When people think about reducing waste, it seems like “buying less” is not always the first thought that comes to mind. Recycling, upcycling, donating, actually purchasing more “sustainable” items to replace our unsustainable items—those are the concepts that often present themselves to us when we decide to attempt a more planet-friendly lifestyle.
But buying less is the cornerstone of sustainable living. We don’t have to think about ways to recycle, upcycle, or donate things we don’t have. This is why I always recommend using what you already have as the easiest and most affordable way to lower your carbon footprint. After all, we can’t buy ourselves out the climate crisis.
We can however, be more conscious of what we do buy. If you haven’t already noticed, the developed world has a bit of an over consumption problem (see: buying 400% more new pieces of clothing than we did just a couple decades ago). I don’t think that means we need to halt all purchases though. There is a way to shop more intentionally and purchase products that will stay with us for 20 years instead of 20 days.
To help you get into that “less is more” mindset, here are six questions to ask yourself before buying something. Store these questions in your phone and whip them out whenever you find yourself ready to swipe your credit card. I think you’ll find they make conscious shopping a breeze.
6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Something
1. Would I buy this if it was full price?
Sometime it’s hard to tell whether you’re buying something because you love it, or because you love a good deal. This question helps clarify that. If that 25% off tag has got you excited, but the actual product has you saying “ehh, well it’s $10 off, I might as well get it,” you’re probably on the verge of an impulse purchase you don’t need.
2. Will I get at least 30 wears / uses out of this?
This question pertains mostly to clothing, since society has developed a one-and-done mindset when it comes to fashion. However, it can apply to other categories as well.
For instance, let’s say you’re about to purchase a wine decanter. Maybe you’re a huge wine enthusiast and will in fact use it 30 times, in which case, purchase away. Or maybe you are falling victim to the artfully designed bar cart display in your local interior design shop that has you convinced you’re a wine connoisseur, when in fact you simply enjoy a weekly glass of Trader Joes two-buck-chuck. In that case, maybe set the decanter down and walk away.
The point is, be realistic about your lifestyle and be brutally honest with yourself. If you can’t picture yourself wearing or using the item over and over again, if the thought of it having a permanent spot in your life doesn’t excite you, it’s likely not worth purchasing. Consider maybe borrowing or renting something similar instead. Which brings me to the next question.
3. Is there a more sustainable way I could get this?
Typically, buying something new should be your last line of defense. Instead, try to consider whether or not you could find the the item you need secondhand. Or maybe it’s not something you really need for the long term. Perhaps you got roped into a ski trip, but really fancy yourself more of a warm weather maven. Borrowing or renting that winter coat may be a more sustainable (and economical) option than buying a piece of clothing you won’t get much use out of. If you’re not so sure about secondhand shopping I’ve got some tips to help you get started.
4. Do I already have something similar to this?
Humans have a tendency to gravitate toward familiar things, as evidenced by the seven similar, but ever-so-slightly different, black tops in my closet. I certainly don’t need all those black tops, and most of them I bought as impulse purchases. I was out shopping without a list, without intention and I bought something I liked. It filled me with the excitement of newness, but ultimately was entirely unnecessary.
And that is why I recommend taking note of what you already have in your closet or home before you head to the store. It helps you ensure that anything you do purchase is something that is filling a gap. It’s something you don’t already have, that sparks joy, and will fit into your life long term.
5. Is this on my wishlist?
If you don’t already have a wishlist, I highly suggest making one. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can make one on a post-it, on your phone’s notepad, I like to make mine in Notion. It allows me to dedicate a whole database to my wishlist where I can add links to products I like, keep track of prices, what I did and did not end up buying, and it helps me prioritize my purchases.
If you’re considering purchasing something that is not an immediate necessity and isn’t on your wishlist, it’s probably something you can wait on. Consider adding it to your wishlist and check back in 30 days to see if it’s something you still want.
6. Do I need this right now?
Spoiler alert: you probably don’t. Contrary to what the senders of those “FINAL SALE NOW” emails want you think, most purchases are not urgent. If we really love something we should be willing to wait for it. And I know that sounds like something out of an early 2000s Nicholas Sparks novel, but it’s true. If you find something you like, bookmark it. Add it to a wishlist and think about it for 30 days. If you find yourself constantly coming back to it each day, then it may very well be something that will bring you joy for the long haul. That said, I think you’ll find that many times, you’ll forget about it.
If you enjoyed learning about these questions to ask yourself before buying something and are craving more sustainable living tips, then sign up for The Eco Edit! You’ll be joining hundreds of other pro-planet enthusiasts who are passionate about bettering the world through small, sustainable steps.