This post was sponsored by BuyMeOnce. All thoughts my own.
How often do you find yourself getting bored of your stuff? You look around your home and something feels not quite right, like you’re stagnating. The obvious answer is to buy something new, to change something, right?
But maybe this isn’t the way to actually make us happier.
It’s a common attitude in the West: ‘I don’t like this anymore, I’m bored, I’m getting something new.’ Whether it’s our clothes or our spaces, the temptation when things start to feel a little stale is to change it out for something new and exciting. Those feelings are valid; it’s important not to stifle our emotions after all. But today I, alongside sustainable and long-lasting marketplace BuyMeOnce, am here to suggest that there are other ways to deal with these feelings. If we want to live in a more sustainable world, there are a couple of problems with buying new things every time we feel unsettled. Firstly it’s an expensive habit, which pushes us into cheaper purchases that are often unethical and unsustainable; it encourages overconsumption, which is already a pretty big global problem; it creates more trash to fill up landfills; and ultimately, it will not make you happy.
But Fran, you don’t know me! You don’t know what makes me happy! I hear you cry. True, but there’s a whole host of research out there in relation to modern spending habits and overall wellbeing. It’s fascinating and can also shed some light on where we can be focusing our time and money instead. Here are some things to consider when it comes to changing our mindset.
Sunk Cost Fallacy
In economics a sunk cost is money that has been spent that can never be recovered. For example, when you pay rent that money is gone forever, it’s ‘sunk’. The phrase ‘sunk cost fallacy’ basically refers to a situation when you’ve already invested in something, even if it has become unpleasant, but you don’t want to pull out because you feel you’ve passed the point of no return. For example, you buy a non-refundable ticket to an event. By the time the event comes around you don’t want to go any more, but as you’ve already paid for it you feel you have to go, and end up not enjoying yourself the whole night. It’s that feeling of ‘well I’ve come this far, I may as well just continue on’.
In the right context, that attitude can be a good thing. It can stop us from making rash decisions or abandoning projects when they begin to get hard. The thing we need to hone is our discernment on when to let things go and when to see things through. This attitude bleeds into how we spend our money, and we can wind up buying things we’ll hate pretty soon after taking them home. Perhaps you put a lot of effort into travelling to a furniture shop to buy a sofa. You don’t see any that you really like, but you’ve already travelled so far that you buy one that is just ok. Perhaps you spend a long time browsing the internet for a certain item, you can’t find one that really matches what you like but you feel that you’ve wasted so much time looking, you have to buy something. That’s a sunk cost fallacy popping up in your spending.
When it comes to your home, this can cause two expensive long-term problems. If you buy something you don’t really like, you’re likely to get tired of it much faster, which leads to the desire to buy a replacement much sooner. Before you know it you fall into a cycle of behaviour where you keep buying things that you don’t like that much to replace the last thing you didn’t like that much. Developing the skill to not buy something, even when you feel like you’ve invested time and energy, means that you can give yourself the time and breathing room to find one really good quality piece that you’ll love for much longer. It will also save you money in the long run; as you invest in one beautiful piece that you love and will keep around for generations, even if it’s a little more pricey, you won’t throw money at constantly replacing things in your home. If you find yourself thinking ‘I’ve come this far, I need to get something‘, stop and ask yourself ‘will this wind up costing me more if I go through with it?‘. Take your time to consider decisions, and make the choice not to bite unless you really love something, knowing that then you can buy with a much more long-term mindset in place.
Anchoring is described as ‘the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions’ (source). We can see anchoring bias in our spending choices when we let that first piece of information dictate our perspective. If we’re used to seeing something at one low price, whether it be a t-shirt or a television, we then see more expensive alternatives as hugely overpriced, because we compare everything around that one anchor.
This can lead to overspending, if our anchor is very highly priced then it makes things seem reasonable in comparison. But it can also lead to undervaluing. Because we’re used to seeing t-shirts for as low as £5, we compare other t-shirts to this price, and suddenly an ethical t-shirt at £25 seems completely ridiculous. The problem here isn’t the t-shirt itself, it’s that our anchor has been set in the wrong place. The price we’re anchored around is so low because the t-shirt is made unsustainably, massively hurting the planet and the people who made it. At the same time we often expect it to last a much shorter time, perhaps a year or two. We need to recognise our original anchor points and then work to change them. The best way to do this is through research, learning the process of how something is made to understand its true value.
This is where BuyMeOnce can help, as they prioritise quality, durability and doing the research for you when it comes to each product they stock. Their main goal is to help us all move away from planned obsolescence (products that are designed to break so we buy more) and towards long lasting buying, which makes them extra diligent when it comes to who they stock in their store. After they’re confident that a brand meets their criteria, making it super easy for you to shop based on your values without having to do extra work, they also write spotlight articles and research pieces that take a deep look into the processes of the brands they work with. This means that you can both rest in the knowledge that they’ve found the longest-lasting version of any item you buy, and be confident that you’re getting the best value for money possible. If we can shift our anchor from low quality and low price to high quality, higher price and longer lasting, we’ll feel less like we’re suddenly having to spend a lot more. Especially when the items we buy are ethical and durable, their long-lasting nature saves us money once we’ve invested in them because we know they’ll be with us for life, saving us both time and effort. Don’t believe me? Check out this bed linen with a 50 year warranty. A set is a little more expensive up front at £210, but much cheaper in the long run as they average out costing £4.20 per year!
‘Question: is this the best quality I can afford?
These words run contrary to the entirety of our culture, structured around bargain hunting and getting more for less. Finding deals. Shopping sales. Black Friday. This constant emphasis on quantity over quality has helped to create consumer goods which embody the principle of planned obsolescence. Our purchases wear out too quickly, are constantly being replaced with new models or more current trends, or simply break with no option to fix them – and then it’s back to the mall we go.
This isn’t accidental. Most products simply aren’t built for the long haul and when they are, their higher costs serve as powerful deterrents for consumers. It’s the ultimate mind game: we’d rather pay $10 for something and have to replace it every year, than pay $50 and have it last for five.
It took me a long time to realize that cheap is usually more expensive in the long run. Buying something once, and buying it well meant that I was making an investment instead of just a purchase. The $60 boots I loved because they were such a great deal looked worn, scuffed and threadbare after just a few months, and needed replacing after a year. When I finally spent $200 on a pair of good leather boots, however, they lasted me over four years and still look great.’ (source)
The Bandwagon Effect
Just as we can anchor around the first piece of purchasing information we see, we can also make decisions based around other people, instead of our own needs and circumstances. It’s so easy to take on a perspective, lifestyle choice, or spending habit simply because it’s just what people do. And the more people are doing it, the easier it is to accept.
‘It’s part of the reason for the housing crisis. For years, it was the norm to get approved for a certain mortgage amount, buy a house for roughly that amount, then spend years paying it off. Letting the bank decide how much house you could really afford was normal, so everyone kept doing it and as a result bought homes that were way beyond their budget.
Overcoming the bandwagon effect doesn’t mean making the opposite, unconventional decision. It just means you do the research, then make the best decision, regardless of what everyone else is doing.’ (source)
Again, we need to actively decide to shift our perspective. When it comes to making decisions, we need to try and make ones that are properly researched, well-rounded and based on our needs, rather than simply accepting the status quo or doing what the people around us do, which may actually not be that great for us individually. Just because something is done a certain way, doesn’t mean it should be, and it’s about making decisions based on our lives and our research, not someone else’s.
It’s also worth considering why we immediately want to turn to buying things when we start to feel uncomfortable with what we own.
‘Thinking about acquisition provides momentary happiness boosts to materialistic people, and because they tend to think about acquisition a lot, such thoughts have the potential to provide frequent mood boosts,” … “but the positive emotions associated with acquisition are short-lived. Although materialists still experience positive emotions after making a purchase, these emotions are less intense than before they actually acquire a product.’ (source)
The allure of the new thing isn’t in the thing itself, but in the anticipation of buying it. So buying new things constantly doesn’t provide the happiness we think it will; instead, it is in the thinking about it. In a strange sort of way this makes sense. After all, the myriad of choices offered by modern capitalism often makes us more unhappy by providing too many choices that paralyse us, increase the regret we feel after choosing and increase potential disappointment by causing unrealistic expectations. I think it makes sense to redirect this into taking more time, consideration and research before we purchase things (which will also help you with everything else I mentioned before, win-win!). If we go out and buy haphazardly and unsustainably, the rush of excitement will dissipate before it has even had time to begin. If we spend time really considering, and looking for things that we can fall in love with and keep forever, then we get to spend more time enjoying envisioning how we’re going to create the spaces around us, which is the bit we actually enjoy most, before experiencing the feeling of actually seeing that through.
Finally: Money Can Buy Happiness, If You Spend It Right
It’s not that money makes us happy or unhappy, it’s how we choose to use it. Michael Norton, a social science researcher, discovered that in almost every country in the world, people who are generous with their money are happier than people who aren’t. Spending on others has a bigger return for you in terms of happiness and overall well being than spending on yourself, so instead of thinking about which product to buy for yourself, we can reframe our purchases in the context of those we love. To me, there are two ways we can approach this.
The first is to think about how we spend on others. BuyMeOnce is highly popular for gifting because of how long its products last; buyers feel confident spending that extra bit of money on someone they love, knowing their gift will be used for a lifetime instead of breaking after a year. Plus, the recipient will always be reminded of the person who gifted it to them when they use it. If you can afford to, I’d definitely recommend this approach to giving – doing it less frequently but with value and quality prioritised. After all, no one really wants to cause their loved ones more stress by filling up their homes with mindless clutter. And then, perhaps, we can extend this mindset to ourselves too. If you wouldn’t gift a certain item to a friend, is it really the kind of thing you want to bring it into your own home? Remember that you’re just as worthy as those you love.
The second is to think about what we already own, in the context of our relationships. Basically, according to one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, the key to happiness is in relationships.
And I think this is probably the most important point. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, so perhaps it’s time to stop thinking about our spaces and homes solely in terms of how they serve us, and start thinking about how they can be best adapted to a social way of living.
What if we stopped buying things just for their aesthetic, but also because of how they facilitate the spaces and relationships around us? What if when we feel a room is getting a little stale, we don’t go and buy new things but move what we have around, thinking of a new way to arrange the people who may occupy it? It’s the quality of our close relationships that ultimately matters, so what if we started buying things with those people in mind? Maybe don’t buy that cheap, uncomfortable-but-ok chair that looks good right now, but you might hate in a year. Instead wait a little longer and buy a sofa that’s going to last a really long time, that will house the butts of your friends for years to come with no discomfort, and best opens up the space around you for conversation. Just last month I had friends who were unhappy with their living room. They switched their two sofas with each other and moved the coffee table so it felt less obstructive, and suddenly it felt like a whole new space, more open to conversation and interaction. They’ve fallen back in love with their living room ever since.
All in all, I know this is a lot of information. It does feel like a lot to change every purchasing habit you’ve been used to, but it is also achievable. Give yourself time, space and grace as you muddle through the often-messy world of finding what works for you, what has motivated your spending choices thus far, and where you want to end up. But ultimately, it is possible to reframe our perspective and seek fulfilment in places that are actually going to give it to us. And in the meantime, writers like myself and researchers like BuyMeOnce that focus on doing the work for you, are here to make that transition easier and to provide you with trustworthy options that really can make your life, and your wallet, happier in the long run.