Choose Your Shopping “Rules” to Make Purchases Simpler

What you bring into your house determines what waste your home will produce and contributes to your household’s environmental footprint. Many of us try to shop conscientiously, considering environmental impacts like climate emissions, water use, pollution, and waste in our buying decisions. But environmental impacts are just one part of the buying equation; we consider a host of other variables, like:

  • cost
  • health
  • convenience
  • social responsibility
  • animal welfare
  • aesthetics
  • and more.

Why Set Shopping Rules?

When we shop with sustainability in mind, the choices can feel overwhelming, even to the point where we delay buying something while we hem and haw or throw up our hands in defeat. Should we buy products with eco-certifications (and which ones)? Should we buy the local or the organic produce? Should we buy this item that’s a little better for the earth but a lot more expensive? Should we buy an item even though the packaging isn’t recyclable?

Make your decisions easier by deciding on the buying rules for your house. Often the choice will be made for you, because you can rely on your rules. (If rules sounds too uptight, you can think of it as your buying philosophy instead.)

Your rules will follow your priorities, which means there are no right or wrong rules. Maybe you’re at a place in your life where cost trumps all other considerations. By acknowledging that priority in your rules, you don’t need to feel guilty about choosing by cost alone.

Your rules don’t have to be perfect: just pick rules that will make shopping simpler for you. No more waffling, no more guilt, no more second-guessing. By following your own rules, you can feel confident that you’re buying the item that’s right for you.

Picking the Shopping Rules that Will Work for You

You can be as loose or specific as you’d like in your shopping rules. Sweeping rules like “shop secondhand first” or “always buy organic” might work well for you – or you might want to go super-specific, like “buy organic, shade-grown coffee roasted in the Northwest” or “buy blouses at Kirkland consignment stores.”

Your rules will likely vary for different types of purchases:

  • food
  • personal care
  • clothing
  • household goods
  • office and craft supplies
  • big ticket items

You’ll probably find that you care about some categories more than others. I’m very into food, so I have a lot of (very specific) rules about the food I buy, but I’m no fashionista, and have a limited set of guidelines for the clothes I buy. You can start with just one or two areas that interest you most, or you can take all of them on.

If you feel the need to do research before making your rules, feel free – but I suspect you’ll find you’re able to set many rules without research.

Allow your rules to evolve organically, or plan to revisit them periodically to check in with your priorities.

How to Choose Your Shopping Rules

You could brainstorm rules by yourself, or dive right in to discussing possibilities with your family.

If you’re starting alone:

  1. Take five minutes to write down the rules you already follow when you shop.
  2. Review the list of values at the top of the page. You can prioritize all of them, or just pick your top two or three.
  3. Think about which environmental impacts matter most to you (e.g. climate, waste, pollution, etc.).
  4. Pick the shopping category you feel most strongly about. Spend another five minutes brainstorming rules that fit with the priorities and impacts you just picked out.
  5. Share your ideas with your family for discussion.

If you’re starting off with a discussion:

  1. Talk about what your family’s priorities are when you’re buying something. (Refer to the list at the top of the page, or choose your own.) Pick your top two or three that seem most important to you.
  2. Discuss whether there are certain environmental impacts that are more important to you.
  3. Think of an example of something you bought recently or are in the market to buy. Talk through your considerations. Think about whether you’re happy with the purchase you made, or whether it doesn’t quite jibe with the priorities you just discussed.
  4. Talk about whether the rules you put towards that item would apply to all the items in that category.

Examples of “green” shopping rules you could use:


  • prefer organic produce
  • prefer local produce
  • only buy seafood on the Seafood Watch List
  • buy pantry items in bulk with your own reusable containers

Personal Care

  • choose beauty products on Good Guide
  • pick beauty products that haven’t been tested on animals
  • buy beauty products without microbeads
  • only buy products that you can pronounce all the ingredients


  • shop secondhand first
  • choose eco-conscious brands
  • avoid fabrics with microfibers
  • choose materials made from recycled content

Household Goods

  • shop secondhand first
  • choose products that are recyclable
  • prefer products with recyclable packaging
  • prefer items made from renewable resources

Big Ticket Items


What are some of your buying rules? Want input? Chime in on our Facebook.