Mindful Consumption: A Minimalist’s Guide to Buying Stuff

Photo via Unsplash

Photo via Unsplash

When I was 10 years old, I stumbled into my most prized possession. It was a wallet that belonged to my grandfather. I was young enough when he passed away that I had no memory of him, just some photos of me sitting on his lap, and now this wallet.

After dutifully serving me for years the same way it served him, the wallet now needs to be replaced. It’s ripped in several places and has a ton of space that I don’t use.

So what’s a guy to do?

I am not a practicing minimalist. I am a man with an average amount of clutter in my house and I probably use about 30 percent of what I own. But after becoming hip to the concept, I have started to change the way I think about what I consume, and that’s a great place to start.

So here are some questions to ask yourself when you think it’s time to make that purchase you’ve convinced yourself you need.

Can you survive without it?

Photo via Pexels

Photo via Pexels

Is it absolutely essential to function as a human in your environment?

Of course you could ask “Do I need it?” But it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you do. Cluttered closets, shelves, and drawers always start out as collections of things we really think we need.

The beauty of asking if you can survive without it is that, unless it’s an absolute necessity, you almost certainly can. Talking yourself out of something you really want is hard. This question forces you to start your internal negotiations by understanding that this thing you want to purchase is not necessary.

Another way to think about this is getting rid of two or three things for every new thing you take on. If you decide that one new thing is worth giving up those other three items, awesome. If not, get rid of those three things anyways. You almost just gave them up, so you can survive without them.

Can you repair it?

Nancy Ford fixes up a used sweater at Repair Lair // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Nancy Ford fixes up a used sweater at Repair Lair // Photo by Aaron Davidson

This feels like one of the easiest points of entry if you’re sniffing down the minimalist trail.

Thanks to the internet, buying stuff is easier than ever. Amazon is almost mocking us at this point. Since we don’t have to put much thought or effort into our consumption, we don’t have a very personal relationship with the things we buy. That means our threshold for what merits repair has become comically low. A broken zipper tops our list of “reasons to get a new pair of pants,” even though a good seamster could fix it in just a few minutes.

A quick YouTube search shows you can repair almost anything you own for less money than it costs to buy it new. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you might even be able to learn a new skill along the way. If you’re not too sharp with a wrench or a needle and thread, there are plenty of local tailors, millners, or handypersons who would love to help get your stuff back in shape.

Can you get it used?

Photo via Pexels

Photo via Pexels

Sherri Dunham, local mental health counselor and organizer of the official Minneapolis Minimalists Meetup, said this is a really handy question when repair isn’t an option and you decide that whatever you’re replacing is something you absolutely need.

In these situations, she also turns to friends who might be trying to get rid of whatever it is she needs replaced.

“Maybe they don’t use it anymore and I’ll see if they’ll either give it to me or sell it to me for a few bucks,” she says. “That’s the fun part about helping friends declutter. You might find something you really need that they’re wanting to unload.”

This might be a slippery slope for some. Just because you don’t have to pay for something, doesn’t mean it will add significant value to your life. However, if you keep yourself honest, it’s a win-win. You replace the thing you need for less than buying it new and you help someone clear a little more space in their life.

Can you buy to last?

Freshly resoled. Ready for action. #redwingheritage

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If the minimalist lifestyle doesn’t interest you, most of these tips can at least help you be a little more thrifty. But sometimes, the minimalist move is to spend more now for something that will last a lot longer than a cheaper alternative.

For example, it’s hard to underestimate a good pair of boots, especially here in the North. But when it comes time to get a new pair, thinking about their total lifespan may help you make a more intentional purchase decision.

Spending $300 on a new pair of boots may seem like a lot. But if you know they’re guaranteed to last for 10 years with only some minor repair, it sure beats spending $75 every two or three years on a pair that wasn’t built to last. You’re consuming less AND spending less in the long term. The true minimalist catch is, however, that these are now your boots. Your only pair of boots. Thou shalt have no other boots.

EXTRA CREDIT: Sherri Dunham added that “the best defense against needing to replace things is to take good care of what you already have and know that things will not make you happy.”

Can you see it in-person before you buy it?

Photo via Pexels

Photo via Pexels

When there is such little friction between us and mass consumption (Amazon Dash buttons, I’m looking at you), we miss the opportunity to have any sort of necessary connection to things that inevitably start piling up in our homes.

When replacing my wallet, I did some online browsing first, but knew I ultimately wanted to go to the physical shop and hold it in my hand. The benefit was twofold:

  1. By seeking out the shop itself, I had to work a little harder to acquire the thing I needed, forcing myself to really think about how much I actually needed it.
  2. I was able to form a personal relationship with the item and the people who make it and make sure it was exactly what I needed.

I was able to talk to one of the guys who helps make the wallets, touch and feel a couple different styles, and make sure I was getting something that fit my needs exactly.

In a video called “How to Shop Like a Minimalist”, local minimalist and YouTube guy Anthony Ongaro warns that the worst thing you can do if you need to buy something in person is to go to a mall.

Related Post: MNMLSM: Paring down to live more fully

The hustle and chaos of shopping malls “are designed to overwhelm your senses and actually create decision fatigue,” making it tougher than it already is to make a decision.

If you have to go to a mall or a shopping center, Ongaro suggests making a shopping list like you would for a grocery store run. That helps you put your blinders on and stay focused on the things you actually need.

Make it work for you

The beauty of minimalism (at least from what I can tell) is that there’s no one right way to do it. You read, you listen, you ponder, and you figure out what works for you.

Minimalism isn’t necessarily about having nothing. It’s about only bringing things into your life that bring true value and joy along with it. Most of the time, that doesn’t mean stuff.

But sometimes it does. And that’s okay. Just ask yourself the necessary questions to ensure what you’re about to buy is worth it.