As a society, we’ve been driven to consume more, and more frequently. Fashions used to change once a season, or twice a year, but now fast fashion retailers are continually churning out new styles and getting rid of old styles. Cars are only made to drive a number of years before we’re expected to upgrade. Cell phones barely last long enough for the release of the next model. Retail therapy, and being a shopaholic, are now badges of honor. Not only is this consumption-centric model hurting our wallets, it’s also devastating for the planet we live on. How do we consume less? How do we live a more sustainable life?
Tara Button hopes to help with that. She started a website called “Buy Me Once,” that find brands that make sustainable, high-quality, and long-lasting products, to encourage people to buy things that can be inherited through the generations. Her book, A Life Less Throwaway, is full of tips and steps to stop our mindless consumption and to build a home and life that truly reflects who we are.
Be aware of mindless buying.
These days, we are surrounded by marketing and advertising, both the ones we notice and many more that we don’t. We might not realize our buying decisions are influenced by unseen advertising. Mindless buying can be anything from grabbing an item off the shelf because it was at eye level, to buying anything our favorite celebrities endorse, without thinking about whether we actually need these items. Becoming aware is the first step; companies make a lot of money from mindless buying. Studies have shown that things don’t make us happy for long; mindless buying doesn’t make us happy.
Instead, we can mindfully curate our lives. Think like someone putting together a collection for an art gallery, picking only the things that fit. What do we want our things and our life to say about us? Does purchasing something trendy, and updating to a new trend three weeks later, really reflect who we are?
As we learned in ikigai, our values have been accumulated over our lifetime. We might not be aware of what all our values are, but we already have them. Things that have been with us our whole lives, things that are at the core of who we are. There are styles we are drawn to despite changing trends. There are activities and hobbies we still do to this day. Identify what those are, and only buy things that are consistent with your values and purpose.
Let go of the superfluous.
Our homes may be full of things that no longer represent who we are. Be it clothes we’ve grown out of, hobbies we no longer participate in, or appliances we no longer use. Getting rid of things that are no longer “us” will allow space for us to become more fully ourselves. This doesn’t mean we go out immediately and fill up the space with more things though…
Choose new items with your tastes and values in mind.
The best way to sustainably is to keep using what we have. That toaster might not look like it was made in this century or spit out avocado toast at the touch of a button, but it still works. Not replacing an old appliance for a fancy new one goes a long way towards sustainability.
But eventually, we do need to replace things. This is when the previous three steps come into play. When buying new things (or, “new to us” things), we need to think about how it fits into our lives, and whether this is the right purchase. If it isn’t, we shouldn’t buy a “good enough” item to tide us over, only to toss it when we find something better.
Learn how to take care of the things you’ve chosen to ensure they last.
It’s not enough to just buy things that are made to last; we must take care of them as well. No matter how well made a dresser is, if you’re constantly shoving it against walls and knocking into it every time you walk past, it’s not going to hold up over the years. Clothes can’t be dumped unsorted into the washer and forgotten. Take the time to hand wash clothes that need hand-washing. It’s easier to take care of things we love; the goal is to make everything we have something we love. And instead of throwing things away, get them fixed. We are all a little bit broken; we shouldn’t throw away so easily things that can be repaired.
This book is at the intersection of minimalism and sustainability, and fits perfectly into my life right now. Since I’m trying to live with less, this means, when my things start to fall apart, I will need to buy higher quality replacements. It’ll be difficult to switch off the “cheap = value” mindset I’ve lived with all my life, but I will make every effort.
There were parts of the book where I found the author a bit preachy. While she does acknowledge that it’s not easy and will take a lot of work and training to get yourself to the point of living a life less throwaway, there were some moments that almost felt like shaming. But it’s obvious that the author is very passionate about opening our eyes to the wastefulness of modern life. And I love that she included an entire section on how to take care of things.
Most importantly for me, it gave me encouragement to continue down this path, when it sometimes feels like I’m the only one who’s trying to consume less and reduce waste. I definitely recommend this to anyone trying to live more sustainably.
Have you considered buying more lasting things? In what ways have you tried to consume less and reduce waste? Please share your journey below!