How to start buying less stuff
Never before has treating ourselves to a purchase been so, so easy. It wasn’t so long ago that a shopping spree involved actually leaving the house. Now, you can get instant purchasing gratification with just a few taps of your phone.
The high of buying new things is incredibly seductive, and retailers are only getting smarter about tapping into this psychology. But frequently indulging in impulse purchases can leave you stressed, cluttered and seriously out of pocket - and overconsumption is taking its toll on the planet, too.
Believe it or not, Tara Button - founder of Buy Me Once - used to be quite the shopaholic. Her impulse buying habit didn’t just leave her overwhelmed with stuff, it landed her in a fair amount of credit card debt.
Her epiphany came in the form of a gift: a cast iron cooking pot. It was beautifully made, and carried a lifetime guarantee. She’d never need another. Tara thought, why isn’t everything I own like this?
After her lightning bolt moment, Tara went on to create Buy Me Once, and she also wrote the book on how to buy for life. The book was crucial, because Tara’s philosophy wasn’t just about buying things that last, but also choosing those things with care - so that you actually keep them and use them for as long as you can.
So - do you have a stuffed wardrobe, but nothing to wear? Is your home filled with throwaway clutter that doesn’t serve you? If you find yourself frequently giving into temptation, here are Tara’s tried-and-tested ways to start shopping less.
All these methods and more are detailed in Tara’s book, A Life Less Throwaway, alongside tips and exercises for applying them to your everyday life. You can buy the book from us here.
1. Learn to curate
When it comes to choosing the things you have in your life, Tara uses a method she calls mindful curation. ‘It might sound as pretentious as bringing your own tablecloth to KFC’, says Tara, ‘but it’s the best term for it.’ It’s about being ‘mindful’, as opposed to mindless, about the things you choose to bring into your home.
As a philosophy, mindful curation isn’t necessarily about stripping down to a minimalist life. It’s about taking time to consider your life’s true priorities - and identifying the items that help you fulfil those priorities and live comfortably, without being swayed by status. By curating with care, you’re less prone to impulse buying things you don’t need.
2. Be wise to advertising
We’re exposed to thousands of marketing messages per day, and retailers will pull all sorts of tricks to make their products look as appealing as possible. Celebrity or influencer endorsements are a classic way to sell a lifestyle. As are ads full of so-called ‘testimonials’ from ordinary people expressing how genuinely great a product is. In all these cases, these people are of course getting paid to promote.
‘Advertisers know we’re more likely to buy something if the ad feels ‘real’’, says Tara, an ex ad executive. When you look at an advert, imagine a boardroom of people coming up with the concept. Who is this targeting? Are they just selling you a product, or are they presenting you with a fantasy lifestyle? What ‘new you’ will you realistically achieve by buying this? The more you critically question ads, the more you can learn to tune out their seduction.
3. Get to know your ‘true taste’
The fashion industry is very good at promising a better, cooler, more attractive you through the power of trends. If you don’t have a strong sense of what you like and what you don’t, you might find yourself much more easily swayed by the latest fast fashion fads. Digging down into your true taste can help you fight these urges to become someone different.
‘There are some elements of taste that remain the same throughout people's lives,’ says Tara. Try and write down a few descriptive words for how you’d describe your style - are you classic? Quirky? Practical? Spend a little time thinking about colour palettes, patterns and textures. By building up a picture of what you want you and your home to be, it will be easier to identify the things you’ll love for a long time.
4. Know your temptations
If you have trouble fighting the urge to click ‘buy’, it can really help to know when this happens the most. If you struggle to browse online shops without placing an order, try to avoid looking at them unless you really need something (most web browsers will let you block websites from yourself).
For many, sales are an irresistible chance to grab a bargain. But before you dive into a discount rack or Black Friday sale, ask yourself - would I buy any of this full price? If the answer is no, consider whether you should spend your hard-earned money at all, even for reduced prices.
5. Avoid faddy gifts
Gifting occasions - the main culprit being Christmas - are when we’re most primed to buy all sorts of stuff for people simply because we feel we have to. Bad gifts aren’t just awkward, they’re a waste of money, time and the resources it took to make them.
Generally, people would much rather receive one really good gift than a pile of bad ones. So if you’re not someone who’s comfortable giving up gifting altogether, try reigning in your gift shopping with a ‘less is more’ approach. Thoughtful, well-made gifts - instead of faddy novelty items - will stay in your loved one’s life for much longer.
6. Take care of your stuff
Nowadays, people are also repairing less and replacing more. When something you own is looking a little worse for wear, it can be tempting to splurge on a shiny new upgrade. However, with a little TLC, the wear and tear on most items can be fixed. The next time you think something of yours is broken, take it to a cobbler, seamstress or repair cafe first.
Plus, simple acts of maintenance - such as descaling your kettle, sharpening your knives and shining your shoes - not only keep your items going longer, but help you place more value on them. Looking after your stuff is also empowering, helping you feel more competent and less prone to defaulting to repurchase. We've even got helpful care guides, such as our 'How to care for linen' guide written by our friends over at Untied.
7. Save up for quality
Saving up for a high-quality item used to be the norm, but it’s becoming an increasingly forgotten concept. In a world of instant gratification, it can feel painful to have to save up for the thing you want right now. But in the long run, it always pays to invest more money in things that last forever - and you won’t always be able to afford them instantly.
If you (non-urgently) need to buy something, take the time to research a really well-made product with a good guarantee. Buy Me Once is a great place to start, obviously. Then, make a plan to save up for the item - and stick to it. If you’re on a tight budget, you can often save money by looking for these items second hand.
If this article resonated with you, you can read more about Tara’s mindful curation method in her book A Life Less Throwaway: The lost art of buying for life.Tara’s techniques and exercises will help you free yourself from marketing manipulation, understand how to shop better and find your true style, priorities and purpose - beyond buying. Get the book here.