Greening Your Vacation – Souvenirs and Shopping

We cannot shop our way to a sustainable world.

Free up your time for actual vacationing and reduce your environmental footprint by greening your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

If you are like most people, you probably have between two to four weeks to go on vacation each year. That is not a lot of time for connecting with your family and friends, seeing new sights, revisiting favorite places, relaxing, and refreshing your spirit.

So, why would you or I spend our vacation time shopping?

I posit that consumerism is so entrenched in our society that we will use our limited and precious vacation time for shopping without really thinking about it.

Nowadays, even rural areas and national parks have gift shops and visitor centers so we can shop even while we are “getting away from it all.”

Besides using up our vacation time, buying at the American or Western level is using up the planet’s resources at a faster clip than Earth can renew them while wreaking environmental havoc on people and other living things.

After a recent trip to Oregon with two long-time friends, I decided to evaluate my souvenir and vacation shopping from that trip. Below is a synopsis of my findings. At the end of the post, you will have an opportunity to evaluate your own souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

My Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Evaluation

Interestingly, at least to me, it was non-souvenir shopping that tripped me up the most.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs Bought on Vacation

My ideal souvenir is a refrigerator magnet so I was on the lookout for one with a quilt on it at the Sisters outdoor quilt show. I did not find one, but I did spot and buy a lovely quilted postcard donated by a quilter for a Sisters High School scholarship fundraiser.

I found my souvenir refrigerator magnet in the Crater Lake National Park visitor center. It has a beautiful photo of the deep blue almost purple colored Crater Lake. Showing some restraint, I did not buy a Christmas tree ornament, jigsaw puzzle (I love puzzles), coffee mug, a book about Crater Lake, or a hat I eyed for a while as I stood in the checkout line.

Near the end of our trip, while we were walking through a Chinese garden in Portland, we came across a young woman playing a Chinese zither. Her music was captivating. I saw she had CD’s for sale and I snapped one up.

Lavender Farm

On a sweltering day in the upper 80s, my friends and I decided to visit a lavender farm. The couple who own the farm shared their knowledge about lavender freely and offered us ice-cold lemonade and melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies.

I was not interested in buying a lavender item in their small store, but I felt obligated somehow to buy something from these delightful people. Also influencing me was my desire to support small and local businesses. Why did I feel that just thanking them as we were leaving would be inadequate?

In the end, I purchased a small metal tin of tea with lavender justifying to myself that it is consumable.

Metal Tin with Tea and Lavender Bought on VacationThis is just one example of the millions of purchase transactions occurring at any given moment where the buyer does not really want and/or need the item but is purchasing it out of a sense of obligation either to the seller or to a person they intend to give it to.

Sigh.

Quilting, Book, and Cross-Stitch Stores

One of my friends is a quilter and the three of us like reading and cross-stitching so we often build browsing at quilting, book, and cross-stitch stores into our vacation plans.

In the two quilting stores we visited, I admired the fabrics, tools, and sample quilts with no desire to buy anything, whew.

Unfortunately, I began a book-buying binge in Sisters with the purchase of a used book at a library sale and a new book signed by a local author who was signing copies of her books in a bookstore. I purchased four used books in Corvallis and eight more in Portland.

Pile of 14 Books Bought on VacationFourteen books would not fit in my luggage so I ended up mailing the books to myself from a post office in Eugene before I boarded the train to come home.

I am a book lover so by not establishing a self-imposed limit on book purchases up front and then visiting multiple bookstores, I unintentionally set myself up for excessive book buying.

We visited two cross-stitch stores during our trip where I bought materials for two projects and a few embellishments (I could not resist the happy face buttons).

Materials forTwo Cross-Stitch Projects Bought on VacationThe weird thing is that I actually prefer finishing one cross-stitch project before buying materials and starting a new one. So, how did I end up with more projects? I think it was partly because, again, the store owners were friendly, helpful, and small business owners. Another and more interesting factor is that many cross-stitch enthusiasts, including my two friends, routinely have multiple projects going at the same time so even though no one told me I am a loser for doing one project at I time, I allowed this to influence me and purchased supplies for projects I am not ready to start yet.

Hmmm.

The Bottom Line

Evaluating my purchases and thinking about why I made them was an eye opening experience. The bottom line for me is that as a person trying to live happily with fewer possessions, I sure bought a lot of stuff on my vacation.

Consumerism is a powerful force that is difficult to overcome, even for a committed environmentalist like me.

Humans excel at justifying our actions and I even wrote a whole paragraph justifying all my purchases, like how I will donate the books to the library after I read them. I later deleted that paragraph. The thing is regardless of how much pleasure you or I might take in the stuff we buy on vacation (or any other time), we cannot shop our way to a sustainable world. Changing our relationship with stuff and shopping less is critical to maintaining a habitable planet now and in the future.

Prior to my next vacation, I intend to set shopping limits for myself before I even leave my house.

Now, it is your turn to evaluate your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.

Evaluate Your Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Habits

Take a moment to think back over your most recent vacation and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What did you buy for yourself and why?
  2. Did you buy gifts for people back home and if so what and why?
  3. Was most of your shopping for souvenirs or non-souvenirs (e.g. art, books, wine)?
  4. How much time did you spend shopping?
  5. Did you spend more money than you felt comfortable spending?
  6. Are you wearing, using, or otherwise enjoying the items you bought?
  7. Which items, if any, ended up in the trash, back of a closet, or in a charity box?
  8. Did you eat and drink the edible products you purchased and brought home?
  9. Were your traveling companions enthusiastic about shopping?
  10. What actions, if any, do you plan to take to curtail souvenir and vacation shopping on your next trip?

Now, imagine spending your next vacation actually vacationing.

Featured Image at Top: Souvenir Store in New York, NY with an ATM Sign next to a Replica of the Statue of Liberty (hmmm) – Photo Credit iStock/anouchka

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Repairing Things is the Antidote for Our Throwaway Society

Let’s make fixing stuff the norm, not the exception.

Be a rebel and join the repair movement. Declare your dissatisfaction with our throwaway society by fixing things instead of tossing them in the trash.

Whether you like it or not, if you are an American, you live in a throwaway society where people routinely throw broken things away instead of fixing them. It was not always so but today the influx of inexpensive products and the constant bombardment of advertising influence our repair and buying habits. The price of products does not include the cost of damaging our environment so low prices and convenience makes it tempting to buy a new item instead of repairing a broken one.

Throwing away damaged and broken things or sticking them in the back of the garage and then buying new replacements is harming people and the planet, but you can help change our culture by joining a growing movement of people who believe in repairing things instead of trashing them.

Repairing Things is a Green Thing to Do

Everything we use in our daily lives has an environmental impact that results from mining, logging, extracting fossil fuels, processing materials, manufacturing products, transporting goods, and disposing of waste.

Another perhaps even more compelling issue to consider is that our planet does not have unlimited resources or land.

We can conserve Earth’s dwindling resources and protect our land from more waste dumps by repairing things if they get broken or damaged and using them as long as possible.

Everyone Can Participate in the Repair Movement

The essential attribute for participating in the repair movement is the willingness to consider repairing things instead of automatically throwing them in the trash.

You can learn repair skills and/or get assistance from friends, family members, coworkers, repair professionals, and a wide variety of sources that did not previously exist.

For instance, the Internet is chock full of step-by-step instructional videos on how to replace parts and repair thousands of different products from leaky faucets to malfunctioning automatic garage door openers to broken smartphone screens. Community centers provide tools and equipment for people interested in pursuing artistic endeavors, tinkering, and repairing things. Imagine being able to fix your vacuum cleaner handle using a part printed on a 3D printer. Repair cafés and re-skilling events bring people together to share knowledge and learn new skills.

Below are two examples of repaired items, one I did myself and my spouse helped me with the other one.

A Tale of Two Repairs

My dad was Mr. Fixit and repaired many things around our home when I was a kid, including our cars. The fixit gene passed me by so I am not too handy when it comes to repairing most things. Luckily, my mother taught me how to sew, which means that I can mend clothing tears and replace missing buttons.

Rain Coat Repair

Over twenty years ago, I needed to buy a rain/warm coat for a business trip and since it was the off-season where I lived, my two choices were hot pink or forest green. I chose the green coat and wore it for many years before the bottom button fell off and was lost.  Initially, I attempted to ignore the problem, but the cool and windy climate where I now live motivated me to address it.

Rain Coat Repair - New Top ButtonFinding a replacement button to match the existing buttons was not possible and I did not want to replace all the buttons.

My solution was moving the top button to the bottom and sewing on a new black button at the top where I think it looks less odd.

I was able to accomplish the repair myself by spending a couple of dollars on a package of buttons and a few minutes with a needle and thread. Now, my coat is ready for a several more decades of wear.

Weed Whacker Repair

About five years ago, I bought a Black & Decker battery powered weed whacker (string trimmer) for $99.99. It is made of metal and plastic components and uses a rechargeable nickel cadmium battery (cadmium is a toxic material that requires special handling when disposing of the battery).

A few weeks ago, as I was wielding the weed whacker around our wild yard in preparation for fire season, the motor stopped working. I looked up the model number online and discovered that Black & Decker had discontinued it and replaced it with a similar model available for $69.99.

The environmentally sound solution seemed to be to try to repair it so I asked my mechanically inclined spouse for assistance.

After taking the weed whacker apart, my spouse determined that a tiny piece in the motor assembly had failed. Although some replacement parts were available online such as the handle, cover, and battery pack, the motor was not. Fortunately, a similar motor was located online and purchased for about $20 including tax and shipping. Once the new motor arrived, it took my spouse less than an hour to install it and reassemble the weed whacker. I was back in business.

If there is a moral to this story, it is that repairing stuff is possible if you are willing to make the effort and that keeping our planet habitable is a group effort.

Let us stop being a throwaway society and become a repair nation where fixing stuff is the norm, not the exception. Please share your repair story with other readers.

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