whenever you add new purchases to your stash or make a project with items from your stash, you’re just keeping track of things and not trying to work everything out all over again.

Now that you know what you need to get, you can start shopping.

Shopping sustainably doesn't need to be difficult if you can alter a few habits
Shopping sustainably doesn't need to be difficult if you can alter a few habits

Shopping sustainably

Take the list of items that you know you need for the next 2-3 projects. This keeps costs down, as you can buy what you need before you need it, but also means you aren’t just adding to your collection of supplies unnecessarily if you decide you’re no longer going to make a particular project. Buying for more than one project at a time also means you’re spending less on postage fees (if buying online) or making less trips to the shops, where you might get tempted to buy more.

Think about the items you need and whether there are any equivalents you could swap out to which are more sustainable. For example, rather than knitting with acrylic, could you swap to wool or alpaca? If in need of fabric, could you get what you need in tencel rather than polyester? Could you buy deadstock, remnants or secondhand rather than brand new?

If you’re used to buying from big chain stores, have a look for smaller businesses that have the items you’re after – especially if there are any within reasonable distance from you. Smaller businesses tend to be more concerned about sustainability than the big chains are, plus they respond more quickly to feedback – not to mention you’re actively contributing to your local economy rather than spending with a faceless brand. 

Now bookmark these places (if shopping online) or make an effort to go to that shop rather than the chain store next time you’re out. If you have social media, following these businesses is a great way to help you form your new habits more quickly, as you can actively engage with them and you’re more likely to think of them when you do need to buy supplies.

If there are projects you want to work towards that are maybe number 4 or 5 on your list of priorities, keep an eye out for sales or events where you could save money on the supplies you need for those projects. For example, many businesses run promotions for Black Friday or Small Business Saturday (both of which are in the next few weeks). Shopping sustainably isn’t all about the planet, after all – you need to be able to manage your money sustainably too and so sales can be a smart move if there are discounts on the items you were already planning to get.

Keeping it up

You might not always manage to get what you need from the smaller businesses that you’ve identified and started buying from, and that’s okay. You might have two or three that you go to, or you might use a chain store as your backup plan if you struggle to get what you need anywhere else. Doing this has to be right for you at the end of the day. But there are still things you can do, even at the chain stores.

Firstly, take your own shopping bags and don’t accept anything in a plastic bag. I keep a packable shopping bag in my handbag and a larger bag stuffed full of different sized shopping bags in the back of my car, so they’re always to hand when I need them. (As a side note, making your own shopping bags is a great way to use up scrap fabric).

If you’re buying something that comes in a lightweight plastic cover bag, take it off and give it back to the shop. Try and avoid anything in a plastic blister pack, or ask if you can remove the plastic there and then if you really need to buy that item. Doing this will reinforce to them that their customers don’t want to buy items covered in plastic – plus if (like me) you live in an area that doesn’t do much plastic recycling at home, businesses will have much better access to recycling facilities. 

Finally, just keep trying to shop more sustainably. You won’t manage to do this perfectly, but sustainability isn’t about perfection. It’s about all of us doing the best we can, even if we’re only able to do a little at a time.