True Cost of Stuff — A Guest Post from Leo Babauta

by Katy on February 9, 2010 · 0 comments

The following is a guest post from Leo Babauta from both and Zen Habits. Leo has an uncopyright policy with his blogs, which means that he’s happy to share his writing with one and all.

This piece first ran on October, and since there’s a link to The Non-Consumer Advocate, it caught my attention. It must be running again because I’m getting a fresh smattering of hits from the link. Enjoy!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

As we talked about in the True Cost of Stuff, buying something new requires the extraction and destruction of a lot of resources, not to mention the destruction of our environment in extracting, hauling, manufacturing, packaging and shipping the item.

So if we want to avoid buying new things, what should we do if we need something? After all, there are always times when we feel we need something — not just want or desire, but need it for a real purpose. We might need new clothes, or books, or a bike so we can cut back on using a car.

One woman decided to buy nothing new, which is an interesting solution, but probably not for most people. But while you might not want to put such a drastic moratorium on yourself, here are 7 things you can do before even considering buying a new item.

  1. Reconsider your need. Do you really really need it? Or is it a want? Or can you change things so you don’t need it? This should always be the first thing you do.
  2. Borrow. You might only need it temporarily. Borrow books from friends or the library. Borrow a dress for a special occasion. Borrow a tool for a short-term project. Be sure to lend things in return, when you can.
  3. Ask friends and family. Sometimes people you know might have the item you need, but not need it any longer. Instead of loaning it to you, they might be glad to give it to you. You only need to ask. I’ll often send out an email (or tweet) if I need something that others might have.
  4. Freecycle. Same idea, but using a wider network. There are Freecycle networks in many areas — people who want to give something away, or who need something, post to the list and very often exchanges are made — for free.
  5. Buy used. It’s infinitely better than buying new, because when you buy used you’re not having new resources taken from the earth and manufactured, but rather extending the life of resources that have already been used. Try thrift shops, charity stores, yard or garage sales, Craigslist or Ebay.
  6. Make your own. This won’t work in every case (if I had to make my own clothes people would laugh at me more than they already do), but sometimes you can make something that’s just as good as buying, with inexpensive materials or materials you already have. This works if you’re good with crafts or carpentry especially. It can also be fun to get the family involved.
  7. Go without. I know this seems the same as the first item on the list, but actually it’s a bit different: say you decide you really do need something, but can’t find it anywhere or make it. Should you buy new? Well, maybe you can go without it for awhile, until you do find a used version. Maybe you need it but don’t need it right now. Often things will turn up when you keep your eyes open — someone will happen to mention they have the item, or you’ll see it on Freecycle or Craigslist after a week or two. And sometimes, the need for the item will go away, and you’ll be glad you waited.

Sometimes you might have to buy a new item, even after exhausting all these options. But if you can run through this list first, often you’ll find you didn’t need it new.

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