Recently someone called our office asking where to recycle a Keurig coffee machine that had a broken touchscreen. While I could give him an answer (London Drugs takes back small appliances for recycling), I couldn’t help but think the need to recycle that appliance would have been avoided if they hadn’t bought that machine in the first place. A simple drip filter lets you make coffee without a touchscreen, and it doesn’t break down or require recycling either. How much embodied energy and material in that coffee machine could have been saved? And that’s not even counting the disposable coffee pods…
I won’t go down the rabbit hole of shaming single cup coffee makers, but I do want to raise the question of whether or not we really need all these poorly made gadgets in our lives. Even more broadly, do we need all the stuff we have, beyond the gadgets? Thankfully, I am not alone in questioning our culture’s consumption habits. There are multiple social movements that are gaining popularity along these lines: minimalist living, cutting out single use plastics, and the sharing economy. Each brings the question to the foreground “What do I actually need to buy, and what don’t I?”
The specific set of items you decide you do actually need might look different than mine, but I think the thought processes we use to narrow it down may well look similar. Here are some of my practices that reduce what I am otherwise tempted to buy:
- I have high standards. My Dad instilled in me a love for good quality products with functional design and the ability to be repaired. This means I rarely buy anything that is cheaply made, since it will just turn into garbage sooner rather than later. I also find that the more I pay for something, the more likely I am to do two important things: consider the purchase more carefully and not make an impulse buy and 2) take care of it so it lasts longer. If I can’t buy top end items new I’m happy to buy used. ‘Better’ is more important to me than ‘new.’
- I try in person before I buy. I have found that buying things sight unseen (i.e. by catalogues and online shopping) greatly increases the chances of buying a lemon that I will just have to return or get rid of. Since I have high standards (see point 1), it is unlikely I’ll be satisfied with something that I haven’t discerned the quality of for myself.
For example. A few years ago I needed a new blender and wanted to invest in a good quality one. I held off until I had done some research and actually seen and used the kind I was interested in before I bought it. I knew it would do what I wanted and had a great warranty and track record. Around the same time a friend got a lower quality one that is touted to be comparable but cheaper. Hers has since died and been replaced already, while mine soldiers on merrily being used 1-2 times every day.
- I organize my stuff. Caveat – this is a work in progress, but I’ve made tremendous progress in the last couple years. I know that having a place for everything and everything in its place means I know what I do and don’t own. When I know what I have AND where to find it, I won’t pick up more ‘just in case’ while out shopping. I used to buy ‘useful’ things I found on sale, only to find out that I already had plenty at home that I had forgotten about. Being more organized with a weekly meal plan and decluttering has greatly curbed that.
- I make lists. When I run out of something I put it on a list to be replaced immediately. I have a list for each kind of store we go to on my phone. This means when I get to a store, I have an up-to-date list with me and I’m less likely to ‘browse’. The lists are shared with my husband too. It’s made shopping way more efficient since I don’t make extra trips to get things I forgot the first time around.
Don’t let this fool you into thinking I don’t like shopping anymore. Far from it. I love to shop, but using these values has made me a much more discerning buyer. I know that some people are addicted to shopping for the short dopamine rush, and I can relate, I’m not immune to it either. It helps to keep in mind that it is short lived and keeps you hooked on always buying more. If you find yourself buying things to feel better, and want to get out of that loop I highly recommend listening to this episode from one of my favorite podcasts.
I’m curious. What do you buy that you don’t need? Why is it hard to stop? Do you make an effort to buy less than you used to? Join the conversation below and let us know.