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Consumer Guide to Consuming Less

Consuming less is all about improving quality of life—for ourselves as well as for the planet. And it doesn’t require a complete conversion to minimalism or living off the grid! All it requires are incremental changes and lifestyle choices that transform how we think about buying and consuming everything from cereal boxes to coffee cups to gardening tools.

Studies have shown, across multiple countries and cultures, that owning less clutter and being more intentional with our purchases—striving for reusable, quality items over quantity and convenience—lowers stress and frees us to practice gratitude more frequently. We transform our focus to appreciating the items we have, which in turn creates a sense of abundance and suppresses the urge for impulse purchases.

Use the suggestions below to avoid unnecessary, excessive, landfill-inflicting, and ultimately unsatisfying purchases. Like all new habits, learning to consume less will take planning and thought as we change the way we think, spend money, and value items.

Easy steps to take today to consume less:

  • Try a container-free grocery store
  • Commit to re-usable bags for all your shopping trips (pro tip: keep some in your car so you’re never without them!)
  • Ask for paper bags during your next grocery trip and re-use the bags to hold recyclables or compost in your kitchen before transferring to the larger bin in your garage
  • Use your own travel mug when visiting coffee shops
  • Always have a refillable water bottle handy
  • Replace tin foil, plastic baggies, and plastic wrap with reusable bees’ wax food wrappers
  • Turn table scraps and other compost into fertilizer
  • Borrow or rent seasonal tools and machinery (check your local library for other big-purchase items like sewing machines, fishing poles, power tools, photography equipment, and more)
  • Shop for clothing second-hand and donate old clothing
  • Switch to refillable cleaning solution bottles (maybe try making your own cleaning solutions with common kitchen ingredients)
  • Use rags for cleaning and dusting instead of disposable cloths, and create those rags from cut up old shirts
  • Keep a set of reusable to-go utensils (made of wood) in your purse, brief case, or computer bag

Some key questions to ask yourself as you face even the smallest purchase:

  • “Can I find an alternative item not made from plastic?”
  • “Do I already have something at home I can repurpose for this use?”
  • “Can I borrow this item from a friend or the community?”
  • “If I buy this, how often will I use it and how does it minimize waste?”

Other pro-tips:

  • Cancel email subscriptions to online retailers and deal sites (don’t tempt yourself to only peruse the sale section and end up buying something you don’t need!)
  • Wait at least 20 minutes before buying anything new (apart from food and other weekly consumables). If considering a larger purchase—say of anything over $100—wait 24 hours.
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