Living Sustainably Series: Buy It For Life (BIFL)

In the first part of our Living Sustainably series, we shine the spotlight on Buy It For Life (BIFL). We break down the trend, explore how to incorporate it into our purchasing decisions and share some must-have BIFLs to inspire you!

What is Buy It For Life?

Buy It For Life is a new movement for modern shoppers. After years of buying the cheapest/easiest/trendiest items with little care for the item’s longevity, BIFL shoppers buck the norm with their relatively novel viewpoint. BIFL is the philosophy of buying things with a high enough quality and functionality that you expect them to last a lifetime (or at least a very long time). It’s crazy that this has become a “trend” when it was literally how people lived for all humankind’s existence until fifty years ago.

What changed that meant we stopped BIFL-ing?

Production capability of manufacturers

Our world’s ever-improving technology has created massive efficiencies in the manufacturing process. From hand stitching to computer-controlled machine stitching or from hand-building to 3D printing, the time it takes manufacturers to create products has shrunk.

Pricing

Cheap overseas labour and faster manufacturing has led to lower manufacturing costs and cheaper products for consumers. For example, a normalised price of a living room chair from 1975 is $770 (USD), whereas today, the most highly reviewed living room chair with over 100 reviews on Amazon is only $190 USD.

Quick and cheap production, combined with the globalisation brought by the internet and, more recently, social media, created an environment where we could afford to make short-term consumption decisions. We adopted fast fashion as our new norm and bought cheap furniture at IKEA, clothing at H&M and anything else we wanted, knowing we could upgrade in a season or two when the trends change.

How to adopt the Buy It For Life perspective

Step 1: Decide why you want to try BIFL

Environmental impact

For many, Buy It For Life reflects a wish to focus on quality not quantity, as we grow our awareness of the damage to the planet consuming of single-use or “fad” products that end up in landfills.

Long-term financial savings

Buying a high-quality item once, and holding onto it for life, will usually work out cheaper than buying four or five versions of a cheaper item over the course of your life.

Living minimally but with great stuff that you love

It’s a liberating shift in mindset to move from using a bunch of things that partially satisfy your needs to having just a few things, that you love and do their job well. A minimal selection of beautiful and functional items in your life also makes the BIFL approach more affordable to adopt.

Increase consciousness of shopping

Support locally made and ethically made suppliers by taking more time to research your purchases rather than buying something simply because it’s a great price.

A challenge to change your shopping habits

The BIFL approach almost guarantees no shopping regrets! Do you have something hanging in your closet (maybe even with tags still on!) that you bought mindlessly, because you were bored, or you were shopping to distract yourself from something stressful in life? Using the BIFL approach requires significant thought pre-purchase, so traditional shopping sprees become a rarity!

A selection of brands well known for their ethical practices

Step 2: Take time to figure out what is important to you

Look back and see what you loved ten or even twenty years ago that you still love today. What you still love after all these years is a strong indicator of what you will continue to like in the future. Pay attention to style, colour, fabrication, functionality and other relevant features.

Avoid trends. Colour is a major example of this. Colours available each season vary and what you like will change based on these trends (think about the home décor colour trends of orange and browns of the 80s vs the white-out of the 2000s). Do you want to have a “primary palette” of colours that you will buy most of your BIFL items in, so they will always coordinate? You might have a primary palette of beige, white, black and your all-time-favourite colour for your clothing whereas your BIFL home purchases might follow a core colour palette of dove grey, white, stainless steel and charcoal.

Step 3: Start purchasing (or not)

A great way to avoid an impulse buy and encourage a BIFL buy is to have a mandatory one week (or longer if you have the time to spare) cool-down after deciding to buy a new item.

If you like something but can’t decide if it’s a BIFL for you or not, see if you can borrow one from someone you know, or if you can trial it from the supplier.

If you love a dress but you know it’s trendy and you will only want to wear it a couple times, head to a designer clothing rental, like Rent the Runway, and hire the look for a special event. You can always buy it afterwards if you still want it.

Some items will never qualify for a BIFL purchase because they are for a transient time, such as baby gear, so reach out to your community both before (to borrow/buy gear from) and after (to lend/donate gear to).

Decision tree showing the steps to decide, wait then buy, when deciding to buy your buy it for life item.
Buy It For Life Cool Down Decision Tree

Step 4: A few years on with your BIFLs

Think carefully when you pick your BIFLs and once you’ve started collecting them, begin thinking of your BIFLs just like your BFFLs! You aren’t going to toss a Best Friend For Life if they go through a rough patch, and likewise you aren’t going to want to toss a Buy It For Life when it needs a repair or the trends change.

Think hard about what your threshold is for discarding an item. If a strap is loose on a sleep mask, will you throw it away, because it’s only $15 to replace for a perfect brand new one, or will you spend ten minutes carefully hand-sewing it to repair to 99% perfectness?

If an item is no longer satisfying you but is still usable, sell or donate it and then reflect on your learnings to help you make your next BIFL buy more successful.

I want to get on board the BIFL buzz but…

… I don’t have a lot of money so I can’t afford Buy It For Life products.

While it’s true that BIFL quality usually results in a significant dent in the bank balance, it’s still possible to follow BIFL principles on a budget. Your main options are:

  • Purchasing second hand. Monitor auction sites for high-quality products and buy them when they come up for sale. Build a buffer fund (say $100-$200) so that when a BIFL product that you want becomes available, you’re able to snap it up.
  • Request small, affordable BIFL products for presents or a cash contribution to help you afford a larger purchase. Most people are happy to gift you cash when they know it’s going towards something specific you will love.
  • Talk with your parents or grandparents, for whom mass-production didn’t exist when they set up their houses. See if there is anything they don’t use anymore and would be happy to pass on to you. If anything fits your needs and style, and it’s made well, this may open you up to high quality items. Some BIFL items you might inherit include Tupperware, woolen blankets, fine china and quality furniture.
  • Start small. Not all BIFL purchases have to be expensive. A water bottle (see our review of the best) or reusable bags are an example of items that don’t cost a lot, in an absolute sense, even if they are expensive for their category.

… I love keeping up to date with new technology!

Technology is ever changing, and it quickly becomes obsolete, leading us to discard technology frequently. How many computers have you gone through? Phones? Fitness trackers and smart watches? What did you do with them? Eventually it all ends up in a landfill.

Try using your technology for as long as possible to reduce these effects. For example, if you buy a new phone every year, try extending it to every 1.5 years or every 2 years (the number of phones you buy in a 50-year period [and so eventually end up in landfill] will reduce by 17 to 25 phones). If we amplify this impact across the current population of New York City, under the assumption that they are upgrading annually, the reduction in phones in landfills after 50 years would be between 146 and 210 million phones!

You might feel you’re missing out by delaying your upgrade, and that your device is no good. But you were excited about the specs of your device when you got it and nothing has changed it, only the marketing machine has sucked you in to make you feel like what you have isn’t good enough anymore. So, consider changing your ‘personal rules’ for when you can upgrade any of your ‘trendy’ purchases- it can make a significant difference over a lifetime!

Some of our favourite Buy It For Life items

Here are some of our favourite gender-neutral Buy It For Life products that we recommend, based on experience. However, remember that they are only a BIFL for you if they fit your individual style and needs.

The Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffle in Black

This bag is extremely durable and is ultra-functional. You can buy it on Amazon for around $160 USD, which we think is excellent value for what this bag offers. Our favourite features of the Black Hole are:

  • Backpack straps make this duffle bag comfortable and easy to carry around. You can remove the straps if you want to check this bag on a flight.
  • The 60L is the perfect size for travelling as it is the largest size accepted for carry on for most airlines and it can hold a lot, despite it’s small size. We can fit about 13 kg of clothing into it, which we do when we’re checking the bag for a flight. We can put a lot more weight into it when including our electronics and using it as a carry on bag.
  • We’ve taken this bag all across Europe over several years and it still looks brand new.
  • The bag is basically pick-pocket proof. The zipper to open the bag is against your back when wearing this bag – gives you peace of mind when you’re taking a crowded metro to the airport, for example.
  • We haven’t used the loops on the side of the bag, but they’re useful if you want to attach things to the outside with a strap or carabiner.
  • The interior of the bag is one big cavity, so you can pack it anyway you like. We use packing cells to keep our contents in order.
The Patagonia Black Hole 60 Liter Duffle - Black. A personal favourite Buy It For Life bag!
The Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffle – Black. A personal favourite Buy It For Life bag!

A Klean Kanteen water bottle

The Klean Kanteen is super durable. We have two, they don’t dent and they’re great for travelling with because they are so leakproof. They also have a lifetime guarantee. We recommend the dark black colour in 40oz (just over 1L) because it’s big enough to carry a decent amount of water but not so big that it weighs you down all day. 

You can also check out our full review of the best water bottles for extra inspiration.

Klean Kanteen bottles - with a lifetime guarantee, it's safe to Buy It For Life!
Klean Kanteen bottles – with a lifetime guarantee, it’s safe to Buy It For Life!

Undoubtedly the best BIFL umbrella – any of the Blunt umbrellas

Blunt umbrellas are incredibly well made, resistant to wind, have vivid colour options and, as their name suggests, have blunt edges on the umbrella so you’re unlikely to poke someone’s eye out! We recommend all of the sizes they offer, as it does depend what you need an umbrella for. These umbrellas are definitely pricey, so you might consider labelling yours in case you accidentally leave it somewhere.

The Blunt Classic umbrella in bright yellow! They also have neutral colours if you prefer neutrals for your Buy It For Life (BIFL) items.
The Blunt Classic umbrella in bright yellow! They also have neutral colours if you prefer neutrals for your Buy It For Life items.
  • The Metro (collapsible) size works well for storing in a bag for an unexpected downpour
  • The Classic is good for full rain coverage for one person (especially if you commute to work in a rainy city- just don’t leave it on the bus like I almost did!)
  • The XL or the Golf umbrellas are ideal for two adults to share to stay properly dry

Icebreaker Merino

Base layers are essential for cold climates. If you enjoy skiing, or just want to wear a warm base layer every day, Icebreaker’s merino options are an excellent BIFL choice. The merino doesn’t absorb odours and fits close to the skin to keep you warm. The long sleeve women’s and men’s options are also available in other necklines (like v-neck/turtleneck) and short sleeve options too.

In the kitchen – a cast iron dutch oven is a traditional BIFL

Cast iron will last forever and will be a delight to cook with if you treat it well, which is luckily easy to do as it is naturally low maintenance.

A cerise Le Creuset dutch oven, a classic Buy It For Life (BIFL) item
The Le Creuset Dutch Oven, with it’s stunning looks, is a beautiful piece of quality cookware you will be proud to take straight from the oven/stove and place on your table

The splurge option – a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. These beautiful pieces of cookware, with shiny enamel coating the cast iron, are stunning to look at and work perfectly. They’re pricey but they’re coveted for a reason!

A cast iron dutch oven by Lodge, a classic and affordable Buy It For Life (BIFL) item
The Lodge is a more affordable, but no less functional, option for a dutch oven.

The save option – a Lodge 5 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven. This Lodge piece is more functional than beautiful, but it’s function is 100% fulfilled, making it a perfect BIFL item. It’s also a more rustic look, so if you prefer this style, go for the Lodge.

So, will you try adopting the Buy It For Life approach next time you shop?

Having everything we own at Buy It For Life quality isn’t something that we can automatically achieve, regardless of our disposable income. A mind shift like this takes time and reflection along the journey. Give it a go and see whether you like the changes you make!

Comments

Please leave us a comment with your ideas! Is Buy It For Life a new idea for you, or have you always shopped this way? Do you own any BIFL items that you’d recommend, or are there any that you’re dreaming of owning one day?

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