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On Right-Size Buying (plus, 3 questions to ask before you buy)

Last week, I was filling out a set of interview questions (the emailed sort, which are my favorite.   So much easier to answer written questions than ones asked on the fly!).

One question wondered what financial mistakes I see Americans making, and my initial thought was that we just buy too much stuff.

21stcenturyfamfeat

It seems like a lot of us are spending money to buy more stuff than we can possibly love and use, and this makes me feel a little sad.

It’s one thing to spend money on an item that brings you a lot of joy and quite another to be suffocated by possessions that aren’t even making you happy.

But on the other hand, I’m not exactly a minimalist, and I don’t really think we all need to become minimalists.

joshuas neat room

As I was putting my thoughts together for the interview, I realized that what I feel really strongly about is what you might call right-size buying.

(I don’t think that’s an official term. I sort of just made it up. Bloggers’ prerogative and all that. 😉 )

Basically, I believe we should think harder about what’s right for our needs and that we should buy/own whatever is the right size/amount for our needs.

For the vast majority of Americans, that probably means a reduction in buying, but it doesn’t necessarily mean owning only 100 items or anything like that.

Two years ago, I wrote about how to figure out how much stuff you need. I realize now that post really was about right-size buying.

drawer of vertical tshirts

If you have more clothes than you can regularly wear, you should probably stop buying so many.

If your kids have more toys than they can possibly play with, you’re probably buying too many.

If some kitchen items are covered in dust, you probably have too many.

If you haven’t used the stuff in your storage unit for years, maybe you have too much.

But.

I really, really don’t think that a journey to right-size buying/living needs to be about deprivation.

Rather, owning the right number of items has the potential to make you happier.

(Unused, unneeded stuff doesn’t tend to bring happiness, after all!).  

jewelry drawer

You’re not going to be sad if your closet stops being full of unworn clothes, right?

You’re not going to miss unplayed-with toys.

You’re not going to cry when your kitchen cabinets hold only your regularly used items.

Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of what you don’t use, stop buying stuff you’re not going to use, and have a life filled with only the things you really want/need?

Editing out the unused stuff (and avoiding bringing more of it in) makes for a much more pleasant space.

3 Questions to Ask Before You Buy

To help me be a right-size buyer, here are a few things I ask myself when I’m considering a purchase.

(These questions also work pretty well for decluttering purposes!)

1) Will I really love this?

If I’m feeling meh about it, I try not to buy it.   If I only buy stuff I really love, I’m less prone to buying more than I need.

I think that’s because stuff I love is more satisfying.

2) Is this going to last?

Stuff that wears out quickly is a waste of money and contributes to overbuying/clutter.

Better to buy two good t-shirts that last than 10 that shrink/twist.   Better to buy a few pots that last than a big cheap set that warps.

(Kind of like asking “Could this be an heirloom someday?“)

Related: If it’s a toy, ask if the fun will last. A unitasker toy will become unused clutter faster than a bin of building blocks.

3) Will I use it/wear it/read it/ regularly? If not, could I rent/borrow this instead of owning it?

I can stream movies, read a library book, borrow a wheelbarrow, or rent a tool to save money and home space.

On the other hand, I’m perfectly happy to own my expensive camera because I use it every day.   It’s all about figuring out what you will and won’t use regularly.

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My house, while huge compared to what much of the rest of the world lives in, is on the smallish side of average for an American home* and I am way, way happier when it just holds things we regularly use.

(*We don’t have oodles of extra space, which probably means it’s the right size house for us!)

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.   How do you figure out what right-size buying looks like for you?   And what questions do you ask yourself before you buy?

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Hannah

Friday 17th of September 2021

Thank you so much for resharing this post! I am a newer reader of yours (2 years maybe?) and wasn’t around to read this post and the other right size buying one the first time around. I’ve read them both a few times over the past few days and have been reassessing how many things I have and even sorting through them. Something about the way you described “right size buying” finally clicked for me in figuring out how many shirts, measuring cups, pans, etc. I really need. Thank you so much for this thought provoking post!

Kristen

Friday 17th of September 2021

Oh, I'm so glad it was helpful. Yay!

sarah

Monday 13th of September 2021

But what about inherited stuff? 90% of the stuff in my house, I didn't buy. I'm trying to scale this stuff down, sell it, etc but it just seems like a lot of stuff. I have no interest in keeping most of it.

So, maybe it is not just the buying of your own stuff that is the problem, but also the influx of other people's buying habits or "collections" that are slowly filling up all the empty spaces...

EngineerMom

Wednesday 8th of September 2021

Love this! I think right-size buying is about knowing yourself and your needs, and not just following trends or letting others dictate what "should" go in your home.

Wedding and baby registries are a perfect example of that. There are so many items that show up on those that are either completely unnecessary for most people, or something that it's better to wait to buy later anyway once you actually have the kiddo around and know them a bit better.

Jenni

Monday 6th of September 2021

You just described minimalism! It looks different for everyone and every family. The goal of minimalism is to live an intentional life, not own the least amount possible.

I try to think about the maintenance cost of an item: where will it be stored, does it require upkeep costs, how much time am I going to spend caring for the item?

pia

Sunday 5th of September 2021

I am one person who always lived in tiny apartments in Manhattan. They were in "great" neighborhoods; people envied me. But I didn't have a washing machine/dryer and dishwasher. After 9/11 I needed a change. But I couldn't leave for 7 years--family matters. I bought and lives in a 1400 square foot house. Sounds wasteful. But the house is 5 blocks from the ocean and in normal times I have lots of company. Don't want people here now as we're one of the most hit areas of the pandemic. Had I stayed in Manhattan I might have been dead now. Maybe maybe not. But I would have felt closed in and scared. Because I have some lung issues I can only wear masks for a limited amount of time--that's not an excuse, I'm triple vaccinated and would do anything to help end this.

My house has two stories, an upstairs deck, small porch and a yard that needs constant work. It's in a court and we're all friends--so until I started freaking and literally counting the number of people my neighbors saw (before vaccines) I had people to hang with outdoors.

What sounds like a wasteful luxury turned into a lifesaver. There are a number of other single women homeowners here. Yes we can move in together but we're the independent sort. I'm getting older and hope I can remain independent.

Thanks to Instacart, doordash and Goldbelly's (for my birthdays since the pandemic and Jewish holidays) I eat very well. I also cook much more than I could possibly cook in NY where I could never figure it if I had a kitchen off a hallway or a foyer that had a tiny tiny kitchen on one side.

I know I buy too many things from Amazon. Or do I? In October 2019 I woke up one morning with a burning burning desire to shake up my life. I have many Visa/Marriott points and happened to get an email that day with cruises on sale.

Three weeks later I found myself on a cruise to the Panama Canal--cruising with a purpose, it felt like. I ended up with a balcony room for what seemed and seems very cheap--wait until just before a cruise, make reservations online then call. The balcony room cost less than a porthole room! Who would have suspected? And who would have known that a pandemic was on the way--and I still haven't seen my family & most friends because we all live in hot spots or are being very cautious.

I watched way too many youtube videos on what to bring on a cruise as i had never been on a long cruise before nor had I been on a cruise alone. They all harped on sanitation. I bought way too many sanitation items. Really are you going to bring Clorox cleaning spray (yes) and so many other things? I left two thirds of the things home.

It wasn't hoarding. It was just a heck of a lot of cleaning supplies--I happened to read that the most hoarded items (I'm a therapist by profession) are cleaning supplies as everyone wants to start off by cleaning. Doesn't usually work.

Anyway I was able to give people in town who suddenly found themselves out of a paycheck things to clean with. We were out of everything and they desperately needed--everything. I will never regret those purchases and it's so much easier to give people things they need than money which they wouldn't take unless desperate.

Because I live in a hurricane/flooding prone town I always keep new sheets a comforter and stuff like that in a plastic bag so I can give them to people who need things. You can get sheets for cheap and they're nice--I would never give people things I wouldn't use. I keep canned foods for the same reason. Socks--socks are always needed.

I'm not rich nor am I an especially good person. I just think that if I can afford a house (my taxes are a joke; my 3 types of home insurance a joke to somebody else) I can afford to help when needed.

I can't remember when I saw my first bag person but I was very young. I learned that many people want basics more than they want money. Some stores won't let them in.

I have a disability, nonverbal learning disorder (NLD,NVLD) that doesn't let me see space correctly. Because of that it's hard for me to fill a fridge properly and yes I have food waste though I'm much better. It's hard for me to organize many things--though I'm great at organizing people! This has led people to think I hoard because I put things back with care but not properly. Please don't judge. I've spent a lifetime judging myself harshly for being so imperfect. (I've learned; I also have a cleaning woman who I gave up for months during what we thought was the height of the pandemic. Now she has Covid but is vaccinated.)

So sometimes when you see too many things out or not placed well or too close to an edge (I've gotten better) don't judge. I didn't know about NLD until I was 56 though I had spent a lifetime searching for answers--hence going to grad school to be a licensed social worker. I'm also adopted so my life was one constant search.

My first apartment in Manhattan was beautiful but old and not renovated. It was in a part of Manhattan where the nearest laundromat was half a mile away, and I was too young and poor to use laundry services which were much more expensive then. We didn't even have all purpose stores or groceries until Korean grocery stores opened a few blocks away. I always had too much. I had no idea how to organize. It wasn't a parental failing--because of my disability I just couldn't do things right in that apartment though I had some of the best times of my life there.

Sadly this pandemic hasn't taught many people to be better people. They would rather caste blame and judge.

I'm sorry for the length but I want people to understand that sometimes having "too much" isn't a bad thing--my overstocking helped many people. But many times having too much is also because of a lack of organizing ability. I know that some people won't believe that. But think: Do I want to embarrass myself by talking about my biggest weaknesses to people I don't know? I'm putting this in because The Frugal Girl is my favorite blog--and I started blogging 17 years ago. It used to be a very important part of my life but my organizational problems kept me from making the blog all that it could have been. It did make me search out answers. I am in awe of all of you who can make meal plans, who can clean out a freezer and actually eat the food in it.

priskill

Monday 6th of September 2021

@pia, You have made me think carefully and reminded me, yet again, that the world is wide and full of all kinds of people with all kinds of needs and wants. Thank you for sharing this.

Diane

Monday 6th of September 2021

@pia, I really enjoyed reading your post.

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