How To Buy Only What You Love (and Need)

updated May 8, 2019
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How many times have you been shopping, seen something beautiful, or cool or cute or on sale, snatched it up, and then later realized you didn’t really love or need it? Learning to shop conscientiously, or not at all, is liberating, better for the environment, and essential if you live in a small space. Here are some of the things we’ve learned on our own journey.

Shop with a goal.
Before you set foot in a supermarket, mall, or any other store, have a clear objective and a shopping list … and stick to it! If you’re the type of person who just can’t resist a spontaneous shopping trip, keep a master list of things you are “allowed” to buy in your wallet or smartphone at all times. You can still have fun shopping, but the point is to refrain from extraneous purchases.

Stop and reflect.
Stop and think for a minute, a day, a week, or even longer. Practice conscious consumerism and consider the life cycle of the product. How, where, and by whom was it made? How long will it last, and will it biodegrade someday or sit in a landfill? Also consider such questions as, Do I truly love this? How exactly would it enrich my life? Will I feel the same in a year, or even a decade?

Approach sales calmly and rationally.
Before purchasing something on sale or at a discount store, ask yourself whether you would buy it if it weren’t on sale. Is it on your list? Do you need it? What makes it a “good deal”?

Stay focused.
Once you get to the store, there’s no need to meander; stick to the section(s) relevant to your list, make your purchases, and leave. Not only are you living simpler and saving money, but you’re also saving time!

Buy what you need, borrow the rest.
Books aren’t the only things you can borrow. Rather than purchasing infrequently used items (think tools, camping gear, maybe even dishes for a party), rent or borrow them from friends or services like NeighborGoods and Rentalic. Also check out our post on The Sharing Solution, a book about creating sharing arrangements in your community.

Streamline your decor.
Realize that just because you like a chair/lamp/tchotchke, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will fit with the rest of your decor. Make thoughtful choices, and adopt the attitude that you can appreciate things without having to own them. If you’re decorating from scratch, know that you don’t have to fill a home right away. It is far better to search and save up for a couch you really love, and sit on the floor in the meantime, than to make a hasty decision you’ll regret.

Learn to value experience over consumption.
Participate in activities that don’t involve shopping. Personally, once I became an avid hiker, I lost almost all interest in material things. I have a friend who ditched her shoe-buying habit, bought a musical instrument, and is learning to play. What ever your passion is, it is yours, which is much more meaningful than being a slave to fashion and advertising.

Do you have any other tips for buying only what you love and need?

Re-edited from a post originally published 4.13.2010 – AB