How to Avoid Buying Something New

One of the most challenging things about my pregnancy thus far has been resisting the urge to buy new things for the baby. As soon as I started Googling about being pregnant, I was bombarded by marketing for baby items on all platforms.

The truth is, babies don't require a lot of things. And neither do older children or adults. Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford says "A child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil". 

Our consumer culture tells us it's necessary to buy all the things; to always be "in-fashion"; to have all of the newest gadgets; and that having more is the key to being happy. A study of the Commerce Department's data shows that Americans spend an annual $1.2 trillion on non-essential things, which is 11.2% of total consumer spending (up from 4% in 1959).

Of the average 300,000 items in our homes, how much of that do you think is non-essential?

The harder truth is, our consumer culture is destroying the environment. Consumers are responsible for 60% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80% of its water, material, and land use, according to a study published in 2015. These numbers do include food, but tell me that the choices we make as consumers absolutely matter. 

When we're done consuming, our things often end up in landfill or incinerated. In the US, the EPA tracks our annual municipal solid waste generated and reports that it has increased from 88.1 million tons in 1960 to 262.4 million tons in 2015. It's no secret that we've become a throw-away society. 

Using all of that as motivation, I do my best to consume less and make better, more conscious choices about the things I do buy. Here are the steps I take to avoid buying something new.

Assess my need for the item

The most difficult part of this step is differentiating between want and need. Is this something I truly need or is it something I just want? 

My reasons for wanting something normally involves something pretty I pass by in the store, what other people have, or what society tells me I must have. We all play the comparison game, and I'm no different. It's okay to want something, but it's your justification that matters most.

My definition of a need is probably different than what you would consider a need. I feel that anything which contributes to the health, nourishment, and education of my family (pets included) is my top priority. 

Some questions I ask myself to help prioritize include:
  • Will I survive if I don't have it?
  • What do I use to fulfill this need currently?
  • How soon do I need this item?
  • Is it within my budget?
Sometimes clothes make it into the need category. Clothes that fit, breathe well, and aren't full of irreparable holes are a must. Pregnancy has made clothes a larger need in the past 7 months as my body is understandably changing every week. 

Tools and furniture for organizing might also be considered a need at times. I do best in a clean, organized, and clutter-free environment. If an area of my home just isn't working for me, I tend to re-do it a million times before it doesn't stress me out anymore. Being stress-free is an absolute need in my book. 

If I decide I truly need an item, I move on to the next steps right away. If it's more of a want, I try to wait it out before proceeding. Most of the time I forget I wanted it in the first place. 

Decide if I can use something I already have, borrow it, or repair it

Often times we overlook the resources around us before we purchase something. I try to decide whether or not I can repurpose, make, borrow, or repair something to fulfill my want or need. 

Repurposing things in my home has definitely developed into a new skill. It requires thinking outside of the box and some creativity. It can be as simple as saving small jars to use for organizing office supplies or as complicated as sewing something with scrap fabric.

Repurposing things I already own means I don't have to bring another item in my home and it stays nice and clutter-free the way I like it. 

Borrowing items is also perfectly acceptable. I think we're often afraid of asking a friend or family member to borrow something, thinking it might be an inconvenience to them. Or sometimes we're hesitant to lend things out because we worry we'll never get them back. 

But for the sake of the environment, I say we need to get over it. If I'm unable to repurpose something I already have and I only need something short term, I'm no longer afraid of reaching out to a friend or a neighbor. 

Repairing items is also my go-to before deciding to buy. Sometimes this requires buying a small part or borrowing a tool necessary to repair, but that's much preferred over replacing the whole item. Clothes are my most repaired items. If I can stitch it up myself, I'll do it. If not, I'll bring it to the dry cleaners/tailor to repair.

Look for the item secondhand 

If none of the above are an option, I look for the item secondhand (baring some non-negotiables like underwear). Buying secondhand means I'm not using any new resources or raw materials and I'm giving something a new home before it ends up in the landfill. 

Unless it's an immediate need, I'll often wait weeks before I find the item I'm looking for. It takes a bit of patience, but totally worth it.

The couch in the picture above is probably my greatest secondhand success story. After about a month in our new apartment, I decided I hated our daybed/couch situation. I was tired of the mattress sliding off the frame, the blankets getting all messed up, and not having the side or back support of a normal couch. However, we just bought the daybed thinking it would serve a dual purpose in our tiny place. 

So, I would then spend the next four months or so contemplating buying a new couch, then looking for one secondhand. I looked and looked but wasn't able to find what I was looking for to fit our space. One day, my husband and I found ourselves talking to a salesperson at a Lovesac store. Their couches are modular so you can build it how you want it and you can remove and wash the covers. Seemed like the perfect couch, especially with cats and baby on the way. 

We went home and mulled over the price. We were okay with spending a little more on something that would last us a long time. But then I had second thoughts and started searching specifically for used Lovesac couches instead. A few weeks later, I came across someone selling their Lovesac couch after only using it for a year. It looked amazing and they even washed all of the covers before we picked it up. We saved about $1,500 buying from them and I've never been so satisfied with a secondhand purchase!

There are a bunch of resources and places to look for secondhand items. There are even super convenient apps now! Here are all of the ones I use:
  • Buy nothing new project and Freecycle: Local groups where people give away their items for free
  • Offerup and Letgo: Apps that provide a platform for you to buy and sell secondhand items in just about every category
  • Facebook Marketplace: Facebook feature that allows you to buy and sell secondhand items locally
  • Poshmark: App where you can buy and sell secondhand clothes
  • Craigslist and eBay: Oldies but goodies I use as last resorts because their user interface is not my favorite
  • Amazon Warehouse: I try to avoid Amazon, but sometimes I can't find things anywhere else and look to see if they are selling an item used or refurbished
  • Thrift shops: my most frequented include Buffalo Exchange for clothes and Goodwill for everything
  • Antique shops: I usually visit these when looking for furniture
If I'm unable to find something secondhand, I try to buy sustainable, fair trade, handmade, and/or locally made items. Small and female-owned businesses also take priority. Etsy is my favorite place to look for handmade items but I try to only buy from a shop if it's located in the US. 

There are times when factors like budget, time, and patience play a role in whether or not I buy something new. I'm not always able to find something secondhand that fits all of the above or I simply give in to the convenience of going to the Target down the road. 

Concluding with the lesson I preach in all of my posts...I'm not perfect, none of us are. But all of the small, conscious choices we make add up to make a difference! Hopefully, these steps will help you to avoid buying new things.


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