It’s Minimalist March in my Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs community and we’re all encouraging each other to declutter our homes, live with less, and become conscious consumers.

As we’re moving house at the end of this year, and don’t want to move a heap of stuff we no longer use, I’ve jumped on this opportunity to walk my talk and have started going through our belongings and re-homing items we no longer use.

In the past month or so we’ve literally spent hours decluttering, selling some items on our local Buy Swap and Sell Facebook Group, and even holding a stall at the local Rotary Car Boot Sale. Despite these efforts we still have boxes of items we no longer want or need.

I know that we’re totally not alone when I say we’re feeling suffocated by our stuff.

Our loungeroom literally looks like a LEGO bomb has gone off every afternoon, my kids book collection rivals the local library’s (thanks to a very generous Gran who sometimes gifts the same book twice!) and my own wardrobe houses clothes across three different sizes, just in case I put on or lose weight.

I know that it’s more than likely that your house is also brimming with stuff.

In fact, if you’re anything like the average Australian, you live in a big house (yup, Aussies win the prize for the biggest houses in the world!) and your house is full of stuff.

Take it from me… it can be time consuming and a lot of work to move stuff on! It takes a tonne of time and energy to go through your belongings, try and sell it, or even to package it up and donate.

If the past month of decluttering has taught me anything, it’s reminded me to be extra discerning when I’m bringing new items into the home. So, in this post I thought I’d share with you four questions you should ask yourself before buying something new.

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Now before I get started I want to set the record straight that becoming a conscious consumer doesn’t mean you need to live in rags, only buy second hand and do without.

You can have nice things and be sustainable and in this previous post I chat about eco living and frugality, and spell out clearly how they’re very different.

Being a conscious consumer means you value quality over quantity. In order to reduce the quantity of stuff you buy, consume and bring into your home, get in the habit of asking yourself the following questions each and every time you’re about to buy something new….

(1) Do I Really Need This Item?

Question why you’re buying the item in the first place. Are you only buying it because it’s on sale / comes with a gift with purchase / because you’re feeling crappy and just want to buy something to make yourself feel better?

If you can easily do without the item, leave it in the shop! It’s pretty simple.

(2) How Long Will This Item Last?

Another way to phrase this question is to ask “what is the lifetime of this product?”

The key here is to opt for quality, not quantity….. for example, choose quality, classic clothing items, rather than cheaper on trend pieces that last a few washes or at worst, shrink or lose their shape in the wash.

This question applies for the smallest, seemingly insignificant items too.

Straws, tissues, paper towel, takeaway plastic cutlery, disposable coffee cups, an innocent bottle of water, nappies and wipes…. what these items all have in common is that they’re single use.

You use them once and dispose of them…. Forever!

If you have the option to buy an item that can be reused several times rather than a single-use item, consider it a wise investment!

(3) How Often Will I Use This Item?

Before you purchase a new item, think about how often, or even how long, you’ll use it.

In fact, you may even be able to do some quick sums in your head and work out the price per use.

Buy a $500 dress and wear it once… it’s a $500 per wear item. Buy a $500 dress and wear it 20 times over the lifetime you own it… and it’s a $25 per wear item.

I think in some ways guys do this better than girls. I mean so many men think nothing of hiring a suit…. especially for their wedding day. How many brides do you know who hired their wedding gown?

Of course this doesn’t just apply to clothing. There’s so many items that you could be better off financially for renting or borrowing rather than buying. Not to mention that our environment would be much better off too!

A great example in our household here is a baby bath.

We bathed both our babies in the kitchen sink (with the dishes removed!) for the first month or two and then transitioned to the regular bath, using a baby bath seat that we passed onto a friend when the boys outgrew it.  Investing in a baby bath just seemed a bit ridiculous to us.

This question is super applicable to bigger ticket items like car trailers, golf buggies, scuba equipment (I have a prescription mask but hire my BC and tanks on the odd occasion when I get to scuba dive) and even boats or caravans that you may only use once or twice a year!!

We’ve hired a motorhome and had an amazing holiday when the boys were 6 months and 3 years old and pre-kids we enjoyed a lovely boating holiday on the Gippsland Lakes…. in a hired boat because funnily enough, even though I was 28 at the time and knew how to drive boats, my Dad wouldn’t let me borrow his.  The really ironic thing is that my parents separated nine years ago. Their boat, my Dad’s prized possession, lives in a shed and hasn’t been taken out onto the water in over 10 years.

So what I’m trying to tell you here is don’t get too precious about your belongings. When buying a new item that you know you’ll only use occasionally, consider if you can hire or borrow rather than buy.

(4) Where and How Has This Item Been Made?

The final question to ask yourself before buying something new is where and how has the item been made?

Consider the distance from manufacturing location to market, conditions under its manufacture, and the materials used to make the item.

Obviously items made under ethical working conditions, using ethically sourced or produced raw materials (or even recycled materials) come out on top here.  But it also pays to consider the distance to market.

We’re in the process of planning and will soon start building our new “eco-ish” home in Adelaide (I say eco-ish because we’re looking to build a home that fits in with suburbia but is as sustainable as we can afford). Last month while looking at a display home, my husband Paul asked me if I wanted the Italian tiles that were on display in the home and if “Tile Miles” would factor into our decision for which tiles to choose.

We never really finished the conversation and haven’t made a decision yet but his question is a very valid one. One I hope that you consider along with these three other questions I’ve covered, each and every time you go to buy something new.

Next week on Eco Chat I’m joined by professional organiser and elemental space clearer, Helen Butler, who will share her best tips on how we can take control of our clutter in our homes.

If you’re struggling to keep on top of your stuff it’s definitely an episode not to miss!