Over the past few years, I’ve grown more and more passionate about making sure I know where the stuff I buy originates. And as I’ve done my personal research, I’ve discovered how hard it is to really know for sure.

I also know how hard it can be to choose ethical shopping over conventional: sometimes there’s just not a huge selection, and well, it can get expensive. But as a family, we’ve decided that we would rather spend more to get less in order to contribute positively (or at least neutrally) to the global economy. Because guys, it can get really messed up.

Poor working conditions, low living wages, child labor, negative environmental impact—this stuff is everywhere. Everywhere. And once you learn about it, you can’t unlearn it. I’ve written about the chocolate and coffee industries, and once you know — well, you know.

But in the meantime, The Art of Simple now has an Ethical Shopping Guide. There’s a lot of companies doing a good job, and we should support them!

But before I get into that, here are a few thoughts about shopping ethically in the real world:

1. Do what you can with what you have.

I get that if you’ve got a gaggle of kids in your car and are pressed for time, or if you just graduated college are starting at an entry-level job, then it’s not easy to make sure every single thing you buy is ethically made. I really do get it. That doesn’t mean your small choices can’t still make a difference.

Cute sandals from Aurora Shoe Company
Source: Aurora Shoe Co.

You can do simple things, like choose to not shop at Walmart in most circumstances or to buy your kids’ toys at a locally-run shop instead of a big-box store. It’s not all back and white, I know. Target isn’t perfect (which I hate to say because I prefer shopping there), but it has a better track record than its counterpart. And sometimes, it’s just easier to run in there when local shops don’t have what you need.

Amazon isn’t free and clear, but I’m sometimes willing to buy there only if it’s not possible for me to buy something locally, or if the local option is even worse. As a consumer, I do have to gut-check myself for inconvenient truths—if a company I like does something that makes me lose sleep at night, I need to be consistent with my ethics.

Lamon Luther

But at the end of the day—do what you can with what you’re able to do.

2. Don’t judge. But do spread news.

This is the other side of the same coin. We all have to make daily decisions, and at the end of the day, the only one we’re responsible for is us. The ethical shopping dilemma isn’t done any favors if you spew and spout judgmental attitudes and guilt-trip people with the choices they make.

Does that mean you stay silent on issues you wish weren’t a reality? No, of course not. Share the press releases and documentaries that reveal the darker side of companies, and be positive by publicly praising awesome companies.

Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.
Source: The Burlap Bag

But remember that YOU can choose to shop ethically. Don’t inadvertently twist your passion into judgment. Most of us are doing the best we can.

Here's the list!

Our criteria mostly involve human and earth protection: positive efforts in environmental stewardship, no forced labor in the making of products, and ethical treatment of employees.

Oeuf Toys
Source: Oeuf

We also care about the less objective criteria of quality. Does the website function well, and is it pretty? Are their wares well-made? Does it look like a well-organized company? Do they care about good design? Because we care about those things, too.

These aren’t only charities or non-profits either. We’re okay with companies making a legitimate profit!

Top photo source:The Root Collective