After 10 long years of laidback living and numerous roommates, I moved to a new house in summer 2011. The roommates were long gone, but a decade of accumulated stuff — all theirs, I’m sure of it — had snuck into every nook and cranny. Papermaking tools were stashed in an out-of-sight closet, no less than 10 sleds were strewn about beneath the stairwell, three crates of bike parts wallowed in the garage, and seriously, who saved the broken mirrors?

I had always thought I was NOT a material girl, but this experience taught me otherwise. I’m still reeling from it.

Thus, when I went to buy a French press last year, I was determined to get one I would use forever and that would never get put in “stuff purgatory.” For me, that meant an instrument made of quality materials and fine craftsmanship, one that worked well, and for this material girl, one that looked good. Upon this deceptively simple task, I marched with confidence. I stopped in at local shops, researched companies online, and read customer reviews. Quickly it became obvious that this was a bigger task than I had bargained for — I had no idea that so many French presses were out there. Do we really need this many options for a contraption that holds liquid and shredded plant material? I am abashed to say I spent no less than 10 hours researching French presses, getting increasingly frustrated at the time I was spending on a small kitchen apparatus.

The overwhelming amount of material goods that Americans have in their homes, and the even more overwhelming choices we have when buying more stuff at stores, is jaw dropping. In many ways, it’s disgusting. On the flip side, it’s holiday season and this is when retailers hope to improve their chances of sticking it out for another year. Who are we to hold back the U.S. economy?
I believe it’s not just either buy or not buy, but a question of being a discriminating buyer. Here are three key steps to that end:

1.  Buy what you will use frequently and that is built to last a lifetime (or for generations).

2.  Unless you know someone’s taste really well, buy gifts that will be consumed quickly. (Growlers of beer work well – hint, hint.)

3.  It’s not necessary to buy for everyone; sacrifice quantity for quality.

There is a danger that you may spend too long analyzing your list and the options of what to buy, but at least you won’t end up with piles of dusty plastic sleds.

~ Mayumi Elegado