Why you should buy less for your brain, wallet and the planet
This holiday season is a quite scary time for some: Between inflation (prices have risen 8.2 percent in a year) and economic uncertainty pointing to a potential recession, in addition to ongoing pandemic recovery, it might not be the ideal moment to think about buying a bunch of crap.
A 2019 survey by Ladder and OnePoll revealed that Americans spend an average of $18,000 per year on nonessential items, including streaming services and lattes, impulse Amazon finds, and unnecessary clothes. Not only is this enough to buy a semester of in-state tuition for your soon-to-be-college kid, but it translates to lots of clutter you have to deal with as items become unnecessary with time. Household goods and services are responsible for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, one study shows. It seems we are as aware as ever of this fact — since the pandemic, consumers want to reduce their unnecessary shopping behaviors.
But buying less of the stuff you don’t really need isn’t an easy ask, and it might be a process, as lots of tangled-up emotions are often behind shopping. For some, it’s a fun outlet with friends. For others, it provides safety and security to know you have everything you might ever want or need. And for still others, it’s a simple dopamine rush in a life that can at times feel otherwise mundane. Still, it’s not all self-serving — people increase their buying to purchase items for loved ones around the holidays, though Stanford says the whole process leads to 25 percent more waste.
So on your journey to buying less crap, practice some patience and grace. Expect a bit of struggle, and progress over perfection. Here’s how experts recommend getting started.
Zero in on a buy-less goal that matters to you
Like most things in life, without a concrete goal, your heart probably won’t be in your mission to buy less. Financial coach Annette Harris, who helps people achieve their spending and saving goals, first asks her clients not what they can cut, but what they are saving for. “Set that goal you have for yourself instead of just saying I need to stop spending,” she says. Some of her clients’ goals have included saving for a down payment on a house, buying furniture for a new home, saving for college for their children, preparing to pay cash for travel instead of putting it on a credit card, eliminating debt, and realizing a profit in their business.
Barriers still arise. A big one she sees clients encounter is wanting to make their kids happy, or spouses who aren’t on the same page with their savings goals. In these cases, she suggests a gradual reduction in spending rather than a freeze, as well as honest conversations with your family about the intention behind your goal.
Choose items you need for the long haul (Marie Kondo says so!)
Marie Kondo — author, Netflix TV show star, and famous tidying expert — tells Vox via email, “When I am making a purchase, I always consider the intention that the item will have in my life.” This thoughtfulness before hitting the checkout button in your e-cart is one of the multiple tips experts have when it comes to actually buying less crap.
Can living a clutter-free life really bring about mental, physical and even financial benefits?
“People can feel so overwhelmed by their stuff. When they start to declutter, the initial feeling is hope that their life will be changed by doing this work,” Delap told Healthline. “They also begin to feel a greater sense of control and well-being by lowering their stress levels. After all, there’s nothing more stressful than searching for your keys as you’re trying to get out of the house on time.”
The biggest benefit of decluttering, she adds, is creating more time to spend on what’s meaningful to you.
Take an inventory of how many of your recent purchases were designed for one-time use — a cocktail dress you won’t wear again after a friend’s bachelorette party, a holiday decoration that assuredly won’t last till next season. These items are frequently part of the junk that gets donated eventually, Kondo explains. “The types of purchases that often turn into clutter are items that typically didn’t serve a strong purpose in the first place. As time goes on, they become even less useful as they fall further by the wayside,” she says. “When you are purchasing something for an occasion or a specific one-time use, it can often quickly turn into clutter. I like to invest in staple items that are meant to last a long time, whether that is something in my wardrobe or home decor.” She gives an example of a closet that can get cluttered with trending clothes that go out of style quickly, rather than timeless pieces that will stand the test of time. She opts for neutrals, solids, and basics instead.
Change your buying chant from “want” to “need”
Words are powerful, enough so that they can subconsciously impact your buying habits. Tracy McCubbin, a decluttering expert, CEO of dClutterfly and TikTokker who recently published a book called Make Space for Happiness: How to Stop Attracting Clutter and Start Magnetizing the Life You Want, says we have to stop using the word “need” incorrectly. “As in ‘I need a new pair of jeans. I need a new jacket.’ I can guarantee that most of us have all the jeans and jackets that we need.” Instead, we should channel our preschool vocabulary lessons that taught us to distinguish between wants and needs: “‘I want a new pair of jeans. I want a new jacket.’ Once you change your language, the item ceases to have as much power over you. It stops being a necessity and starts being a craving. And a craving usually only lasts 20 minutes,” she says. “So once the feeling passes, it’s easier not to purchase the unneeded item.”
How to curb impulse purchases
If impulse buying is behind many of the items cluttering your home, it’s time to instate a waiting period with purpose, McCubbin says. She recommends a potential waiting period from some purchases that might be larger, with an aim to curb impulse buying. “This provides you the time to research to see if the item is worth the cost and if you can afford it. This is the start toward creating a healthy acquisition cycle.”