We know that overconsumption is a major contributor to the climate crisis, and that many facets of a buy-more economy exacerbate social injustices. We find ourselves needing to frequently remind our community, and ourselves, that buying less, not just buying better, is an absolutely necessary part of accomplishing our mission.
Buying less can be especially hard when we’re constantly faced with pressures to buy more. But there are some achievable (and even fun!) ways to maintain the habit.
Start with a clean slate
We wouldn’t ever advise you to discard stuff without context. Yes, we’re encouraging you to discard stuff. But not in a careless way, in a meticulously intentional way.
When you settle into only owning things that you actually use and like, you’ll find that you no longer want to bring anything into your home that might not fit the bill. So whittle down your wardrobe to only the stuff you love and actually wear. That way when you open your closet you won’t find yourself thinking “I don’t like a lot of this stuff - I need to replace it!” Instead you’ll open the closet and think “I love everything! There’s nothing I need!” Slim down your medicine cabinet to include only the stuff you use regularly. It will be easier to keep an eye on what’s running low, so you’ll no longer end up with a drawer full of half-empties. Keep your fridge stocked with only food that’s still good to eat. As soon as it goes bad, compost, recycle, and move on. This way you can keep inventory of the food you have, plan meals accordingly, and minimize food waste and overconsumption.
This tip may require you to get rid of stuff, and that may feel a bit counterproductive to your waste-minimization goal. Just remember that the end game is to buy less and waste less moving forward. And as you discard, try to be extra careful about making sure things aren’t going to waste! Instead of donating to thrift stores (where certain goods may end up in the landfill), try selling any items that are still in great shape. If you have any personal care goods you aren’t loving, try repurposing them (shampoo as body wash, face lotion for hands, etc.).
Discover the joy of second-hand
Before you roll your eyes and dismiss this tip as a bit too obvious (or even altogether unappealing), hear me out! I hail from a family of master-thrifters and have tried my hardest to find joy in scouring the racks at Goodwill, but never have and probably never will. I can psych myself up for an occasional trip to a small, boutique second-hand clothing shop, but what truly gets me excited is vintage furniture! Perhaps second-hand clothing, or even second-hand furniture is not your vibe. What about refurbished electronics?
Yes, buying second-hand saves money, diverts usable goods from the landfill, and minimizes resources needed for manufacturing new products, but there’s another cool benefit we need to talk about! Buying second-hand makes owning high quality goods more financially accessible. Where my $100 budget might afford me a functional particle-board coffee table at [insert name of big box furniture store], it could also get me a super classy refurbished danish coffee table at my local vintage shop. One that will bring me joy for a few more years, and will hold its resale value when I’m done with it!
Let’s really hammer this home with a couple more examples. You might pay $30 for a high-quality, hand-stitched, wool blazer at a second-hand boutique, or $30 for a flimsy, synthetic blazer at [insert name of fast fashion brand]. Or you might spend $500 for a brand new laptop with limited storage that won’t likely last more than a year, or $500 for a refurbished MacBook Pro. Buying second-hand could put really high-quality products within your budget, meaning you can own them for significantly longer! And no, you don’t have to go to Goodwill if you’d really rather not. Just find the type of second-hand purchases that bring you joy, and make it a habit to check for second-hand options before buying new.
Maintain a budget
Speaking of budgets…
We so often encounter people who get hung up on the price tags of certain products we carry without acknowledging how those products can actually help them avoid making future purchases. Maintaining a budget is an effective way to see how this phenomenon really works.
In a different life, I used to have a line in my monthly budget for purchases from Target. What was I buying from Target? The same things as most people I expect. Paper towels, toilet paper, plastic baggies, shampoo, a few other things that I didn’t plan to buy but that called out to me as I was roaming the aisles… And I met or exceeded my Target budget every month. Along the way I’ve made investments in certain products that help me avoid repeat purchases: reusable cloth napkins, reusable silicone sandwich bags, high-quality linen washcloths, reusable facial rounds, reusable ear swabs, and so on. I’m now finding I almost never meet or exceed my budget for non-grocery essential goods, and I have a little more room in the budget to buy higher quality consumables like shampoo, skincare, and other personal care.
Examining your budget is also an effective way to visually affirm where you’re prioritizing your spending, and determine whether it matches up with your value system. Are you dedicating a big slice of your earnings to splurges on items that you maybe... reluctantly… might admit you don’t need? What if you erased that line item from your budget and had a little more wiggle room to spend intentionally on the items you know you need to replenish anyway?
We know that advising you to budget might feel a bit hoaky, and we’re really not trying to lecture you about your financial literacy. But keeping a budget is a pretty awesome tool for aligning your purchases with what matters most to you. And it’s a great way to prove to yourself that buying better helps you buy less, and that buying less helps you buy better.
Do you have any other tips for buying less and buying better? Share in the comments!