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It seems like every day; we learn something new about how our consumption habits impact the world around us. A number of studies have recently come out revealing how all of the single-use plastics we use are endangering marine life, and as a result, many people are looking for ways to cut down on the amount of waste they produce. This can be anything from using looking to purchase less or even striving to go zero waste.

If you are looking to lighten your load, ditching extraneous items from our former lives and discovering those things that enhance our wellbeing — and the planet’s — instead of weighing us down, it can be an incredibly exciting opportunity.  

For those just getting into living with less, the prospect can seem a bit scary. We’ve become so accustomed to letting stuff express our thoughts, to buying impulsively, that at first it feels like a great sacrifice to do away with it. However, as with most changes, especially positive ones, we adjust quickly and often grow to appreciate the more sensible, healthier way of life and, in this case, the fact of doing something on behalf of the planet as well.

In order to start living with less, it helps to develop a list of questions to help guide us through the phalanx of consumerism that is the modern, industrialized world. Perhaps we can start each purchase with this line of questioning:

Do I Actually Need to Do This?

This isn’t just about buying those enticing things at the counter of supermarkets, which we should most likely never get. Rather, when we want a new shirt, when we decide to replace our two-year-old phone when the next version of HDTV has hit the market, it’s important that we ponder whether or not we really need it. For most of us, it doesn’t take long to absolutely fill a page with things we’ve bought in the last year that we don’t need and that have added very little to our lives. Living with less at its most basic is doing away with that list.

How Will Having This Benefit Me?

Firstly, if the answer to this question is a mumble or figurative dial tone, then the item is likely something that is not necessary, something that should have been deleted by the previous question. However, sometimes there are obvious benefits — this computer has more RAM, a larger memory, a cooler design and is on special right now — that don’t necessarily equate to a wise purchase. If a computer is for trolling Facebook and writing emails, do a larger memory, and more RAM really offer that much benefit? It’s important to find real value — as in life quality, not price — in what we buy.

What Impact Will This Have?

At some point, of course, we will need things whether it’s replacing what’s truly in need of replacing or updating to mesh with our ever-evolving digital landscape. In this case, our road to living with less becomes more about impact than what we physically have. In other words, seeking out secondhand versions of things, striving to minimize the amount money, resources and energy necessary to produce what we need, is every bit as important to “living with less” as is reducing what’s in the closet. What this question really means is: How can we meet our needs without harming the planet (personally) more than we already have (as a society)?

Why is This the Best Way to Get What I Need?

Really, this is a question that hopefully yields a multitude of answers that both reference the questions above, as well as provides new insights to how we are buying things. While many of us have spent lives in search of bargains, that motivating factor for consumerist frenzies, the best way does not always equate to the best price. In fact, it’s quality we need. Products that last longer mean our money has been better invested and that the planet has not had to supply the materials to make the same thing again and again. When we ask this question, our answers need to be beyond budgetary, and our considerations should also be beyond just ourselves.

A classic example of finding the best way to get what we need would be buying our food from small, local, organic producers versus multi-national, petrochemical-driven food factories. Here, we may be spending more, but it supports small businesses, the local economy, and our personal health. It considers the environment in terms of agro-chemicals, food miles, and production methods. It’s not always the cheapest option, but for those of us not growing all of our own food, it may be the best option.

By and large, when we can answer these questions and feel satisfied with our internal responses, we are successfully navigating the road to living with less, destination sustainable.

Lead image source: Daniel D’Aura/Flickr