Must Stop Buying Stuff

I recently had an epiphany . . . I buy way too many things.

Before this realization, I was a shopper, which to be honest was what led me to create One Part Sunshine in the first place.  But before that, for years (seven to be exact), I was a starving student.  I lived off student loans and whatever small amounts of money I was able to earn through internships and part-time jobs.  I am still amazed when I look back and realize that I was supporting myself on less than $10k per year.

So when I finally became an “adult” and living above the poverty line, I went into a frenzy.  I became a shopaholic.  If I saw something that I wanted, I bought it.  I told myself that I had to have that woven bread bowl or the 3 different waffle makers (it’s a long story).  The result was that I deprived myself of any type of savings, and I was left with tons of useless junk.

too much stuff at christmas reduce reuse recycle

My family recently moved to Virginia.  Before the move, we decided to have a yard sale to reduce the amount of stuff that we needed to transport.  The result was astounding – my driveway was packed with enough stuff to fill a small apartment.  I found myself wondering why I bought any of it in the first place.

I made a commitment to stop buying so much stuff.  Here is why you should too.

Why We Should Stop Buying So Much Stuff

Owning a lot of stuff is part of the American dream.  But there are a lot of really good reasons why that dream should change.  These products that we buy go through a lot before they enter our homes, and each step has a harmful impact on the environment and, consequently, on our health.

In order to make this stuff, we have to use precious resources such as trees and water.  We only have a limited supply of these natural resources.  And a great deal of pollution is created by the process of extracting these resources.

Then we have to transport these resources to the factories that make the stuff – sometimes to the other side of the world.  We all know about the pollution that is created by shipping things on large boats, trucks and trains.

Thousands of toxic chemicals are used to manufacture the stuff.  And even more toxins are created as by-products that are poured into the air and water.

Then we ship the stuff again to the stores and shipping centers.

We go to the stores and buy all of this stuff.  We use it for a little while and then we trash it.  In fact, 99% of the stuff that we buy is thrown away within six months.  When we throw it away, it is either burned (which releases even more toxic chemicals into the air) or it thrown in a landfill where it will sit indefinitely.  The good news is that we have plenty of room for landfills because we are cutting down so many trees.

All of these chemicals that are used in these products and created as by-products from the manufacturing and shipping process make their way into our environment.  We are breathing them, absorbing them through our skin and ingesting them.  There are toxins in our bodies, in breast milk and in our children.  For an amazing video that will really inspire you, visit A Wake Up Story.

For a very convincing explanation of why we shouldn’t buy so much stuff, watch Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff.

What We Can Do to Fix the Problem

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help:

  1. Reduce.  Companies make things because we are buying them.  If we stop buying so much stuff, they will stop making so much stuff.
  2. Just buy what you need.  Try to resist the influence of media and your peers that pressures you to buy the latest and greatest widget.
  3. When you do buy things, buy quality stuff that will last.  Most companies intentionally make stuff that will break so that we have to buy more.  If you spend a little more money up front and purchase quality products, you will save money in the long term by not having to replace your stuff frequently.
  4. Recycle.  Rather than tossing your used-up stuff in a landfill, put it in a recycling bin.  Recycling won’t fix our problems because it creates pollution and not everything can be recycled.  But it definitely helps.
  5. Reuse.  Before you throw something out, stop and think about whether you can use it in some other way.  I use old jelly and peanut butter jars to store art supplies, nails and screws in.
  6. Give it away to someone else.  If you can’t think of another use for an item, donate it.  Or try giving it away on Craigslist or Freecycle.  You would be amazed at what people will take.  I have seen people successfully giving away half-used bottles of shampoo.
  7. Buy local.  If you buy locally made goods, you will not only help local companies but you will be avoiding a lot of the pollution caused by shipping the stuff.

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