I’ve become a bit of a skeptic. It seems that for the past year or so, my mantra has become “Question Everything.”
We buy things without even thinking about why we’re buying it, if we need it, or if it even works. Without asking who made it, or what it does to our bodies and the environment.
A favorite quote by The Minimalists: “Most people work thousands of hours a year to buy things they think they need, not questioning if they need those things at all.”
Here’s an example:
I used to be a beauty product junkie and when one thing ran out, I’d go out and replace it without a second thought, almost on autopilot. It was so unnatural to pause and ask myself a few questions: Why am I buying this? Why am I using this? Is it actually making a difference? What the heck is IN this? Do I need this? Do I even want this in my beauty routine?
I whittled down my products to a few nontoxic essentials and now my skin and hair are thanking me. There’s more money in my wallet, I have more space in my home, and more time in my day! And I’m pretty sure I don’t look all that different…
Same with cleaning products, kitchen gadgets, tools, and pretty much everything. I’ve started asking myself, “Who is making money from this? How were things done back in the day?”
Creating False Needs
I will never forget this. This tiny little conversation, just a few sentences, has stuck with me for years. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it’s popped into my head often recently. In 2013 I spent a week in China for grad school and we visited Nielsen. Nielsen studies consumers and gathers data on how and why people buy things, and they work with companies to help them reach consumers to sell their products. China has some huge modern cities, but a large part of the population still lives in very remote villages.
During the presentation at Nielsen the woman explained that they were working with a major brand to try to sell deodorant in the villages, to increase sales and get their products out there. However, many people in the villages had never seen or heard of deodorant, so the company was trying to find a way to create a NEED for their product and get these people to start buying it.
Now, I am all about using deodorant, trust me, (I love Piper Wai) but it makes you think. These people never even saw this stuff and were doing just fine without it for decades. A company wants to make money, so they find ways to convince people their product is essential. All marketing is this way, but for some reason, this example right from the source really stuck with me.
So many of the things we use didn’t even exist until recently. People made do without them for years. A good amount of products were created to sustain the economy and pad someone’s wallet. Companies create this “need,” but people managed without these things for years. Like Febreze or other air freshener sprays.
Raise your hand if you regularly replace it when it runs out. No shame, that was me once too. That stuff is filled with chemicals and is terrible for the environment and was famously made just because consumers associate certain smells with things being “clean.” I’m not judging you if you love your Febreze, but it’s just an example of how marketers create these false needs to get us to buy their products regularly, so we never stop to question what’s in it, is it effective, do we need it.
You have to stop and think, who is making money from this? How did people get by in the past? Thinking about how people managed without these products helps me put into perspective if I really need something, or if I already have something that serves the same purpose. These days we have a gadget for everything when in the past people had a few gadgets that could serve many purposes.
I do believe some products are helpful and even necessary to advance the world, but others are thought up simply for a company to make money. The challenge is to be able to tell the difference and decide what is truly necessary and worthwhile. Developing products impacts the environment, even the most eco-friendly products. It’s unavoidable. Plus they consume your time, space, and money, and often expose you to toxins and crappy chemicals. So which products are real needs and which are just a sales tactic?
Are you ready to start making some changes?
I’m no expert, but I have dabbled in non-toxic, ethical, and environmentally friendly brands for a year or so now and have experimented with quite a few brands. Thanks to the help of a friend who is ahead if me in this journey, I have found many brands that I like and have started switching over my beauty products, cleaning products, home decor, clothing, and pretty much everything a little at a time. I’d be happy to give product recommendations or answer any questions you may have.
A note about questions and nontoxic products:
This is another area where it helps to ask who is making money from this. There are not a lot of labeling standards for beauty products, so many companies can throw the words “natural” or “organic” on a product to try to reach a market sector, or paint themselves in a certain positive light. Usually those words are meaningless because there are no standards behind them. Same thing with throwing some plants on a label or advertisement. Who is making money from this? A true nontoxic, sustainable company? Or a mega company trying to reach the green market? (Otherwise known as Greenwashing)
A similar example is when brands promote products where proceeds go towards a particular charity. I’m all about doing good, but you still have to think. Some cosmetics companies run campaigns for breast cancer, on the very products that have questionable chemicals in them! Chemicals that may cause cancer. I’d love to find a cure, but how about removing these chemicals to try to have less cancer to begin with? (The money-making side of cancer is a whole different rant I could get into.)
Companies know that it looks good to do good and that their consumers want to do good as well. It’s a marketing tactic. There are ways to do good without supporting the companies that refuse to remove these chemicals from their products. Just some things to think about. The book Not Just A Pretty Face has a great chapter about this.