Slowing Down and Making Better Purchases

Gungeet Kaur
7 min readApr 20, 2020

No Limitation To How Much We Can Hoard

The average American has about 300,000 items in their house today. All of these items at one point were purchased to bring us more comfort, higher status, or more efficiency. A lot of purchases we make today don’t come from a need for survival yet this characteristic of wanting to collect may have come from the need for survival.

If you had a pile of food stored as a hunter-gatherer, it would become a source for survival in case there wasn’t food left to be forged in an area. The limitation to how much hunter-gatherers could hoard depended on the amount they could carry and how much they could preserve. It wasn’t beneficial to carry more than they could eat because food rots, and carrying more would also slow and tire them more quickly. However, the constraint of how much we can gather and store is no longer a limitation because of technology like fridges, cellars and modern homes. With the drive to collect still present on a subconscious and conscious level, and with no limitation to how much we can hoard, consumerism has become a bit outrageous.

Oftentimes we tend to feel we are running out of storage because of all the items we had deemed as necessary purchases at the point of sale. Yet, storage is becoming a space where we stash things we no longer find of much value or rarely use. At some point, these items might require maintenance and if they weren’t stored using some order, you may not even find it in time of need causing frustration and tedious labour.

Avoiding Over-Solving

We tend to over-solve a problem by bringing new products into our lives. We may already have products that weren’t specifically designed for a problem we are trying to solve but can be used creatively to do so. After we bring home an item, we have to find storage space and manage it based on the care it requires; and these products which solve very niche problems end up creating more clutter.

For example, a milk frother allows you to create froth for drinks and many of us may own one. You can find one at a reasonable price which makes you feel if you can afford one, you should own one. However, buying a frother only makes optimal sense if there’s a high demand for performing that action in your house, and if it would save you a generous amount of time and effort. However, if you were looking to create a froth, you may already own products that can solve such problems — such as using a french press by first pouring your drink into it and then pumping the plunger or you could even whisk the drink to create the froth.

A product can be more or less than its advertised value. A french press is not just for brewing coffee but we can also use it as a jug, it can froth milk, or be used to make infused oils, and much more. Using creativity for solving problems like these can be very liberating and can help reduce clutter. Chances are somebody has already thought of a creative way to solve your problem with items you already own and the solution is just a quick Google search away.

Finding Products For Your Lifestyle

We are constantly paying attention to media and social structures to evaluate the type of behaviours that get rewarded in the groups we associate ourselves with. We buy into a lifestyle we are told will give us comfort, status and efficiency. However, if you were to evaluate the items you own, you might find the contrary to the lifestyle you may have hoped to achieve with them.

For example, it is a norm to have lush green grass in the front and back of your house. Lawns were only affordable to the wealthy before the industrial revolution. It required a tedious amount of human labour to upkeep. Lawns used to be a status symbol but as tools became more affordable due to industrialization, every house now adorns this vegetation. A house simply comes with one and you are to take care of it and if the grass isn’t manicured, it does damage to the optics it’s trying to achieve.

Since grass is the only choice we never got to make, we are often forced to change our lifestyle so it can thrive — lawns are demanding. Grass is the most grown crop in America and that large amount of land is a large contributor to:

  • Water pollution (fertilizers get into waterways)
  • Noise pollution (getting woken up by lawnmowers early morning)
  • Air pollution (gas-powered lawnmowers)
  • Wildlife distress (Bee Colony Collapse Disorder)
  • Health concerns for humans, pets and other animals (fertilizers)
  • Natural resource investment (water, soil, seed)
  • Financial investment (tools, seeds, gas, fertilizers, water, tickets for not maintaining grass)
  • Labour and time investment (lawn mowing, manicuring, watering, seeding, pulling weeds, etc)

Not only is this liability handed to homeowners with no respect for their lifestyle, but it also contributes mostly negatively through its existence. Grass does absorb some carbon emissions, however, the positives and negatives do not reach equilibrium to deem it a healthy product for the environment. If your goal is to either establish a status symbol or generate an aesthetic or you’ve been trying but failing with the upkeep you can find better solutions that suit your lifestyle. You may want to figure the pain points you feel about dealing with lawns and direct your search towards products that minimize these pain points. And if there is no solution you can find, you might have a start-up idea at your hand.

A few replacement considerations:

  • Xeriscaping
  • Planting perennials instead of annuals
  • Replacing grass with clover or other beds based on the climate you live in
  • Replacing lawn with a native meadow
  • Permaculture garden
  • Woodland garden
  • Japanese rock garden

By rethinking what we endorse and by looking for better solutions, not only is the required effort reduced overtime, but we create less waste, there’s better peace of mind and we also tend to create fewer problems that affect others.

On a smaller scale of problems, a laundry basket may just seem like a product you simply pick up based on the choice you are given at the store you are used to going to. You may look at durability, aesthetics and size to make a decision. However, there’s a big consideration that we often miss when evaluating our choices — behaviours of people in the household. Many questions may arise like:

  • Are you used to throwing your dirty laundry into the basket?
  • Do you like to place it gently?
  • Do your clothes generally stink a lot?
  • Do you wish the laundry to be sorted into darks and lights instantaneously to reduce work later?

Behaviours of people around us let us know more about the products that may suit the collective lifestyle in the household. If people in the household are more likely to toss clothes at the laundry basket, you may not want a lid on the basket and might be beneficial to look for a basket with a larger mouth so as you toss clothes, there’s a higher chance of the dirty shirt making into the basket. If everybody has accepted that they must place laundry correctly in a sectioned basket system for darks and lights, a sorted laundry basket may work; if it’s not a behaviour agreed upon, this often larger basket will just end up taking more space and not solving the problem you intended to solve.

Evaluating Purchases

It is our job as consumers to evaluate products before making a decision. It is a business’s goal to make a sale whether the product is truly exceptional or not. Most items we own outlast us and can be preserved through generations. if products serve a great function in our lives, shouldn’t we be putting thought into what you want to keep in the long term? A nail clipper may not seem like something you’d want to research and look into before making a purchase, yet you willingly attach any clipper you find anywhere to the rest of your life or until the time you can’t find it. You are going to have to look at this item, use it and own it — putting in the effort to look at and research a product is more likely to make you happier about the purchase by helping you appreciate it more and by also decreasing the chances of you making impulse buys for a similar product.

It is equally important to put thought into small purchases and large purchases. Most products last beyond our lifetimes so it’s more like we came into a product’s life than it came into ours. The limitation of how much we can hoard is only dependent on how much money you make but that too has some elasticity because of tools such as credit and loans, and with the ease of buying, we opt into more products that don’t make sense for us. These products provide short term happiness but over a long period are detrimental to our well being individually and collectively. With a seemingly good waste management system, we can chuck away items that can start a new cycle of problems somewhere else for another group of people. Slowing down to think about our purchases is not only better on an individual level but also collectively.

--

--

Gungeet Kaur

A Product Designer writing about design, environment, and other thoughts. kaurdesign.ca