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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!


Isn’t Zero Waste Living Meant to be Cheaper? (+ What To Do When It Isn’t)

Zero waste and plastic-free living are often spruiked as a way to save money. I avoid using that reason (I explained why I won’t talk about money-saving here). Even though, yes, living zero waste means I spend less.

It is pretty hard to stop buying stuff and spend more ;)

Whilst overall I spend less than I used to, some things I buy do cost more than their packaged equivalents. In the early days, I stood in the aisle, looking at the cheaper pre-packaged item and the more expensive bulk or zero waste one, and felt torn.

If someone embraces zero waste living solely as a way to save money, this is the point where they will stop. That’s one reason why I don’t use the ‘money-saving’ reason as a benefit. I want others to embrace this lifestyle beyond the choices that cost the least amount of money.

I want others to embrace choices that make the best sense for the bigger picture: local communities, our health, wildlife, workers rights, the environment and the planet as a whole.

For those of us who aren’t motivated solely by the money-saving aspect, knowing things are considerably more expensive can still be frustrating! No-one wants to feel like they’re being taken for a ride. I received this question recently, and it got me thinking:

“I’m having trouble justifying buying package free pasta and rice and such, when it is literally 10x as expensive as the same stuff I can get in the supermarket. I feel like I’m just wasting my money. If it were 2 or even 3x more expensive I might be able to justify it, but I feel like the price difference is kind of outrageous. Any wisdom?”

Oh, I’ve been there! These are my suggestions for what to do when zero waste isn’t the cheapest option, and you feel conflicted.

1. Remember Why You Chose the Zero Waste/Plastic-Free Lifestyle.

Most people choose this lifestyle for a number of reasons, and some of these reasons are about more than ourselves. Reasons such as: supporting local businesses and growing local communities, reducing litter, improving the environment, protecting our marine life, limiting harm to wildlife, reducing our impact on the world’s resources.

When we make choices that support ideas that are bigger than ourselves, we feel good. If you’re faced with a difficult choice, try to keep your ‘why’ at the front of your mind.

It might help you see the choice you’re making in a different light.

2. Ask Yourself What You Value.

For me, it comes down to values. I value locally grown, reduced carbon emissions, and organic. I value supporting independent businesses, and eating real food.

I value spending my money with companies I believe in. I value ethical and Fair Trade and sustainably produced.

(That’s not to say I don’t have a budget – I do! I’ll talk about that later.)

I want to see more products that fit in this niche, and more stores that support these ideas. The best thing I can do is vote with my dollar, and choose to support these brands and allow them to grow. Ultimately I don’t want this to be a niche, I want it to be mainstream. Supporting it is the only way this will happen.

Which is why, rather than shop at the bulk aisle in my local supermarket, I choose to shop at independent bulk stores. My favourite is The Source Bulk Foods. There’s one in my neighbourhood, but they have 33 stores across Australia (there’s 3 in Perth, and more planned). They aren’t the cheapest option, but they align the most with my values. Importantly, they are passionate about zero waste (some bulk stores here aren’t actually focused on the waste aspect).

The Source also have a huge variety of Australian-grown produce: almost all of their nuts are grown in Australia, and they even sell Australian quinoa. Supporting stores that champion these practices is more important to me than saving a couple of dollars.

3. Avoid Comparisons (Ignorance is Bliss).

Have you heard the saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy?’ No-one wants to feel ripped off, or like they spent too much. When we know that there’s a cheaper option, sometimes it can be hard to make the right choice.

My solution is not to look.

I rarely go in the supermarket now. I never look at catalogues or shops online. If I don’t know what I’m ‘missing out’ on, it stops the comparisons, and I’m happier,.

I know what I need, so I go to my regular shop, and decide if I want to make the purchase based on the price that day.

If you didn’t know that the supermarket was cheaper than your local bulk store, it would change your whole perspective. Where you can, avoid looking.

4. Rather Than Asking ‘Is It More Expensive?’, Ask ‘Can I Afford It?’

It’s funny how we can get hung up on the price of some things, but not others. When avocados hit $4 in the shops here, everyone goes nuts at the ‘expensive price’ – even though they are locally grown, delicious and very good for us.

Yet bumper boxes of super processed biscuits – the ones made entirely or processed sugar, processed flour and trans-fats (or palm oil)? If they are $4 people think it’s a bargain.

It’s all about perspective.

Rather than stressing that the waste-free version is more expensive than the pre-packaged version, we can re-frame the question. We can ask ourselves: can I afford it? Is there something I could go without in order to buy this? Do I want it that much or could I go without?

I buy chocolate, and I buy coffee, and both of these could be considered luxury items. (Even if I like to think of them as essentials!) If something else I really wanted seemed expensive, I could pay the extra and forgo one of these. If you regularly buy takeaway coffee, or take-out, or magazines, could you reduce your spending in this area?

These are the choices we can make.

There may be things that you just can’t afford to buy zero waste at this point in your journey. Then you have two options: go without; or compromise.

5. Rather Than Worrying About The Price of Individual Items, Set Yourself a Budget For Your Entire Shop.

It’s all very lovely to talk about values and priorities, but most of us living a zero waste or plastic-free lifestyle have a budget. Hello, real world! Much as we might want to, we can’t necessarily afford to make all the perfect choices.

I’d like to buy everything organic, but in reality, my budget doesn’t allow me to.

Rather than stressing over individual items, we can set a budget for our whole shop. Many things in bulk are much cheaper than their pre-packaged counterparts, yet we tend to focus on the stuff that costs more rather than celebrating what costs less.

Are things really too expensive, or can we accommodate them by making other changes?

Knowing exactly how much we have to spend will help us make better decisions – either now, or in the future as our circumstances change.

The answers will be different for everybody.

Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t always afford the perfect option (most of us can’t). But if the better choice is only a couple of dollars more, ask yourself what’s really stopping you making that choice?

For me, the question isn’t “does it cost more?” The question is, who will benefit if I choose the zero waste, organic, local option? And who will benefit (and who will suffer) if I don’t? When I’m on the fence about making the more ethical choice over the cheaper one, this helps direct me back to my priorities.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever get torn between cheaper options and more ethical, expensive options? How have your choices changed over time? Is there anything that you’re currently struggling with? Do you have any tips to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!