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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Shopping Intentionally Can Be Stressful (Warning: A Rant)

My twin daughters have a birthday later this month. So, I'm making plans for how to celebrate and what little gifts to buy. While I know I can't solve the world's economic or political problems all on my own, I've made a sort of deal with myself concerning the gifts I'm buying.

2020 and now 2021 has been a year of discovering the very worst about a couple of countries and many corporations. I feel compelled to use my wallet to make my voice heard. I won't buy items from countries whose governments are participating in egregious treatment of human beings and I won't support a corporation that supports organizations or industries that violate my conscience. 

So, with that in mind I went out shopping for a couple of small gifts yesterday afternoon. As if shopping with a mask that kept bumping up into my lower eyelashes wasn't stress enough to deal with, I was checking every single label on every single item in three sections of the store looking for the specifics of each's manufacturing info. If I were in store security, I'd have been monitoring my own curious shopping this afternoon.

What really stunned and saddened me was how few goods are actually made in the USA any more. When did this happen? Do we not make anything in this country any more? I spent several hours shopping and came home with just a couple of small items. Even many books are no longer printed in the US. Books are just paper and ink. How is that we can't do paper and ink any more?

I had an idea for a bunch of spa items for each daughter. Wow, the print on packages was so tiny! Most of the items were made in China, a couple in Taiwan, one in Egypt, and a couple in Indonesia. I had really wanted to support manufacturing in my own country, as I see us getting deeper and deeper into an unemployment hole right now. I wanted a shower cap, a scrubbing brush or loofah, maybe a bath bomb or two and a couple of hair accessories. A big fat "nope" on the shower cap, brush/loofah, and hair accessories. I checked every package. Brands that I thought were surely American-made are now all made some place else.  In the end, I found a couple of USA-made bath bombs, bath soaks, and a chocolate bar each. I also checked the clothing department of same store and found nothing my daughters would ever wear from the paltry amount of US-made items.

We did this to ourselves. We were so eager for bargain prices that we didn't notice that products weren't being manufactured locally. We knew that sometimes what we were buying didn't last as long as it should have or that we had known previous purchases had lasted. We didn't care. So long as it was inexpensive, that's what mattered. And deep down, we did know that many of our products were made elsewhere. It wasn't as if someone was fooling us. But we just didn't care enough, or I didn't care enough that I was buying products made somewhere else. Like I said, I felt saddened by this realization, like I sold out. 

The good news is that there are American companies out there. They're not the big names that we've grown up knowing as American, but instead, small cottage industry businesses. You won't find many of their items on the shelves of the big box stores. You have to search out these small businesses. When I got home, I spent time online looking for shower caps made in the USA. After a lot of google searches, I finally found several sellers on etsy. They're a lot more expensive than what I saw in the big box store. But maybe the higher price means that the worker made a fair wage for their time with my purchase. Plus, I think these are much cuter!

If I could, would I go back to not reading packages or caring where my money was going? I don't think I can. I can't un-know what I've learned this last year. But I hope that intentional shopping won't always feel this stressful.

Rant over.


  1. Yes! I find this so frustrating as well. Especially living in a medium-sized city where there aren't even smaller boutique-type places who might intentionally have locally-made products, high-priced or not. Anyway, nothing productive to add; just letting you know that you're not alone in this.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I know. It is really frustrating to want to buy "local" but not be able to find "local."

  2. About ten years ago, the group I volunteered in got to discussing how few things are made in the US. One lady jokingly shared that her brother had tried a couple of years before that to only by USA made products. She laughed and said...He about starved to death and almost went naked! We laughed but got me reading labels. Oh my goodness! And it has gotten worse and worse. Some labels say made of US products which means assembled elsewhere. We have to start being the change! I am not got at adhering to this at all....partly because I just don't want to shop online. But I have been trying to buy locally made or support local thrift stores. Trust me, I have eons to go....but if we all make a little change, it's at least a start.

    1. Hi Linda,
      It's surprising just how many food items come from overseas, too. My can of frozen apple juice concentrate is stamped China. I live in Washington state, one of the leading apple growing states in the US. The cans of pineapple that I bought came from Thailand and Indonesia. It's just crazy and a bit scary to have our food supply in some part dependent on good relations with another country.
      I think shopping thrift stores is also really important. Thrift stores not only keep stuff out of landfills but also this kind of store usually has a charitable organization that they support with the proceeds. It's way to directly support specific organizations that matter to each of us.
      A start is always a good thing.

    2. That's depressing to hear about your apple juice. We don't drink a lot of juice but I will have to check it out next time I get some. Michigan is also a state that produces a lot of apples so it seems like we should have easy access to juice from our area but I bet I'd find the same thing.

      I've heard that, for farmers to be productive financially, that many in the Midwest have moved to growing corn since it is used in so many things, not all of them food. I don't blame the farmers for trying to stay financially afloat but, yeah, it's unnerving to think about what would happen if America didn't have access to the food we get internationally. I know it's crossed my mind.

  3. And to complicate things, rarely is one object made in just one place. The pieces and parts are made/grown in various places and assembled in another. Hopefully, as you read more labels and do more research, you will find products and companies you like and can go back to. Then it won't take so much time to shop. BTW, this past year, many of the morning shows and others have been featuring small US businesses regularly. You might look in the archives of some of those shows for ideas.

    Also, Lili, I admire that you are practicing the principles you believe in and am happy that you are at a point in your life that you have the means to do so.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I was finding that, too, that some of the labels said manufactured in the US with parts/ingredients from other countries, sometimes not specifying which other countries they were. I think this brand said, "manufactured in the USA with globally-sourced ingredients."
      Thank you for the tip on morning shows and lists of local/US companies to patronize. I'll check into that.

  4. I love supporting all the homemade cottage industries on Etsy. Let's buy American!

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I love Etsy, too. I did a lot of my holiday shopping through Etsy and found some really unique items that you just don't find in stores. The shower caps that I found on Etsy are far cuter and more original than what is mass-produced. So, that's another point in favor of shopping cottage industries.

  5. Growing up near Flint and Detroit, there was always emphasis on buying American-made and manufactured vehicles. Locally it was considered a way to keep family and friends employed. That has changed over the years as, like L&L says, pieces and parts are made all over the place. I think what you have said is true in pretty much every possible area where there are things to be purchased. I remember reading (or maybe it was a tv special?) about how the south used to be a huge cotton-growing area but when it became financially not lucrative, cotton farmers looked to other crops and that prompted other nations to take up the cotton crop (using poorly paid and treated workers). It's an overwhelming concept to think of changing how we purchase things but maybe, like others have said, little by little we can change the purchasing culture.

    1. Sadly, the South maintained their cotton industry through slave and/or low paid workers. Of course, that failed eventually. Then other nations picked up what our country at one time had shamefully practiced.

    2. Hi Kris,
      I was reading that the US falls behind China and India in cotton production. There is still some cotton grown here and being used in smaller production operations. I have been looking online at clothing made in the US and found a California company that makes garments with US-grown cotton. (I'm sure there are many others, this is just one that I found easily.)But you have to be deliberate to find these companies. And of course, the hard part to swallow is that these clothing items are not at all accessible to smaller budgets. I don't really know what the answer to that is. Because for so many of us, the final cost does matter. Maybe the answer is more complex than I can express in a comment. But something for me to think about.

  6. No one wants to pay for our workers to make a living wage so it is all our fault. Trying to find food is unbelievable also.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      That's the surprising thing, that food items come from across the ocean when we live where we have the land, soil, and climate to grow so much.


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