The Life Cycle of a Product

The concept of minimalism is keeping what is essential, what brings you happiness and eliminating the rest.

As minimalists, we mostly talk about how and why to eliminate, whether its possessions, negative people in our lives or commitments that no longer serve us. In this post, I want to focus my attention on the topic of getting rid of things. More specifically, how we get rid of things.

A lot of people think that by either donating, gifting the items to someone else that might use it or leaving it on the side of the curb for someone else to collect, is fixing the problem of unwanted belongings.

But my question is, do people think about where that product will end up? Whose responsibility is it to make sure it doesn’t cause animals, humans and environmental harm? Do we care enough to ask this question?

Even though we follow a lot of minimalist principles, we still have some things creep into our home that we don’t realise would end up being a burden. So with this fresh in my mind, let’s get into what I refer to as the life cycle of a product and how to shift your mindset from when we first consider bringing that product into our homes.

The life cycle of a product

Most of us don’t think about the full life cycle of a product when we buy it. We just see it for what it is, a finished product that should serve some kind of purpose. Large or small, as long as it does what it’s meant to do for a decent amount of time, most of us are okay with that.

What we seem to miss is that the product was once raw materials—that it had to be either mined, extracted, or farmed. That it took multiple processes to get it to its now finished state. That it exchanged many hands, factories and different types of transportation to get to you.

When did we start to disconnect so much from this process and see the value in each product that we purchase? When I look at my mums and grandmother’s generations, they still have things that they bought 30, 40, 50 years ago because they have looked after it and it is still in perfect working order.

Today, you’d be lucky if something lasted or was kept for ten years! Things are made to break. They’re made to fall apart because ultimately, the brands want you to come back and buy more. They’re made cheaply—labour and the materials, to turn over bigger profits.

It’s true that things don’t have the same quality as they once did. They aren’t as hardy or “solid” as you might like to call it as they used to be. Choices were fewer, and the option you had was built to last.

People don’t repair; they just throw away to buy new again

It’s nice to see businesses and community organisations set up repair cafes or shops for specific types of repairs around the world. People are slowly starting to wake up.

But when you can buy a kettle for $10 at Target, if it lasts a year, great! If not, it’s okay; it only cost you the price of two takeaway coffees.

This is the mentality of most people, and when it’s so readily available and you’re on a budget, how can you pass up that opportunity right? I honestly don’t blame them.

It’s all about looking at it from a broader and global perspective, this great clip explains it so well.

With the way that this video explains it, why would you ever want to throw anything away? Because it was cheap? Because it has a hole and you can’t be bothered to stitch it up? Or maybe the leg has unscrewed from a chair, and you have no clue how to piece it back together?

Companies make cheap things because they know that we will buy them. When we stop supporting them by boycotting unethical production of goods, we give them less power to keep doing what they’re doing.

As each generation goes by, people are less interested in being able to do simple repairs at home when they can simply buy it new.

My parent’s generation (from my experience), were taught how to sew, build basic furniture, cook, clean, fix a blocked toilet, paint walls, build things and look after their gardens.

The older I get, I see the generations after me too busy to do any of that stuff. They would rather pay someone else to do it then acquire the skill themselves. They simply don’t have the interest.  

The importance of buying only what you need

Everything we buy today, do we consider the end of that product life cycle? And how does that shift our mentality?

If you went out to buy a t-shirt, are you at all thinking about what will happen to that t-shirt once you no longer choose to wear it? If we started shifting our thoughts to see it long term and take ownership of the story of that product, how would that change our buying decisions?

Being more connected to the supply and user chain gives us the tools and awareness to make better decisions for the long term. This means that we are taking responsibility for our purchase.

When you start buying only what you need and know the full life cycle of it, it will empower you. It will empower you to think before you buy, to ask the right questions and truly start voting with your dollar.

Ask yourself what the life cycle of the product would be at the time of purchase, rather than when you are ready to part with it.

Why do we only look after our investments?

When you go to buy a house, what are the questions that you ask?

  • Will this house fit my needs for my family and me for the next ten years?
  • Will this house be our family home for generations to come?
  • Is it built well?
  • Does anything need fixing/repairing?
  • What is the sellability of this property?

We ask these questions for more significant ticket items because we generally tend to look after them more.

Another example is a car. When you’re buying a car, you check how many kilometres/miles it has on it, how well it has been looked after inside and out, is it going to serve you a purpose for a long time? Does it meet all your requirements? These all help determine how much value and life you will get out of the car.

What if we started paying that same amount of attention to everything we owed? Looking at it long term and asking those types of questions.

Better yet, take it one step further

Take it one step further by thinking about that end of life process as discussed earlier. Don’t just think about how it will serve you and leave it at that. Think about how you will dispose of the product when it no longer has a use to you.

This will help you to buy something with more thought and it might just change your mindset about buying cheap and poorly made products that won’t go the distance.

I challenge you to do that for the next ten items you purchase (not food) and see how it will change the way that you shop.

The Life Cycle of a Product

Other posts you’ll love:

  1. The True Cost of a $10 Garment
  2. Shopping Second-Hand vs Buying New: What’s Better?
  3. The Power of Multipurpose Products
  4. Where is Away? The Epidemic of Plastic
  5. The Link Between Consumerism and Toxic Chemicals

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  1. Very well writing. I have really enjoyed reading it. I think way lot of people should think about what they buying, especially women as they are buying clothes without thinking just cause its looks nice and ending up having full house of clothes and jewellery and everything they dont even use.
    I’ve been trying to be minimalist for quite a time now and I think I’m doing good but still trying more so I accept the challenge as well and from now on everything I buy in thins month I will first think forward.
    Thank you. I love your page.

    1. Thank you Linda. I think the problem is that things (as you mention clothes and jewellery) are made so cheap that you don’t even have to think twice because wearing only once, you get the “value” out of that item. So of course, naturally, we have so much that we don’t need/wear/use.

      Glad to hear it, hope it goes well and I’d love to hear how you go!

  2. Brilliant post. If I’m tempted to buy something I try to remind myself that ultimately that thing I purchased is going to end up in landfill eventually I nearly always put it straight back on the shelf. Thanks for your thought provoking post.

  3. On the weekend, I was at a party where a group of people were talking about how many great things they were finding on the curb since the Kondo series hit Netflix. I wondered how many people clearing all the clutter gave a thought to their environmental responsibilities and the impact of just throwing everything away. Such a timely article !

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