SHOP FOR LIFE

In­ter­net en­tre­pre­neur Tara But­ton is on a mis­sion to make us shop more mind­fully. We find out why…

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Throw­away con­sumerism is now re­garded as a Very Bad Thing and more and more of us as­pire to buy only things that will last, but still, the flow of shiny new prod­ucts vy­ing for our at­ten­tion is re­lent­less. How do we de­cide what’s re­ally worth our cash?

Step forward Tara But­ton, ad executive turned cru­sader for mind­ful shop­ping. Five or so years ago, But­ton found her­self living in a clut­tered house, with a shop­ping habit and credit-card debt. She made her living writ­ing TV ads – ‘push­ing peo­ple to buy things they didn’t nec­es­sar­ily want or need’ – and she was caught in the web her­self.

But­ton had an epiphany when her sis­ter gave her a Le Creuset casse­role for her 30th birth­day. ‘I had a vis­ceral re­ac­tion to it,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘It was the kind of ob­ject you pass down to your chil­dren. I thought about how lit­tle waste there would be if ev­ery­thing I owned were like that.’ She be­gan build­ing an online data­base, re­search­ing the best prod­ucts, from T-shirts to ket­tles (among the vi­tal cri­te­ria were func­tion­al­ity, ma­te­ri­als, and sus­tain­abil­ity). She also had a thor­ough clearout of her pos­ses­sions and re­solved never again to buy on im­pulse.

In 2016, her web­site, Buyme­once, made the tran­si­tion from pri­vate pas­sion pro­ject to phe­nom­e­non – de­spite the mod­est edit of prod­ucts ( in the crock­ery sec­tion, only Denby’s vir­tu­ally un­break­able stoneware makes the grade). ‘In the first fort­night, 600,000 peo­ple vis­ited the site,’ she says.

But­ton has now written a book, A Life Less Throw­away: The Art of Buy­ing for Life (£12.99, Harper Thor­sons), which de­tails her vi­sion at length. Some man­i­festos on min­i­mal­ist living can seem se­vere, but not this one; en­gag­ing and down to earth, it doesn’t even tell us to stop shop­ping. Rather, it guides us to­wards spend­ing in a more re­ward­ing way. ‘The av­er­age house has 300,000 ob­jects in it, but only a few of those add gen­uine value to our lives,’ But­ton rea­sons.

As an ex-ad­ver­tis­ing in­sider, But­ton is well placed to show us how man­u­fac­tur­ers hood­wink us. Her book ex­plores how planned ob­so­les­cence in­duces us to buy more (read the sec­tion on light­bulbs) and shares tips on how we can all learn to re­sist se­duc­tive ad­verts. Most im­por­tantly per­haps, she is an ad­vo­cate of ‘mind­ful cu­ra­tion’: taking time to es­tab­lish your taste and putting cov­eted things on a wishlist be­fore spend­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, though, But­ton be­lieves that the is­sue of throw­away­ism is big­ger than our own needs. It’s the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of our shop­ping habits that mo­ti­vates her. ‘Buy­ing things that last is the best and eas­i­est thing you can do for the planet,’ she ar­gues.

Her next fo­cus is her #Makeit­last pe­ti­tion, which aims to force man­u­fac­tur­ers to la­bel their prod­ucts with a dura­bil­ity mark. ‘ We know that com­pa­nies are aware roughly how long their prod­ucts last with nor­mal us­age,’ she says. ‘This mark would give con­sumers a “cost per year” and help them to see which prod­uct is the best value.’ She would also like to give wor­thy de­signs a Buyme­once la­bel. ‘I want it to be­come a sym­bol of longevity, just like the Kitemark for safety,’ she en­thuses. As her book states, it’s time to throw away our throw­away cul­ture for good.

‘The av­er­age house has 300,000 ob­jects in it, but only a few of those add gen­uine value to our lives’

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