Why be a non-consumer if you can afford to consume?

My husband and I both work freelance and so our income fluctuates widely. Sometimes I can afford to buy new, and sometimes I can’t, but either way I still try to buy used first.

Being a non-consumer isn’t just about being frugal. It’s also about simple living, green living, and taking care to tread as lightly as we are able on the planet. If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you’re aware of the grim statistics about how the U.S. uses approximately 25% of the earth’s resources, while our population is obviously nowhere near that. I’m a pretty optimistic person, and I believe strongly in human ingenuity, but it’s tough not to be worried about the future of this planet.

So while saving money was part of my decision to be a non-consumer, it really wasn’t even the biggest one. I enjoy a lifestyle that is not about materialism and is rather about art and ideas and relationships and experiences. I like using what I already have until it’s no longer usable, and when I need something finding a way to get it without buying it new. This habit is like a muscle, and when you start asking yourself whether or not you really need something you’ll get used to figuring out an alternative most of the time.

Sometimes you can get the item used, either at a thrift store, on Craigslist, or at a yard sale. That’s often the case with clothing, appliances, and furniture.

Sometimes you can borrow, especially when it’s a one-time deal. Maybe you need a fancy dress to wear to an event, or a food processor to make an elaborate dessert. You probably have a friend who’d be happy to loan you what you need, especially if you’re willing to reciprocate in the future. And definitely if you thank them with some freshly baked cookies.

Other times you can rent, and many times you can do without. Go a couple of days and ask yourself if you really need the item in question. This is where long term savings come in handy, because often you’d rather save the money for your dream vacation to Paris than buy another pair of shoes you might not even wear.

If you’re new to this blog, or if you’ve somehow missed The Story of Stuff, I highly encourage you to watch it now. This video explains the whole cycle of how we work to get money to buy stuff that ends up in the trash. It’s what made me continue as a non-consumer long after my original commitment to a year of not buying new was over. Once you know how it all works, you can’t go back.

So when I do buy new, I don’t feel guilty. I’ve gone through the process of considering alternatives, and I know that means that I really do need the thing in question. If I can buy local, I will. But if even that is not going to happen, I gladly fork over my cash.

Because this is not a contest. And it’s not about being a martyr. It’s about living a thoughtful, meaningful, conscientious lifestyle and feeling like you are walking the walk and living your values.

And that makes me happier than new shoes ever could.

Are you a Compacter? Do you consider yourself a non-consumer? Please share your thoughts about your own non-consumer, frugal, or simple living path in the Comments section.


  1. says

    Very thoughtful post Angela just as we celebrate Earth Day. My fiancé Steve and I started attending estate sales in the past few months and it’s so fascinating to see how truly so much used to be made in the United States (and all those union labels on the clothes). What a contrast from today, it’s like, what happened? In addition to the country-of-origin, it’s a continuing dialogue on how much we accumulate and don’t give things away we’re not using (and what ends up in landfills).

    I’m not a Compactor, but I get almost everything I can from secondhand: clothing swaps, garage and estate sales, thrift shops. Occasionally I do purchase something from traditional retail (a tea shaped night light from a gift shop or a bird print shirt from H&M) but I never feel as good about those purchases, but as you said it’s not about being a martyr.

    An aside, I thought of you when I picked up a cute Jane Austen themed puzzle at Housing Works, a charity thrift shop in NYC. I know you enjoy those Jane Austen balls. The puzzle has a scene of a man and a woman with various quotes from the author. I also picked up a book of hers at the shop and want to start reading her.

    • Angela says

      Oh Catherine, If you have not yet read Jane Austen I am so excited for you to discover her. When I was a teenager I thought she would be boring and too “girly” – I loved to read stuff like Kurt Vonnegut – but I started reading Jane Austen in my late 20s and fell in love with her wit and incredible powers of observation and description of characters we all know. Let me know how it goes! I have a feeling you will really enjoy her.

      thanks so much for your comment. It is truly sad how we have abandoned the Made in America label, and the resulting downturn in quality that has resulted. my husband and I were just yesterday lamenting the washer/dryer that are so state-of-the-art and energy efficient, yet contain plastic parts and will probably not last nearly as long as the 80s era model we sold.

      Have a great week.

      • says

        I enjoyed this article! I love the comparison of living a non-consumer lifestyle to using a muscle. It does get easier the more you do it and build up strength to resist our consumer culture. Our non-consumer lifestyle is not tied to our income, but rather to our values.

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