MUSINGS FROM THE LAUNDROMAT | Conscientious consumption

When I first moved to Queen Anne in 1987 the small town feeling of the neighborhood charmed me. Queen Anne Avenue was lined with locally owned shops. A small corner market, a Scandinavian bakery, a pharmacy owned by a long-time Queen Anne family, a hobby shop, a shoe repair shop, a second-hand store. These were not chains, not connected to a corporate structure. The overhead was low, the owners and employees were neighbors and friends.  

As the years passed and we became more entrenched in the community, I could send my daughters around the corner on an errand to shops where the owners knew their names. I often said that I didn’t ever have to leave Queen Anne because everything I needed was on the hill. Having spent my life in and around New York City, it was refreshing. Although, it may surprise you to know that even New York City is made up of small neighborhoods and when I lived there I got to know the local folks who owned businesses in my Greenwich Village locale. 

The retail world has changed enormously in the past fifteen to twenty years. Between massive corporate chains and online shopping, small shops are closing and corporations are gaining strength to the point of being considered “persons” when it comes to campaign donations and support of politicians. Our way of life is shifting, and not for the better I’m afraid. It’s gradual — so much so — that we barely notice. And then, seemingly suddenly, gone will be the small independent bookstores and creative shops that were once a mainstay of our neighborhoods and our country. 

Our recent election and the current administration are pushing us further in that direction. I will not couch my feelings in rhetoric here. I am appalled by what is happening to our country, our constitution, and our way of life in the hands of this administration. But no matter your feelings about the actions of the Republican administration, most of us know someone who has been forced to close a shop or whose business failed as the giant conglomerates have taken over. 

Which brings me to my point. While I am heartened to witness the massive numbers of people in the streets protesting the many issues at stake, and I believe this must continue, we are, nevertheless, seeing daily executive orders and approval of cabinet appointees that guarantee the multifaceted and accelerated destruction of our country and our way of life 

Make America Great Again was the nationalistic slogan of the current administration. But what is it that truly makes us great? Building walls? Preventing immigrants from gaining shelter inside our borders? Denying women and people of color their rights as humans and citizens? And, to the point of this essay, empowering corporations to take over our lives and our purchasing options? 

One way that we are already great is in the strength of our towns and neighborhoods and the opportunity for creative, local enterprise. If we do not resist the corporate state that is creeping into our lives, we will lose this aspect of greatness. Of the country we love.

There is a way to resist this takeover and it’s easier than you think, but requires consistent effort and conscientious thought about what we buy and where and from whom we buy it. By spending your money where it will have an impact you can send a subtle but powerful message to the powers that be.

Think about what you are buying today. Do you need it? Really? And if so, from which vendor are you purchasing it? Are you buying online because it’s more convenient? Could you find a local shop that carries the same or better? It may cost a bit more and you may actually have to go there to get it, but you would save on the shipping and you may run into a few friends on the way. 

If you stop and ask yourself a few of the above questions before you purchase something, it may change the way you shop.

Spending the winter in a small village in Panama, I am struck by the simplicity of the locals’ lives. Their homes are humble, their possessions few. But they are not poor! They care for their small homes with pride, they have food on their tables, and school uniforms for their kids. Most have a television and a way to play music. They don’t read catalogs telling them what their houses should look like. They are content. Far more so than many of my North American neighbors who have so much more!

When my husband and I sold our Queen Anne home and began clearing things out, we made several trips to the dump. I could not believe the pile of discards from people’s lives. The mountain of things purchased and then tossed. It gave me pause to say the least and changed the way I think about my purchases. Do we really need to consume as much as we do? Or can we do without for a time and turn that into a form of resistance?

We can and we must. Shop locally, be creative in your choices, repurpose things, and think about whether you need something or just want it. But most important, do your research on the company or business you are spending your money on. The information is there for us – we just have to take the time to find it. It may change more than you think.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS ( is a freelance writer and essayist Her work covers a variety of topics. 

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