There’s no question that the quality of most modern products has dramatically decreased in the last quarter century. Since big box store demand for cheap items and outsourced Chinese manufacturing are now the norm, we’ve come to expect low-cost things that must be replaced more often. Add to that our beloved and invaluable tech industry that continues to upgrade devices and programs so rapidly, that even being just a generation behind can feel obsolete before becoming utterly useless within months.
Despite these challenges, we can reduce our tendency to clog up landfills, and avoid the cycle of buy-buy-buy. We can even apply some of these practical attitudes towards our relationships, which too have suffered the same disposable mentality that we approach televisions, toasters and telephones with.
Before there were Wal-Marts and Ikeas just short drives from home, we were more careful with things. We were more patient in getting items we really, really wanted, and we were creative in how we used most everything. These traits are still within us, we may just need reminders from time to time on how to apply them. Here are a few ideas:
1. Question every purchase: Beyond the basics expenses like food, fuel and shelter, we justify a lot of needless spending, mostly because we’re encouraged to do so by corporations (we’re overloaded with as many as 3,000 ads per day!). So start a practice of taking a breath and asking yourself if what you’re buying is really serving a purpose. Shopping can be addictive, so do your best to be real about why you’re making a purchase in the first place.
2. Make a “no impulse” rule: Thanks to credit cards, we buy now and, paycheck permitting, pay later. But it used to be the opposite (remember layaway?). We saved up and worked towards big purchases, be they objects or vacations. Cultivating patience and avoiding impulses can help us appreciate the item or experience much more in the long run, and it can also give us the time to make sure we really want the item in the first place. Make lists for visits to the stores, and give yourself a 24-hour waiting period on anything you think you “have to” have. See if a store can hold the item for you while you mull it over. The impulse will likely fade if it wasn’t an absolute necessity.
3. Is it really broken? What’s so wrong with using a slightly cracked mirror, a spatula with a bent handle or a chair with a little wobble? When we remember that we have so much more than most people in the world, it makes it a lot easier to embrace slight imperfections instead of tossing them away.
4. Repurpose everything: Ok, well not everything, but yes, lots of things. Look at each item’s parts as well as its whole. An old comforter may have torn, making it a bad choice for the bed, but pieces of it could be used to cover an old stool or cushion. That old stool may have lost its legs, and can now be used as a tray…that broken leg could be a stake in the garden, etc.
5. Trade: We hold onto things we can’t or won’t use for lots of reasons. And we don’t have to toss them to trash if they don’t ever seem to work for us. Swapping items with friends and family is a great way to give life to something you don’t use, and still know where it is in case you ever get the urge to revisit it…
6. Get creative: Clothes that sit in the closet year after year can seem tired to you, but when was the last time you actually put them on your body? A small hole, tear or stain can be creatively covered and mended for a new outfit. Mix-match dinnerware can liven up a party, be used in other functions of the home such as storage, planters and vases. Creatively making us of items can be much more rewarding than buying something new—giving you a project to be proud of rather than just a register receipt.
7. See the bigger picture: There’s a good reason you can’t toss out that great one-of-a-kind jacket with a wine stain on it…you know there’s great value in it and a little bit of hope that someday the stain might go away. And, that’s entirely possible. Maybe you can dye it, turn it into a costume, or simply wear the thing around the house. The same goes for our relationships, too! Challenges often come between friends, family and spouses. But before you throw out the relationship entirely, remember what made it so valuable in the first place.
8. Find value in less: Cluttered closets and homes will never truly fill any void of happiness or love in our lives. In fact, some experts suggest we make it harder to concentrate and focus when we’re overwhelmed by material things. See if true happiness can come to you by the craftiness of getting by with fewer objects and enjoying instead, a surplus of presence, patience, and pure joy.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: slightly everything