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Simplify the Season with the Buyerarchy of Needs

Hanging Ornament on Christmas Tree

It’s safe to say that most of us have had a difficult year and with the holiday season, life can get more complicated, leading to more stress. Here are some easy strategies to simplify the season, including a tool that can help you save money.



How can you simplify? Start with changing your expectations around what the holidays should look like and consider lower-cost and lower-stress options. Here are a few to try out and with a little creativity, you can come up with many more.

  • Since celebrations are most likely smaller this year, try downsizing your meals as well. Do you need to have so many different sides? Try just one or two and then you’ll have fewer leftovers that might go bad.
  • Instead of going to the store to buy decorations, look to see what you already have around your house or from nature outside.
  • Good smells make everyone happy. Put some orange peels in a small pot of water, add a cinnamon stick and whole cloves, and set it to simmer on a warm stove. Cue the holiday music and instant ambiance!

With larger, extended families, you can change expectations with gift-giving as well and reduce stress on finances, time, and mental energy. Put each family member’s name in a hat and assign each person only one other family member to give a gift. This allows you to focus (and spend) on one gift, instead of many. Gift giving is a way to express love and gratitude; don’t forget to explain why you chose the gift as that can enhance the recipient’s appreciation. If you want to share thanks with the entire family, write them notes as well—pen a haiku or include your favorite poem. These written missives can be your gift.


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This time of year, I like to remember my favorite bumper sticker, which says, “The best things in life aren’t things.” Having lots of physical things means you have to take care of them, clean them, organize them, store them… you get the picture. Having things takes up a lot of time and energy. No, we can’t live without stuff, but next time you are buying something (a gift, perhaps?), pause for a moment to consider this “Buyerarchy of Needs” developed by Sarah Lazarovic, modeled after Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

The idea is to start at the bottom and meet your needs with what you have and if that doesn’t work, you move up the hierarchy to use different strategies to meet your need before buying something new. Sounds simple but it can be hard to do in practice because of our consumer society.

How do you use the “Buyerarchy” to simplify the season (or life in general)? When deciding on a gift or something that you need, think about what you have already. Can something be repurposed or reused for that purpose? If not, the Buyerarchy encourages us to connect with our communities. Can you borrow that thing from someone else? For example, do we all need to own snow blowers? Or even blenders? If you can find a willing lender, what do you have to swap that someone might want instead? In this scenario, don’t always think about swapping things but services as well. Can you offer to clear your neighbors sidewalk in exchange for borrowing their snow blower?

Moving up the Buyerarchy, the next step is Thrifting. Many Vermont towns have a local thrift shop or sponsor weekend garage sales. Is there a used version of what you want or something similar that can meet your need?

The last step before buying something is to make it yourself. Sometimes that’s just not possible (headphones, computer, etc.), but sometimes it is, and you just need encouragement or to remember that you (or your neighbor or grandfather) have the skills to make what you want. And having something handmade by someone you know makes that thing much more meaningful. This is also an opportunity to shop locally and buy something hand-made by another Vermonter.

If you’ve started at the bottom and tried all levels of the Buyerarchy to no avail, then you can feel good making a purchase to get what you need. Hopefully, you have saved money in other scenarios when you were able to make do with what you had or borrow and now you have the savings necessary.



Not convinced? Here’s an example of the Buyerarchy that recently played out in my life.

Like many of you, I am now working from home. I’m doing a lot more sitting and was starting to have some physical discomfort without all the moving that I usually did with my commute and working in an office. I wanted to try a standing desk. As you can imagine, there are a wide range of options online, and I started researching what would work best. It was easy to get sucked into reviewing all the different features, but when I looked at the cost, I finally stopped to think. What do I really need? And can I use what I have? Yes, even though I work in solid waste management and my goal is to reduce waste, my default was still to see what I could buy.

I have to thank my husband for the amazing desk that I have now. He remembered that we had parts of and old desk from my childhood in our barn. It’s basically two wooden sawhorses with a large piece of wood that you place on top. The sawhorses used to be supported by leather straps which deteriorated, so we substituted two pieces of old nylon webbing from our climbing days. But it wasn’t a standing desk, so how could I get the desk higher? It turns out, we had another piece of wood that was the top of my mother-in-law’s old drafting desk. With a few stacks of large books on top of the first desk, I was able to balance the drafting desktop at the height I need. Now, I have a great standing desk that was free, didn’t take any new materials to make, and got stuff out of my barn, reducing clutter.



How can you use the Buyerarchy this holiday season? Remember the phrase, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” What do you have that the recipient might love? Using the Buyerarchy will reduce the impact of all of our stuff, saving the earth’s resources for those yet to come and giving a gift of gratitude to our earth as well. Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you enjoy this holiday season with friends and family and, maybe, a little less stuff.

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Anne Bijur

About Anne Bijur

Anne Bijur joined the Waste Management and Prevention Division of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources in 2017 and works with a team to implement Vermont’s recycling, composting, and waste reduction initiatives. She is a sustainability professional with more than 15 years’ experience designing and delivering education and communication programs for both the non-profit and private sector, including Shelburne Farms and AllEarth Renewables.
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