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Live simply that others may simply live. This statement, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, provides the reason for simplifying our lives. Everything we buy has an environmental and human price tag. If I buy a pair of shoes, for example, they are made from a variety of materials that came from somewhere. People manufactured the shoes, perhaps in substandard working conditions. There may have been toxic waste from the factory. The shoes were transported, quite possibly from overseas, to a store or website where I found them.

If I need those shoes, that’s just how it works, but if I don’t really need them, then I am placing an undue burden on others.

The argument is often made that it is our duty as consumers to go out and buy things whether or not we really need them. This is supposed to help get the economy back on track. We hear variations of this concept everywhere; the idea that economic growth is essential turns up in the news constantly. But the assumption behind this way of thinking is that we live in a world of unlimited natural resources.

Besides being mindful of how many things we purchase, we can also pay attention to how the things we acquire have been made. To go back to shoes, if you go to a search engine and type in a phrase like “eco shoes” or “eco friendly shoes,” you will see a wide variety of choices. Many of the shoes will be made of cloth, and some websites will discuss how the workers who made the shoes were treated.

As I looked around the internet for eco shoes, I saw one pair that I liked. I clicked through to find out more about them, and was not pleased to discover that what seemed like an ordinary cloth loafer was priced just under one hundred dollars. At another shoe manufacturer, a similar loafer was $35 and their organic version of the same thing was $55. So you will have to make decisions comparing cost and ecological aspects, just as you do at the grocery store.

I am not suggesting that you own only one or two pairs of shoes or that your wardrobe should consist of only six items! Each of us has different needs, and we have to think about how we look at work as well as what we need for the different activities we do. But if each of us develops the habit of considering the effects of our purchases, this would be a better world.

For different people, the choices will be unique to their needs, attitudes, and personalities. That is as it should be. A friend of mine told me the other day that she had been harshly criticized, by someone who barely knew her, because she eats meat. To me, there is no benefit in “Who is greener?” competitions. It is more important that we each practice being true to our own sense of what is right.

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