Thrift and Decluttering

I’ve been doing a lot of decluttering recently, and it occurs to me that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about thrift the wrong way. Thrift doesn’t happen at the not-discarding phase, it happens at the buying phase.

If you think of yourself as a thrifty person, not a wasteful one, and especially if you’ve ever been poor, it’s easy to start hoarding stuff you no longer use. Stuff you have a newer, better version of but you feel like the old one is still perfectly useful or you could fix it or improve it. Just discarding it feels wasteful.

But here’s the thing I’ve realised. Once you have bought the new thing, you’ll never use the old thing again. Especially if more even newer versions can be acquired easily. Sometimes, yes, a spare is nice to have. But you probably don’t need three spares. And having accepted that, you look at this perfectly good (or maybe broken but fixable) thing and feel wasteful discarding it.

It makes no difference now if you discard it. Hell if you donate or sell it it’s probably better than storing it forever, in terms of overall waste (either of your money or of raw materials, energy etc). Many things when stored slowly degrade, or become obsolete as new designs come out – and that’s assuming it’s stored properly.

If you really want to be thrifty you have to make hard decisions when purchasing. You have to decide not to buy something because you have a perfectly good one already. Or you have to buy something of quality that you can use for a long time, and not get sucked in by cheap shiny stuff.

You also have to accept that it’s OK to get rid of things when you no longer need them or they’re sufficiently worn. My grandfather had this ancient rickety ladder that had already collapsed under him once and been repaired. Fearing for his safety my parents bought him a new one. But he kept using the old one because he wanted to “wear it out”. I think we can all see that it was going to wear out with him on it leading to an octogenarian having a bad fall – sometimes letting things go is sensible and not wasteful. Ironically the ladder did outlive him, not because he was right to keep it, but because he became too frail to go up ladders at all  shortly afterwards and eventually passed away of other health reasons.

Or you might need to accept that for some things you are going to acquire a steady stream of novel new ones, and to make room for that the old stuff has to go. For example, I love little ornaments and candleholders, and I buy them for myself as a treat fairly frequently. Especially cheap little on-trend items. The old ones basically have to go in the charity box. I am wasteful in this way, and keeping a giant box of old ones won’t change that – I’ll always be picking up a steady stream of new ones. So now I have a new rule – cheap little fashionable ornaments are stuff I get rid of as soon as I take them out of display. The only ornaments I can keep are the precious, valuable things I really love.

This all may seem obvious, but for me realising that thrift was about my purchasing choices and that whether I keep or discard the excess makes no difference has been a revelation. I’m trying to buy less, and buy quality up front.


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