Books & Resources

Book review: A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button

It’s time for another eco-friendly book! This one is literally green on the outside too and is one of the most inspiring reads for re-thinking your approach to purchasing in all aspects of life. From clothes and cosmetics to household items and beyond.

A Life Less Throwaway is written by Tara Button, an eco-campaigner, entrepreneur, author and founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce, a company that researches and sells products that are built to last.

Planned Obsolescence: a dirty, yet inevitable, concept

In the book, Tara flashes a spotlight on ‘planned obsolescence’. This is where things are deliberately designed and built to break more quickly or become unusable at a faster rate.

They’re also made to not be easily or economically repairable. The common reaction is to bin and replace.

Of course, commercially, this acceptance of disposability is what many producers and retailers want to keep us all buying their stuff.

Psychological Obsolescence? Now you’re scaring me!

So it gets even more murky, yet when you think about it, it seems really obvious – a concept called ‘psychological obsolescence’.

As Tara explains, this is where businesses through clever marketing have conditioned us to see things as temporary and throwaway, even when they’re not.

Apparently it all started with car design. It’s easy to feel full of pride when you have a shiny new model. But as soon as the next one comes out, suddenly the car you love starts to look and feel a bit dated. So you might upgrade it quicker than you otherwise would.

Sound familiar? We’re being conditioned, some might say, even brain-washed, to want the newest, the shiniest, the ‘best’. And it never stops.

In the book Tara describes how we can recognise these tricks and change our ways to better resist them.

BuyMeOnce – does what it says on the tin

BuyMeOnce is leading a movement against shoddy products that are built to break. It sells over 2,000 products online, all independently researched and verified by users to have the longest lives out there.

Of course, the benefits of buying quality over quantity are huge, not just for the environment but also for our wallets and mental health too. It’s a win win win!

As more producers become aware of the BuyMeOnce movement, perhaps they will try harder to make products that last and are meaningfully repairable for years, if not lifetimes.

Back to the book

The book is divided into two key sections:

1. Broken behaviour

2. Living a life less throwaway

There are also four appendices with guidance on:

  • Care and repair
  • Choosing materials for clothing
  • Brand values
  • Knowing your warranties

There are lots of practical exercises to go through, if/when you have time. For example, detailed help on how to find your own personal style for clothes and home decor and keep that in mind when shopping.

Other exercises help you identify and assess your true priorities in life and the thoughts which can influence your attitude to purchasing.

Ten key learnings for me

Below are the ten things in the book that really stood out for me:

#1 There’s often huge tension between engineers and commercial people in organisations. The design guys want to make high quality things that last for yonks, whereas the big cheeses are constantly squeezing costs to maximise profits and stay competitive. So quality and longevity are becoming rarer.

#2 Often we’re just seeking change for change’s sake. In almost all cases it’s more eco-friendly to keep and use what you have for as long as possible.

#3 Muting TV ads as soon as they come on is a powerful way to protect yourself from marketing voices. Even if you think you’re not actually listening to them, ads have a way of influencing us subconsciously. Muting ads can also reduce ‘pester power’ from kids.

#4 Be mindful of the temptation to ‘status buy’ to impress other people – things like fancy new phones, handbags and cars.

#5 Take stock of what you have already when considering buying something new. There are nine essential questions to focus your mind before you splurge. I’ll share these on Instagram soon.

#6 Before you shop, assess your current state of mind. Are there any anxieties or insecurities that could encourage you to impulse spend? Did you know that mannequin body poses are designed to express ‘I’m a cool, confident, attractive person’? This can really draw us in to buy what they’re wearing.

#7 Seasonal sales are dangerous. The thrill of a bargain can give an exaggerated sense of how much you like the product.

#8 When shop assistants are charming, helpful and nice and/or you don’t want to feel like a time-waster, don’t ‘people-please’ your way into a purchase and buyer’s regret.

#9 REPAIR is one of our best defences against planned obsolescence.

#10 Money does not equal happiness. After the 2008 Icelandic economic crash, some tried to reclaim the money they’d lost whereas others became less driven by money and turned their interests to family and community life. A study some years later found that the second group had much higher levels of well-being than the first. It will be interesting to see if the global pandemic will have had a similar impact in years to come.

So, there you have it. Lots of food for thought. The book is well worth a read and why not check out Tara’s website too? I’d love to hear what you think and any examples of how you’ve been inspired to rethink or change your buying behaviour.

A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, £9.99 from online and physical bookshops. BuyMeOnce is accessible here

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