Beyond the Budget: Ten Non-Financial Questions to Ask Before You Buy (or Accept or Keep)

Historically, I have a tendency to give low-priced items a pass when it comes to making buying decisions. If it's under $5 or $10 it hardly seems worth worrying about. Just get it! Post-KonMari, though, I find myself scrutinizing items more carefully, no matter the price point. There is a cost to owning an item that goes beyond its sticker price.

If an item doesn't suit my needs, it wasn't worth the money, no matter how little I spent on it.

If an item doesn't spark joy, it's not worth the money, no matter how little it costs.

If I wouldn't have bought the item gladly at the expected price, then I shouldn't buy it at a lower-than-expected price.

(It's surprisingly difficult, but I'm trying to train myself to see a sale or a lower-than-expected price as a nice bonus, not a reason to buy something. Generally, this means making the decision to buy or not without looking at the price, then allowing an unexpectedly high price to override that decision, but not a lower one. This is hard to do! Prices, especially low ones, are usually proudly proclaimed beside the item.)

As my set of possessions becomes more lean and minimalist, the bar to clear to make it into the collection should be higher for reasons that go beyond price, meaning that even items that are free don't get an automatic pass as they once did.

Here are some non-financial questions I try to keep in mind when I'm having trouble deciding. Of course, Marie Kondo's "spark joy" question, beautiful in its simplicity, is the most useful guide for me in decluttering. But I find that the feeling is often dulled in retail environments; either everything sparks joy or nothing does. So far, I've generally been right in that the times I've asked myself these questions before buying I have correctly identified purchases I'll regret, but it should be acknowledged that I bought them anyway. I'm working on that part...

Ten (Non-Financial) Questions to Ask Before Buying

  1. Why do I want this?
  2. How often will I use it?
  3. What problem does this solve? Do I own something else that solves the same problem? (If so, do I prefer this one? Can I get rid of the other one?)
  4. Will I now stop looking for something to fill this niche? (If I've got something in my cart and I'm already thinking "It's fine for now but I'll keep looking," that's a bad sign. I don't want to fill my life with placeholders.)
  5. Where will I keep it?
  6. How will owning this complicate my life? (Maintenance, cleaning, fussing, time suck...)
  7. Will I like it even when the shine has worn off?
  8. How long will it last?
  9. What's the end-of-life plan?
  10. Do the environmental or human rights ethics of how this was made, sourced, or fulfilled make me feel squicky?


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