I’m going to tell you something that might come as a surprise to some and a relief for others: being a minimalist doesn’t mean never going shopping again. We live in a world of extremes that wants to categorize things into “good” or “bad” but buying things isn’t the issue here. The questions behind the purchases are what matter—the what, how much, and, more importantly, why are we buying things. Here are 5 pre-purchase questions to help you live a simpler lifestyle.
1. Do I already own this?
A simple question but one that, if asked, would result in less clutter in our homes. Sometimes we forget about owning something when we see a brand new one that doesn’t resemble what we already own. Remember though, nothing will stay ‘new’ for long so ask yourself if it is really a worthwhile purchase. If you are purchasing a replacement item for one you already own, apply the “one in one out” rule.
2. Do I need this?
This question is personal and everyone should develop critical thinking in regards to their own circumstances. The clothing needs of a full time office executive will be different than those of a stay-at-home parent. Look at your own life and the activities you participate in to answer the question of need in your situation. Honestly asses whether you will use it and how often. This can also change in your seasons of life. If, for example, you have taken on a new sport that requires specific equipment this often means you’ll have to buy it to participate. This leads us to our next question.
3. Does it have to be new?
Don’t overlook the benefits of getting things second-hand. Whether it is online, from a friend or from a garage sale, buying things used will save you money and will reduce the environmental impact of your purchase. In the cases of clothing or home goods you could also arrange a swap with friends which will not only allow you to get your desired items, it will give you a fun time to socialize with friends! Children’s clothing is particularly useful to get secondhand as kids grow so quickly that new clothing is rarely worn long enough to be worth an investment.
4. What will this take from me?
Every purchase requires something of us when we buy it. More than just the money it costs us, we are also accepting the responsibility of time, energy and sometimes more money to maintain it. One of the biggest examples of this is purchasing a home. Real estate is, typically, one of the largest purchases and investments one can make. It is wonderful to be a homeowner, especially once that mortgage is payed off! But a home also brings a great deal of maintenance that will cost your time and money. For some people the benefits of ownership do not outweigh the cost. Apply this question to smaller purchases as well and you will be more critical in your shopping.
5. What will this give me?
Just as every purchase takes something from us, it does also bring us something: a meal to eat, a place to sit, a beautiful piece of art to look at, a way to get from point A to point B. Ask yourself if what the purchase gives you is in line with what you want from your life. We needn’t only buy things that are ‘practical’ but sometimes just because they make us smile is reason enough. As the artist William Morris so eloquently said in a lecture to an art school “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.
Asking these questions of ourselves will change the way we make purchases and will improve our mindfulness around shopping.