Guest post by Gina Kawalek
Living in a consumer-based society can trigger people to purchase more than is needed, leaving us far too accustomed to household clutter. Surrounded by a constant stream of clearance sales, marketing schemes and social pressures, we’ve become tethered to the notion that all of these products are absolute necessities.
For those of you fed up by closets stuffed with unused outfits, cabinets stacked with excessive toiletries, and drawers crowded by duplicate utensils, I invite you to take action. Cleansing your existing excess is a task of its own (10 Questions to Help You Declutter More Efficiently), but for all future shopping, it’s crucial to clarify what you already have, what you really need, and what you truly value.
To help streamline this strategy, here are five questions to ask yourself to make smarter purchases.
Do I already own a version of this item?
Assess your current inventory to create an awareness of what you already own; understand what’s driving the desired replacement or addition, and avoid accidental duplicates. If you don’t love or use what you have, can you purge before purchasing a new version?
If you’re clueless on your current stock, take a look before buying another. For example, line up all your baseball caps, spatulas, or bath towels in one area and ask yourself:
- How many of these do I really need?
- Which do I like best?
- Can I get rid of the rest?
- If not, why do I need the extras?
- Are they worth holding onto for that scenario?
How often will I use this item?
Investigate rental options from friends or outside services if it’s only needed once or twice a year. If it’s required more often, consider buying gently used at a garage sale or an online marketplace like eBay, Craigslist or Facebook. If needed frequently, decide if you can afford to splurge.
Is this item an investment?
Examine the quality, and imagine how you’ll feel further down the road. Think whether in five years, for example, you’ll still use it and/or like it.
- What materials is the product made from?
- What is the typical shelf life?
- What do reviews reveal?
- Are there any warranties?
Also ask yourself, does this item help you save money on something else? Sometimes buying something to save you money in the long run makes sense. If you purchase something like a bento box that allows you to bring your lunch to work, rather than continuously spend money eating lunch out, then this could possibly be a purchase that could save you money in the long run.
Analyze this by checking your bank statement and adding up your cost of lunches during the week then estimating the amount it would cost to make your lunch, as well as add in the cost of the bento box. From there you will be able to see how long it would take for the purchase to pay for itself.
What is the real cost of this item?
Conduct research: look at alternatives, gather information, and analyze costs to see if a better buy is available.
However, don’t fall into the ‘clearance trap’ -- I’ve definitely been there before, but now I ask myself, “Would I buy this if it wasn’t on sale?”. If the answer is no, I immediately stop, close my browser, and walk away.
Another cost analysis tool is to calculate the frequency of use:
- Once a week for a year: 52 times
- Once a month for 3 years: 32 times
- Then, take the cost of the item and divide it by the above number.
Factor in resale value: With so many second-hand marketplaces out there, you could resell this item in the future if you buy items that are high-quality and use them gently. According to a report from Thredup, resale businesses represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the retail industry, with the number of stores increasing by 7% annually. Check out these marketplaces when considering making room for a new purchase, or a purchase you aren’t sure how often you’ll be able to use.
How does this item align with my personal intentions, values and goals?
Familiarize yourself with the company’s ethics, production, and whether it was responsibly-sourced. Learn what they stand for, and what they believe in. Is the product plastic-free, cruelty-free, and where was it made? Most ethical brands house this information on their site’s ‘About’ section.
When thinking about goals, it’s good to ask yourself if a purchase is aligned with helping you reach them. For example, when thinking about purchasing something for productivity because you want more free hours in the day, ask yourself if the purchase makes your life easier and saves you time. Do this by calculating the amount of hours you think it will save you per day, then add them per month. If buying a faster laptop will save you 15 hours a month, which works out to 180 hours a year, then that purchase could be worth the splurge based on your goals.
Lastly, anticipate the product’s disposal options. When it’s run its course, can you sell, recycle or donate it? If you’re still unsure about the purchase, delay taking the plunge unless you need the item immediately. Taking some time can give you space to decide if you really need it. If you find you still want the item in a week or so, then consider buying it.
Keep these questions in mind prior to any purchase and notice the difference in your decision-making process. Not only will you clear the clutter in your closet, but you’ll enhance your time, money, energy and space in new ways. Without a doubt, these five questions will make you a smarter shopper, and in turn, a more conscious consumer.
Which question is your favorite? Do you have any additional questions you ask to make smarter purchases? Let me know by commenting below.
Gina Kawalek is a wellbeing and healthy living educator, 300 hour certified yoga instructor, nature-loving intentionalist, unshakable optimist, and hype woman that helps people take control of their stress, feel good & do more with less. Learn more about her at www.ginakawalek.com and on Instagram.