Sick of ac­quir­ing scads of stuff? You have op­tions, from bar­ter­ing and re­pair­ing to mak­ing do with what you al­ready own.


SARAH LAZAROVIC USED to love win­dow-shop­ping on her way to and from her job as a web pro­ducer at the CBC. But in 2012, a few years af­ter the mother of two be­gan work­ing from home as a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor, the win­dows she gazed at most of­ten be­came those on her In­ter­net browser—ones whose mar­ket­ing al­go­rithms tar­geted her spe­cific de­sires.

“I’d go down a rab­bit hole and spend hours brows­ing on­line shops,” she says. Tired of waste­ful con­sump­tion, and wasted time, Lazarovic com­mit­ted to not buy­ing any cloth­ing for an en­tire year. In­stead, when­ever she came across an item she wanted, she would paint a pic­ture of it. “It was a way of both mit­i­gat­ing de­sire and hav­ing a cre­ative ex­er­cise.”

In or­der to help her­self con­sume more thought­fully in gen­eral, Lazarovic cre­ated a “Buy­er­ar­chy of Needs”—an il­lus­trated pyra­mid chart mim­ick­ing

psy­chol­o­gist Abra­ham Maslow’s hi­er­ar­chy of needs—which lists the myr­iad ways one can ac­quire some­thing, from most to least sus­tain­able: use what you have; bor­row; swap; thrift; make; buy.

Whether due to chang­ing fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances or a wish to lead a more self-suf­fi­cient life­style, many Cana­di­ans are striv­ing, or are forced, to buy less. It doesn’t have to be a loss, though, and there are plenty of ways to make the tran­si­tion eas­ier.


Main­tain­ing a sta­ble stan­dard of liv­ing in any ma­jor city to­day is chal­leng­ing, es­pe­cially for the un­der-30 set—and it’s this de­mo­graphic that’s re­sponded in re­cent years by launch­ing dig­i­tal plat­forms that make be­ing thrifty eas­ier. While mil­len­ni­als have been the first to em­brace this bud­ding shar­ing econ­omy—whether it be an app that lets you split a taxi ride or a web­site that fa­cil­i­tates swap­ping house­hold items—older gen­er­a­tions are in­creas­ingly hopping on board as well.

One of the most pop­u­lar Cana­dian sites, Bunz, be­gan in 2013 as a pri­vate Face­book group set up by Emily Bitze for Toronto res­i­dents to fa­cil­i­tate the bar­ter­ing of goods and ser­vices. Bitze would post a mes­sage ex­plain­ing, for in­stance, that she had a blender she wasn’t us­ing and ask if any­one on the site wanted to ex­change it for a few house­plants or one of the other items on her “wish list.”

The Bunz app now has more than 200,000 users, growth that CEO Sascha Mo­j­ta­hedi says comes down to sim­ple ne­ces­sity: “When you’re long on things and short on cash, how can you take those things you’re not us­ing and get what you need for what you have?”

But he points out that those who par­tic­i­pate ben­e­fit be­yond just sav­ing money. “Bunz lets you con­nect with other peo­ple in your city. It’s highly so­cial be­cause it’s built around com­mon­al­ity and mu­tual in­ter­ests.” Two stamp col­lec­tors, for in­stance, may ar­range a trade at a lo­cal café and spark a new friend­ship.

If you can’t find some­one to barter with, bor­row­ing is of­ten still bet­ter than buy­ing, and a quick In­ter­net search can help you find places to rent ev­ery­thing from home-ren­o­va­tion tools to cross-coun­try skis.


At a time when al­most any­thing can be pur­chased with just one click, it’s be­come an au­to­matic re­sponse to sim­ply re­place what breaks. Gen­er­a­tions raised in the ear­lier half of the 20th cen­tury can at­test, how­ever, that this wasn’t al­ways so: house­hold ap­pli­ances, cloth­ing, elec­tron­ics and more used to be bought un­der the as­sump­tion that, with the oc­ca­sional re­pair, they would last a life­time.

Now, some con­sci­en­tious con­sumers are tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands and join­ing the bur­geon­ing Re­pair Café move­ment. Founded in Am­s­ter­dam in 2009 by sew­ing ex­pert Mar­tine Postma, the orig­i­nal non­profit has ex­panded to more than 1,500 lo­ca­tions world­wide. These popup events, which are run by vol­un­teers, of­fer lessons in how to fix any­thing from an un­rav­elled hem to an un­re­spon­sive lap­top.

“There’s juice and treats and you get to meet new peo­ple,” says Ben­nett McCar­dle, a re­tired civil ser­vant and vol­un­teer fixer at the Re­pair Café Toronto, where she mends jew­ellery. She brings her own spe­cial­ized tools but says most items could be re­paired by any­one with a pair of pli­ers and some de­ter­mi­na­tion. “I taught a woman how to do pearl knot­ting re­cently, then sent her home with in­struc­tions and a YouTube video.” In turn, the 66-year-old has gleaned valu­able lessons from fel­low vol­un­teers, like how to fix watch straps and eye­glass frames.

For McCar­dle, the mis­sion to ex­tend the life­span of our be­long­ings is as much a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple as it is about be­ing frugal: “Some­thing that is bro­ken took time and re­sources to make, so if you’re throw­ing it out, you’re wast­ing those re­sources.”

If you can’t find a Re­pair Café near you, it’s easy to start one. Re­ of­fers a starter man­ual with step-bystep in­struc­tions.


Chang­ing how we ac­quire things is nec­es­sary, but there’s also some­thing to be said for sim­ply not get­ting them in the first place. “Most of us have more than what we need,” says Ma­rina Ra­malho, the first Cana­dian con­sul­tant trained in the KonMari method of de­clut­ter­ing, made pop­u­lar by Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Chang­ing Magic of Tidy­ing Up. “This can lead to a lot of anx­i­ety— like, think about ev­ery­thing stuffed in the back of your closet; do you own those things or do they own you?”

Ra­malho sug­gests we can train our­selves to make mind­ful pur­chases in­stead of im­pulse buys. One of her tips for pre­vent­ing un­planned splurges: pause be­fore you walk up to the cashier or hit the “buy now” but­ton and ask your­self: Would I buy this item at full price? Does this shirt go with ev­ery­thing in my closet? Do I need to have this right now or can I sleep on it? She also rec­om­mends writ­ing down the item you want or book­mark­ing it on the com­puter, then re­turn­ing to it a week later to gauge whether it’s still as en­tic­ing.

Lazarovic, whose de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion went even fur­ther, ex­plains that less shop­ping has freed up more time for fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, din­ner with friends and mak­ing art. She con­tin­ues to paint her re­tail crav­ings when­ever they strike; by do­ing so, as she puts it, “I get out of that need-to-buy-it frenzy and in the end I feel good that I’ve made some­thing.”

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