Once embedded in the world of advertising, Tara Button decided to leave it all behind and start a life committed to buying less and buying for life, founding the website and movement BuyMeOnce. In her book, A Life Less Throwaway, Button reveals how we too can make small changes that will bring us more happiness, while creating a more sustainable and affordable way of living. Here is an A to Z of Button’s advice on how we as individuals can reverse the effects of our throwaway society.
Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.
A is for Advertising
Having worked in advertising for ten years, Button knows firsthand how we rarely “buy,” but are instead “sold to.” Be alert to music, messaging, celebrities, scents, lighting and wording that are being used to promote an item you are thinking of purchasing. Would you still want it if any of those elements were taken away?
B is for Buying for Life
What if we regarded every item we were purchasing (other than food and cleaning products) as something that would serve us for life? When we bring this mentality to our purchases, we naturally become less wasteful.
C is for Caring
Ask any cobbler, and they will tell you that if you repair your heels and soles regularly and polish your shoes, a good pair should last a lifetime. Taking better care of all the items we own will prevent us from having to throw them away and replace them. In her book, Button lists how to care for and maintain household items from dishwashers to fabrics to roofs.
D is for Disposal
Maybe we’ve nailed recycling paper, bottles, plastics and food scraps, but are we being mindful of how we dispose of other items such as electronics, furniture or clothes? There are many places we can dispose of old electronics, and some manufacturers offer free take-back programs where they will collect items. Some charities will collect used furniture.
E is for Experience
When it comes to buying and receiving gifts, think about whether an experience might be better than an item. Going on a lunch date with a friend, or taking a trip to the park with your niece may create longer-lasting joy than a pair of earrings or another soft toy.
F is for Fix It
Before throwing away the vacuum cleaner, the bicycle, or those headphones, take the time to see if these items can be fixed. We’ve lost many of our traditional “tinkerers” or people who repair items, but though we can’t find them, we may be able to find a fixing tip online and learn a new skill in the process.
G is for Gratitude
When we practice gratitude for the things we have, we naturally begin to realize that there are several things on our “must-have lists” that aren’t “must haves” at all. Button recommends making a note, morning and evening, of at least one thing we are grateful for in our lives.
H is for High Maintenance
We’ve all got them – that eight-piece kitchen gadget that has to be assembled every time we want to use it, or the crystal chandelier that needs to be polished monthly. And what happens? We don’t use them. See if you can give yourself a trial period using something HM that you already have before purchasing another object you’ll eventually come to view as a nuisance.
I is for Inventory
Take an inventory of all the things you have, and you’ll soon discover where you are being wasteful. What do you have more than one of? From pens to evening dresses, taking stock of all our items will help us know what we have, what we need to use more, what we need less of (or not at all), or what to give away.
J is for Judgment
Often we can be hanging on to items because we feel guilty about getting rid of them. Recognize that some of the judgments we have around being wasteful are actually preventing us from giving our things away so they can bring joy to others rather than guilt to ourselves.
K is for Know Thyself
Are you buying because you feel you need to keep up with others? Do you notice you tend to make impulse purchases when you’re feeling stressed out or down? Get to know why you buy the things you do and see if maybe an act of self-love is what you need more than another handbag.
L is for Loyalty Schemes
While sometimes loyalty programs can save us money, don’t forget they are in fact designed to make us spend more. How often have you ended up buying things you don’t need, just because you were offered an exclusive deal? One tip is to ask yourself before purchasing a discounted product: Would I still buy it if it was full price?
M is for Marie Kondo
Declutter Marie Kondo style by noting everything you use over a two-week period and then taking what is not being used and asking yourself if this item is practical and joyful. If it isn’t, give it away, sell it, or dispose of it mindfully.
N is for Networking
Do you and your neighbor both need lawnmowers? Does everyone in your family need a sewing machine? Do each our friends require a circular saw or a four-man tent? Consider ways you and those you interact closely with can come together as a network to share large items that are rarely used.
O is for Organize
We often search our homes for something we are confident we have but cannot find. Then we end up buying another only to find the original a month later. If we better organized our closets, drawers, and shelves, it will be easier to see what we have, making it more likely that we’ll get more use out of those items.
P is for Purpose
Ask yourself before buying, does this object help me with my life’s purpose? Button suggests sitting down and figuring out what gives your life value and how you want to live and letting that inform your purchasing decisions.
Q is for Question
Start questioning where the things you buy and later throw away will end up. Environmental activist, Julia Butterfly-Hill asks “when you throw stuff away, where do you think ‘away’ is?” This can be a helpful question to ask when you walk into a supermarket, reminding us to buy only the things we really need and to avoid packaging as much as possible.
R is for Resist the Upgrade
We’ve become used to a society where every year there is an upgrade or new launch of a product – a computer, a car, a phone. And worse still, we have bought into the notion that we need to upgrade our perfectly fine items. Ask yourself whether the small improvements that will themselves be outdated in another year are really worth you discarding what you already have.
S is for Stewardship
Button suggests adopting the mindset of a steward in which we consider the impact of everything we buy or discard on society, the planet, and on future generations. This encourages us to “buy things that are worthy of being handed down and made in a way that allows them to stand the test of time,” says Button.
T is for Trend
This year’s style is zigzag carpet, last year’s was wallpaper, this summer’s shoe is a platform, and next winter is a calf length boot . . . Button suggests instead of following trends that are short-term and result in waste, getting in touch with, and staying true to, our own innate style and tastes which are far longer lasting and let those be our purchasing guides.
U is for Unwish List
Button recommends making an “Unwish List” – a list of things you don’t need as a reminder that just because you have money doesn’t mean you have to spend it. On her unwish list, for example, are throw pillows, seasonal decorations, kitchen gadgets, DVDs, magazines, more cat toys and more make-up and shoes. But she points out – if Halloween pillows bring you joy, then go for it. Every list is personal.
V is for Vacation Purchases
Does our friend really need that T-shirt that says “I love Costa Rica”? Do we really need that vase from Greece? On vacation, we can end up buying things that we (and others) neither need nor want. Send a personalized postcard instead, and journal about your trip if it is memories you are hoping to capture.
W is for Warranty
When was the last time you read a warranty? Take a better look at the warranties on the products you buy – you may be throwing things away that could be repaired by or returned to the manufacturer – and opt for products with full lifetime warranties.
X is for eXtras
How many times have we bought two of something “just so we have an extra lying around”? Consider instead borrowing from a friend when you really do need that extra chair, dinner set or tennis racket.
Y is for Yard Sales
Ebay, Craigslist, and thrift stores. There are multiple ways for us to buy used what others don’t want, and also sell or give away what no longer serves us.
Z is for Zero Waste
It may seem an impossible feat, but a growing number of people are committing to a lifestyle of zero waste, ensuring everything they buy can be recycled or used for life. Even if we don’t succeed in producing zero waste, having it as an ideal will ensure we are 100% more mindful of what we are buying, using and throwing away.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock