To live more sustainably, we really need to slow down our buying decisions. This allows us to invest in high-quality products made to last using ethical labor and environmental practices. Although this important practice will help us become conscious consumers, it will take some time! Use these 7 questions to ask yourself before buying something to see if this product is right for you and your values.
Why is it so important to become a conscious consumer?
The constant buying and selling around us have become background noise. We’re often not even aware of how many marketing messages or ads we take in. We see something and simply push “buy now.” We track our packages using our shipping apps and look forward to delivery day!
We may feel a burst of excitement to open our new items, but that fades and it adds to the clutter and debt many of us carry.
Here are a few facts about excess consumerism:
Whether you’re trying to live more intentionally to save money, heal the planet, or another purpose, there are many reasons why this is so important.
No matter how you slice it, our constant need to buy is harmful to our wallets, the planet, and the workers who make them.
How to stop shopping so much
We’re so used to buying whatever we want or need that many of us are struggling to feel like we have control over our choices. We know we want to do something about our shopping habits, but the packages just keep coming!
If this is happening to you, you’re not alone.
Many of us struggle to remove the consumeristic tendencies ingrained in us.
I created a 31-page workbook to help you come to terms with your shopping habit once and for all.
This workbook is available as part of the Simple Living Collection for Summer 2022 and is live now!
Slow down your shopping impulse
This sounds like an exaggeration, but you’re actually trying to rewire your brain.
If you are used to responding to a stimulus (the desire to buy something) a certain way (buying immediately), you have been reinforcing and strengthening your neurons to act in this exact way.
We need to change how those neurons fire by doing something novel or unusual. This can help you slow down your buying decisions and allow your brain to form a different path.
For many people, the following questions give you a chance to pause and reflect on the choices you want to make. They throw you out of your routine just enough that you can redirect how you want to respond. By simply asking them, you’re rewiring your brain to stop pushing “buy” so quickly!
Learn more about setting intentions in your life here.
7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Something
Wondering how to choose products wisely? The following questions will help you slow down your shopping impulse to be intentional about your decision making process.
I’m assuming that if you’re at this point, you’ve already considered:
- Do I really need this item?
- Can I make do without it?
- Have I waited at least a day before making this decision?
- Can I repurpose something else to suit this need?
- Is this item available secondhand?
- Could I borrow this item from someone?
When you’ve decided that you do need a new item, use these questions to get products that match your values and financial needs.
1. “Can I pay for this purchase in full right now?”
No layaway, credit cards, or financing.
Is this item something you could pay for using money in the bank or in hand right now?
If not, think very carefully about proceeding. Is it possible to save up for this item over time or try to source it secondhand instead?
2. Would I pay this much if I was paying with cash?
Did you know that people will spend up to 100% more for an item using a credit card than when they shop with cash? (source)
Researchers have also found that using credit cards activates the reward centers of our brains and cause us to “step on the gas” with our spending. (source)
When you use cash, it’s real. You typically want to spend the least possible because you see how finite it is.
This is why so many budgets and financial professionals recommend trying a cash-based budget.
Whether you do that or not, simply imagining yourself handing over cash instead of pushing “order now” can be helpful. Would you really pay this much with cash from your wallet?
3. “What does it mean for me to take care of this product?”
When you purchase an item, you are a steward for its future care. I know that sounds wild. Like, you’re a steward for that inflatable pool raft? Yes!
What does it look like to take care of an item? To keep it working for a long time? Will it require significant maintenance and upkeep? Or will it have to head to the landfill after a short time of use?
Tip: Before you buy, search for “_______ (item) maintenance” on Google.
How do you actually take care of your cast iron skillet? Will my electric kettle need descaling? Do I need to buy name-brand only carbon filters for my compost bin or can I use generic products?
When you slow down to look into the logistics of owning the item, you can decide if it’s really a good fit for you.
4. “Does this product or company support my values?”
It really helps to know your values for this and I’ll guide you through the process of identifying them in my Becoming a Conscious Consumer workbook.
For me, I prefer to support small businesses and purchase environmentally sustainable products.
If you don’t like the company’s business or labor practices or you don’t think the product is made sustainably, don’t buy it!
Take some time to find an option that sits right with your gut. Yes, this can take a while and sometimes it takes more money. A great alternative is to look for the item secondhand to avoid contributing to the company directly.
5. “Is this product made to last?”
There is a sub-question here too: “how long do I think this product will last?”
Take a good look at the item. How is it made? Does it have any little parts that seem easy to break or lose? How easily can I open it up to clean it thoroughly? Can you buy replacement seals or parts? Does the company have a lifetime warranty?
If it seems fiddly or fussy or complicated, it probably is. Look for products that can withstand heavy use like platinum grade silicone, stainless steel, solid hardwoods and bamboo, and long-staple cotton. Check to see if you can buy replacement parts, too!
Honestly, this is probably one of my favorite questions to ask yourself before buying something. Once you start to really look at an item, you can tell that many are just not well-made. Who wants to pay good money for junk?
Learn how to be sustainable in everyday life here.
6. “What is my plan for when this product is no longer useful?”
Eventually, your product will no longer work. Maybe it will fall and shatter. Maybe it will get a hole and you just can’t darn it anymore. Perhaps you will accidentally rollover your water bottle in your car, flattening it completely.
- How will you dispose of this item?
- Is it biodegradable?
- Recyclable? If so, how easy is it to recycle?
7. How is this such a good deal? Is someone being mistreated? (You, the worker, the environment?)
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you see an amazing price on something, ask yourself why.
Learn more about common industries that rely on child labor or forced labor here.
- Read: How Sales Shopping is Killing the Planet – The Conversation
- Listen: The environmental impact of “buy now” – NPR
- Watch: Environmental Impacts of Consumer Products
Finding better outlets for bargain hunters
If you’re hunting for bargains and love the hunt for a good deal, I really recommend directing that energy to shopping secondhand. There, the products are so cheap because we typically don’t value used items as much as new ones. This does not mean they are any less effective or lower quality than brand new items.
Buying secondhand still triggers that reward center, though. To really move away from buying, you can hit the library for a giant stack of books, plan a clothing swap, or find other ways to share abundance with others in your community.
Slowing Down Will Feel Uncomfortable
Any time you step out of your comfort zone, everything feels so unnatural.
It’s like when you start a diet or eating plan. Suddenly, you don’t even remember what people eat anymore!
Eventually, you start to find your footing, and the changes feel more natural.
Although it doesn’t feel good at the time, those moments of tension and frustration are a good thing. If you can take some time to process the role of consumerism in your life, you’ll start to move away from that being such a large part of your identity.
Remember, my workbook Becoming a Conscious Consumer is made to help people struggling to detach from their consumer impulses. Use it as a guide to help you work through these tricky situations and rethink new habits and routines.
What do you think about these questions to ask yourself before buying something?
Did I miss something important? Do you have a tip you want to share? Add it in the comments below!