Man, do we have a lot of it. Most of us know we’ve got far more than we need but with the abundance of stuff on the market and ridiculously cheap prices it’s a real challenge to keep it at bay. You might know this already but if not, brace yourself. Most stuff causes serious environmental harm and likely harm to fellow humans as well. I never looked at stuff the same after watching The Story of Stuff. I encourage you to watch this before continuing on.
Now, ahead of you is a simple guide on how to cause less destruction when buying stuff. You’re always going to cause some destruction with your purchases (unless you’re ridiculously awesome) but this guide will help you to reduce it. It will also help you to save a lot of money and hopefully pursue a life that is centered on health, happiness, and freedom rather than on how nice your stuff is.
1. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this or do I just want it?” Go without if you don’t need it. This really is a solution that hits at the root of the problem. Most of the stuff we think we need we actually don’t. And a lot of it isn’t making us any healthier or happier like we expect it to. So if you don’t need it, just don’t buy it. For inspiration, check out All my stuff.. fits on my bike and 10 things you should get rid of today.
2. Share. Rather than owning your own of everything you can share. Great examples are car-sharing programs, the library for books, tool libraries where you can check out tools, and print shops. There’s also the old fashioned way of just sharing with family, friends, and neighbors. Think of how many fewer things you’d need to buy, store, and insure if you shared with others. Renting is another form of sharing and there are so many things you can rent.
3. Buy used stuff whenever you can. There is enough of almost everything we need on earth already to not have to create any more. You can find used stuff on craigslist, ebay, and at thrift stores and garage sales, just to name a few places.
4. Buy quality stuff that will last a long time rather than cheaply made crap that will break and need to be replaced. This may cost a little more upfront but will likely save you money in the long run. Don’t buy any one-time use stuff like paper towels, styrofoam dishes, plastic utensils, tin foil, or saran wrap. There are less destructive alternatives for all of these things. See How to Live a Near Zero Waste Life for more on this.
5. Support environmentally conscious companies and boycott others. If you live a very consumeristic life and use 100’s of different products then this will be a challenge. There’s clothes, furniture, electronics, toilet paper, cars, toys, sporting equipment, and the list goes on forever… The more you reduce your needs the easier it will become. This will take some dedication and research on your part, but there are some great resources out there to help you. Labels you can look for include Fair Trade, B Corporations, Rainforest Alliance Certified, and bluesign products.
6. Buy local. Try to find items that are made locally so they weren’t shipped all over the place. With many items (such as electronics) this just isn’t possible but there is a lot of stuff you can find that is local. Support local business rather than the big box marts. Try to buy from within your own country.
7. Avoid animal cruelty. This means buying items that are not made out of animals raised in inhumane conditions or items tested on animals. A vast majority of products in the USA produced from animals involved the suffering of animals in factory farms. Avoid this at all cost. Animal testing just isn’t necessary so avoid this completely as well. When buying products made out of animals, purchase locally made and sustainably sourced products. See Fibershed’s Clothing Guide for really great information on clothing. Plastic may not be made from animals, but it is far more destructive to animals than many products made from animals.
8. Repair stuff rather than getting a new one.
9. Refuse stuff that you don’t need. Just because something is free doesn’t mean you have to take it. Kindly refuse stuff that you don’t actually want or need.
10. I see a lot of fairly conscious people that feel good when they use compostable items such as cups. But it’s really important to know that this stuff will not compost in a landfill because landfills aren’t designed to biodegrade stuff. And most cities don’t have compost pick up so they will never end up being composted. Yes, they are probably less harmful than products made from petrochemicals, but they still take a lot of resources to produce. Just stick to reusable items and ditch the one-time use items even if they are compostable.
11. Don’t have anything shipped to your house that you can pick up locally. It’s much more efficient for your neighborhood store to have 100 of something shipped to them at once then 100 of us ordering that thing individually in its own shipping materials. This means a lot less fossil fuel consumption too. Forget websites like Amazon for items like toilet paper (or anything ideally). Try to have as little shipped as possible.
12. Don’t fall for green washing. Learn to spot when something is really green or when it’s just a marketing ploy. For example, bottled water companies calling their bottles “green bottles” because they use 30% less plastic. There is nothing green about bottled water, no matter how little plastic they use in the bottle. For you this might mean doing what is right when you know it is, rather than rationalizing away your responsibility for your actions.
13. Start trading and bartering for stuff rather than buying it. This is a simple way to nullify the need for a lot of the above suggestions because they’ll often come automatically when you remove money from the equation.
14. Give feedback to companies. When you see a company doing something you think they should change, send them a note and let them know you’ll continue using their services if they make positive changes. Tell them you’ll find a more ethical option otherwise.
I encourage you to take one step today. Choose one of these suggestions before closing this page and stick to it. Once you feel comfortable that you’ve succeeded with that step move onto the next one. With each success the next one will become easier.