This is “Enough stuff, already!” month around here and the decluttering is in full swing. In addition to getting rid of what we don’t use, we try to minimize the amount of stuff we bring into the house in the first place. It helps that neither my husband nor I are big shoppers. Neither of us feels the need to own the latest fashions or the newest gadgets, and—luckily for us—our kids are the same, at least for now.
One of the most effective ways for us to reduce our consumption is to ask ourselves one question as we’re contemplating a purchase: Do we really need to own this?
Then, because I’m a wordy person, I follow it up with several more: Do we need it at all? Can we make do with something we already own? If we do need it, can we borrow it from someone? Get it from the library? Rent it? Find a used one? Make one?
I still use a bowl over a pot of hot water when I need a double boiler. We borrow or rent tools unless they’re things we’ll use over and over. A great deal of my kids’ clothes are hand-me-downs from their cousins. Child One and I recently made a path from old bricks instead of buying new stepping stones. We rarely buy movies. We share books and magazines with friends and family.
Very often the answer to the shopping question is a resounding “no.”
When my kids started getting an allowance, it came with a big string attached: With the exception of Christmas and birthday gifts, they were now solely responsible for buying their own toys. Now, many years and valuable lessons later, they ask themselves the shopping question. The result is much less plastic crap and packaging filling up our house and our garbage can.
I’m prone to buying certain kinds of things on impulse: notebooks, stationery, craft supplies, books, and magazines. But I’ve recently remembered an old trick I used to use. I walk away. If whatever it is still seems irresistible several days later, then I consider going back and buying it. More often than not I forget all about it.
The ramifications of the shopping question can be much bigger than an occasional magazine or plastic action figure. When we bought this house, we knew we would need to haul in dirt and haul out mountains of laurel branches, bring home new furniture (because we left most of our old hand-me-downs in California), and carry loads of wood and other treasures from the hardware store. We had every excuse to buy a pickup truck, but we decided that we didn’t really need to own one. We borrow one a few times a year or get things delivered instead.
Some people complain that trying to be environmentally friendly is expensive. But we find that the money we save by buying less far outstrips what we spend on green products. You can buy a lot of organic apples for the price of a pickup truck.