Advertisers do their jobs well; in fact, they have convinced a majority of us that many of the products we use are necessities when they are not. Long before we had all the modern conveniences we now take for granted, our grandparents and great-grandparents lived comfortably with more basic tools, doing their work differently or not doing what we do at all. Here are ten examples of common products we really could live without:
Dryer Sheets/Fabric Softener – When I started using fragrance-free detergent for baby clothes, I stopped using fabric softener. I don’t notice a difference in the texture of our laundry, and my husband actually prefers not having the extra scent in his clothes.
Different Cleaning Supplies for Each Surface – Most things can be cleaned with a single chemical, such as ammonia or bleach, or even with more natural, edible cleaning supplies – vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda.
Cellular Phones – I recently saw the results of a survey in which more people said they owned a cellular phone than said they owned a television. Very few of us really need to be able to be contacted anytime and anywhere. Cell phones are nice to have for emergencies, but they are far from necessary for most people, even in the age of instant communication.
Television – Most of us would have to change our lifestyles if we gave up our cable or satellite subscriptions, but we would still survive. In fact, after a few months, we might not even miss them.
Beauty Products – I may be the wrong person to comment on this category of goods, as I rarely wear makeup at all, but it’s hard for me to justify spending a lot of time and money on a beauty routine that requires twenty steps and fifteen products. All I really need is soap; I also use shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer. When I use moisturizer, I put the same lotion on all my dry skin rather than buying separate products for my face, hands, and feet.
Shaving Cream – My college marketing professor used shaving cream as an example of products for which marketers had successfully created the perception of a need. Why buy shaving cream (or gel), he argued, when soap works just as well?
Hand Sanitizer – Once again, soap is an acceptable substitute. In fact, some health professionals have been arguing that we use hand sanitizer too often and are “killing the good bacteria,” thus making it harder for our bodies to fight off illness.
Convenience Foods – In a few generations, we have gone from making pancakes with flour and eggs to making pancakes with pancake mix to buying frozen pancakes to pop in the microwave. Each step makes the pancakes faster to make but also more expensive, less tasty, and less healthy. Pancakes are only one example of the drastic changes in the way many of us cook.
Bottled Water – Like cellular phones, bottled water might be considered a necessity in specific situations (such as natural disasters), but it’s not needed for ordinary circumstances. If you want cold water to grab on your way to work, it’s just as easy to fill your own bottle(s) with filtered or tap water as it is to lug home bottled water from the store.
Disposable paper products – On a recent trip to BJ’s, our family spent more than $60 on trash bags and paper products to put in them. These products may all have a small per-unit cost, but money spent on napkins, tissues, paper towels, and even diapers and sanitary napkins will add up. All of these products have non-disposable alternatives.
This list cites just a few of the many things marketers have convinced us we need – I’m sure you could add more. Some of the things on this list are luxuries I don’t want to give up, but it helps me to see them as luxuries and not necessities. When I take the time to think about whether the things I automatically add to my shopping list are really necessary, I am better able to evaluate whether they are worth my money. Sometimes I even find that my family has been spending money on things we thought we needed but didn’t, in fact, even really want.