It can be a challenge to balance our desire for tangible things with our good intentions to become better stewards of the planet. While there is plenty of scientific evidence that curbing our commercial appetites can actually increase our happiness, putting that knowledge into action may not be as easy as we’d like.
Like most other practices, the best way to live a less materialistic life is to start slowly and gradually embrace it. Timothy Sharp, Ph.D., of The Happiness Institute in Sydney, Australia, offers a few tips for keeping your consumerism in check.
Sometimes, what we consider “needs” are actually “wants.” A great starting point is to begin differentiating the two. Then, each time you start thinking about a purchase, make it a practice to identify whether it’s a need or a want.
Instead of buying something the moment you see it, give yourself some time to think about whether or not you really need (or want) it. Timothy suggests waiting a week to make purchases; you may be surprised how much your desire for it diminishes when you really think it over.
Before you buy something new, consider borrowing or sharing. This can even go for cars and bicycles—many cities around the world now have bike sharing (such as Red Bike) or car sharing programs (like Zipcar) that allow you to rent transportation by the hour or the day. And you can always share items like yard and household equipment with neighbors; it’s a great way to save money, and you’ll have the added bonus of interacting more with the people around you.
4. Hang onto it
Many of us have gotten into the habit of buying new technology the minute it hits the shelves, but do you really need a new smartphone, laptop or tablet every year? Make it a practice to stretch out the lifespan of your products and replace them when they need replacing, not just when a new model comes out.
Of course, there are certain times when you have to buy new items, whether it’s clothing for a specific occasion or gifts or a new piece of furniture for your home. In those cases, Timothy suggests keeping the environmental mindset by researching the materials used in making the product and the company’s manufacturing process to ensure it is doing its part to be a good caretaker of the planet.