5 Mantras for Buying Better
Nobody intends to buy things and not use them, but of course – it happens. We buy clothes that we end up never wearing, we buy tools or gadgets we end up never using, we buy games we end up never playing… and the list goes on.
I, for one, was particularly guilty of buying clothes that I never wore. There were a myriad of reasons for this. I had a tendency to buy things ever slightly on too-small side (wishful thinking on my part), I’d buy things that suited the model on the billboard but not me, I’d buy things that looked nice (on the hanger) but just weren’t practical for wearing to do the kinds of things I actually do.
Oh, and of course I’d totally confuse the “bargain price” as a reason to buy things, without giving much thought to whether they were useful or practical – I was too focused on the “money saved”.
Oh the irony, when I could have saved 100% of my money and bought nothing at all.
This pursuit of bargains started out as sales shopping from regular stores, but when I first started buying things second-hand I noticed another huge spike in my shopping – there was a whole new category of “bargain” to be discovered!
When I began my journey to less stuff back in 2013, I started to notice these patterns in my habits when it came to buying things I then didn’t use. I decluttered slowly, and began appreciating my new-found freedom from yet-another-weekend-of-endless-sorting.
I knew I had to protect this space from a new influx of clutter.
Decluttering is hard work. There was no way I wanted to go through that again! This had to be a one-time journey for me.
I’ve put in place a framework (or call them ‘rules’, if you like!) around how to make better buying decisions. The goal is that I only buy things that I truly need and will use often.
I don’t want to spend my money on stuff I never use that I then feel guilty about and have to tidy up and maintain and look after. No thank you.
Of course I’m not perfect and stuff occasionally slips through the gaps, but having a structure in place really helps with making better choices.
1. Do I Need It?
You’d think this would be obvious. But often we say we need things, meaning – I have to have that! – rather than – I actually need this. If you’ve ever seen a pair of shoes or a handbag or a new gadget or [insert shiny new thing here] and said “ohhhhmygoodness I need this!” then you know exactly what I mean.
We don’t need the thing, but we’re enthralled by it, we love the design or the style or the ingenuity of it, and so we want to buy it.
But often things we ‘need’ (as opposed to things we need) don’t actually get used, or they don’t get used often enough to justify us buying them.
So the first question to ask is honestly, do I need it?
2. Will I Use It (Often)?
We can justify our needs by telling ourselves we will use the item. And maybe we will. But how much? And ultimately, is that worth the price?
One of my favourite rules around this is the idea of ’30 wears’. Meaning, when I buy an item of clothing, do I know that I will wear it 30 times?
This means that for me, items like underpants, jumpers, and comfy jeans get a big tick. And items like fancy dresses purchased for a wedding, formal wear and high heels get a no.
If I can’t see myself going to 30 weddings or 30 formal dinners in the near future, I can’t justify buying the item. I can make do with what I have, borrow from a friend, or maybe hire something.
So when I’m thinking about buying something, I ask myself what would be a realistic amount of use for that item, and whether I would use it that much.
If I need something once, for a specific task, then I try to borrow it instead. I don’t need to own every single thing I might use once. That can amount to an awful lot of (barely used) stuff.
If I need something short-term, then I try to buy second-hand and commit to passing it on to someone else or back to the charity shop when its useful time with me has come to an end.
3. Is It Made to Last (and is it fit for purpose)?
I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it super annoying when stuff breaks. Rather than wait for something to break only to find out that the item is non-repairable and the manufacturer would rather sell me a whole new one, I now think about this before I buy stuff.
So I think about what it’s made of, how it’s made, whether there are any breakable parts, whether it’s possible to buy spare parts should something break, and how easy it would be to fix.
With tech, I try to buy the most up-to-date version I can to make sure it lasts, whilst steering clear of anything that seems like a fad (as someone who had a minidisc player and a VHS collection, I’m well aware that technology gets superceded).
Coming back to clothes, for example, I try to steer clear of anything that is definitely dry clean only (I’m not going to get it dry cleaned – I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals), I avoid excessive embellishments such as sequins (they’ll detach quickly making the garment look old, and I know I’m not going to sew them on again) or anything that I know won’t make it through 30 cycles of a washing machine.
4. Wait 30 Days
So far, so practical – but there’s definitely a place in life for beautiful things, things that we ‘need’ because they bring us joy, or allow us to support an artist whose work we love, or because life is allowed to be fun too.
(I’m not a total stick-in-the-mud, honestly!)
The issue is that there are so many beautiful things, that if we buy them unchecked we end up with a house full of things that are no longer beautiful and fun so much as mess-inducing and overwhelming.
To help me navigate this, I have a rule that I let wants brew for 30 days. If I see something I ‘need’, I leave it for 30 days and then I come back and make a decision.
I don’t make a note, because I think that if I can’t remember after 30 days, I really couldn’t have ‘needed’ it in the first place.
The things that really have a place in my heart, I remember.
And if I come back in 30 days, and the thing has gone, I consider that it just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt there will be something just as lovely – no, probably even more lovely – just around the corner.
5.What Will Happen to It Afterwards?
I don’t like putting things in the bin. You’ve probably noticed. So a big consideration for me is what will happen to this item either at the end of its life, or when I no longer need it any more.
Certain brands, products and materials have a great second-hand market. Take Lego – you’ll rarely see that in the charity shops, and there are sets that are decades old selling for a good price on online classifieds.
Some stuff keeps its value.
So I try to choose products and brands that are made to last and that someone else might want. Whilst I buy things intending to use them forever, it doesn’t always pan out that way. At least I know someone else will want what I have.
For those things that get used until very my life expired? Some materials can be repurposed, reused or recycled. Others can’t. Natural fibres can be composted. Polyester is plastic.
Mixed materials are difficult to separate and that makes it harder to reuse those resources.
I try to give these factors consideration when I bring things into my home, and choose the most recycable or compostable materials.
We can’t predict the future, but we can make best guesses about whether we need stuff and will use it, and we can consider the intended lifespan of this stuff, and how we will let go afterwards.
Life doesn’t always go as planned, but when we choose to buy things, we can do our best to make sure the odds are in our favour. It’s not just about hoping the purchases we make are good ones, it’s about knowing our personal weaknesses, and having a framework to make better choices.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any rules when making purchases to ensure the stuff you buy gets put to good use and doesn’t end up being a waste of money? How do you decide whether to purchase or not? What things do you get particularly stuck on? Any other helpful tips? Please share in the comments below!
Like many of us shopping is kind of like fishing: an excuse for doing much of nothing while being open to the possible surprise! I shop almost nowhere except the grocery store and second hand stores. . . . but I still buy too much produce (often with the failed belief that I won’t have to shop again as soon) & still have too full a clothes closet. I’ve found that my best answer to too much buying is to nip it in the bud: don’t enter a store in the first place. Like how I actially LOST weight on a cruise ship vacation with my mother years ago. Every time there was another of the constant, ubiquitous opportunities for another snack, teatime, oxtail appetizer, lunch, brunch, treat, etc etc ad nauseoum — I’d just say to myself, “no, Not right now, I think I’ll just wait for next time!” (With sure knowledge there would ALWAYS be a Next Time)
So true: I apply this rule to stop myself buying stationery and other pretty things. Just don’t go into giftshops and stationery stores and I can’t be tempted!
When I was working in retail the best way to avoid buying anything in the shop was not to bring my purse to work. This strategy works for my lunchtime walk as well – no money means I can’t buy anything.
It also helps to ask myself if I already have something that would do the job of what I’m considering buying.
Thanks for sharing Julia! The wallet tip is a good idea. I definitely noticed that when I’ve worked in close proximity to cafes, I’d buy more coffee (well, not so much coffee as CAKE), when I’ve worked near shops I’d buy more too. Sometimes we just need to put ourselves out of temptation’s way. It all gets easier with time but no point having to test ourselves if we can avoid the temptation altogether!
I like that analogy, Rebecca! Luckily there are plenty of other things to do with our time instead that also are “an excuse for doing much of nothing while being open to the possible surprise” like gardening, walks in nature, visiting art exhibitions – and many more things :)
Like you I do channel what’s left of my shopping desire into grocery shopping! You’re right, as soon as we put ourselves into a shop (any kind of shop) we are opening the temptation to buy things. The less shops entered, the better in my view!
I really do need to be better about waiting 30 days to buy something! It’s a great way to really make sure you NEED it rather than WANT it. And your last point is something I should think of more often. What will be the life of this product after me? A great post!
All of these things come with practice, Hayley! And the more I do it the more I get enjoyment from NOT buying things, in the same way I used to from the buying of things. I see the space not filled and breathe a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad I didn’t buy that thing after all!” ;)
Thanks so much for the lovely comment :)
And thanks so much for the great advice! It’s a fantastic viewpoint and it really just comes with time and practice.
Lindsay, have you been able to hire an outfit for a wedding or a funeral? I hate having those outfits sitting in my wardrobe. The problem with funerals is not having enough time to shop for a second hand outfit, especially as I often have to travel for them.
Hi Susan, I’ve never hired outfits but I have borrowed them. For weddings it is easy enough, I’m not a big dresser-upper so it doesn’t need to be fancy. So long as I look like I made the effort! With funerals I just wear something I have. Going shopping for a funeral seems kind of weird – it makes me feel uncomfortable, it just feels inappropriate – so I make do with what I already own. If I went to one and had to wear “all black” I might get stuck but I’m sure there’d be something somewhere I could borrow!
Susan, what about shopping your closet (or someone else’s?). I have work clothes which I’ve decided are perfectly good for a wedding or a funeral now that I don’t want to own special occasion clothing. Sure they aren’t special because I wear them all the time but they are also fine. I have a black merino dress which would be fine for a funeral.
I used to have a couple of outfits that I would wear to bars, now that I have kids those days are very rare… After I’ve managed to incorporate both tops into my wardrobe and they are now work favourites, one with a bit of alterations. The leather look pants will have to be for someone else now, much to my husbands disappointment :)
Hi Melody, thanks for your suggestions and of course I agree! I’ve done away with “special occasion” clothing and it is nice to have the spare room and peace! Haha, so no leather look trousers for work?! I know that some people can rock it, but yep, with you on that one! ;)
I have become so good at not buying that i rarely take my wallet out of my bag. This weekend just gone was an exception. I knew i needed a new laundry basket to replace my cheapo wicker one. I’d be keeping an eye out for one for about a year. I went to a rare plant sale and saw a wicker maker that i did a willow weaving course with. She’s local to me and grows her own willow. Her stuff is amazing and she had the most stunning basket that would be perfect for my laundry. It wasn’t cheap, but then quality never is. I asked about repairing the handles if it ever needed it. She said it’s unlikely to need it but she’s be happy to mend if it’s ever needed. After a year of consideration I bought something that is useful, brings me joy, is made locally from local materials, is repairable and compostable at the end of it’s life. So happy!
I love this Elaine! It’s interesting how when we really simplify we can find joy in such things. Like a laundry basket! And how we can afford to really buy functional things that we love, because when we buy little we can splurge on the things that we do buy, and choose the absolute best for us and our values. Oh, and if you want to send me a picture of the basket I’d love to see it! :)
And I would like to share with you my experience in furniture reuse. Furniture is so large and it’s always such a pity to see it standing near garbage bins waiting for some homeless people to pick it up. But recently I’ve come to an idea of putting a beautiful cover on my old sofa and continuing using it. I’ve tried it and I like the result. It’s much cheaper than buying new furniture.