As well as buying better, a key part of sustainability is buying less by keeping things in use for longer through care and repair. This article covers everything you’ll need to know to pick top quality in the first place and tips for keeping clothes, accessories, furniture, cars and toys looking their best and working for longer.
Let’s dive in.
Materialism gets a bad rap in our overdeveloped world and often the criticism is warranted. When we typically use the term materialistic we’re referring to individuals that prioritise the pursuit of material goods over all else, like an alcoholic and their next drink. At its core, materialism is about the valuing of goods, and for those of us that practice healthy materialism that translates into cherishing and caring for the items we own. For me it’s not the items themselves that are flawed but more how we relate and value them.
There are three steps towards healthy materialism
- Buy better
- Take care of what we own
- Repair over replace
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First things first; always borrow, re-purpose or buy second-hand before buying new. And if you’re unsure why read my article on sustainable shopping! If you still need to buy new then aim to buy
- Objects made from materials that are infinitely recyclable, i.e. glass or metal or compostable (not biodegradable) at the end of their life.
- Objects made locally from local sourced materials.
- Objects sold locally from a ethical retailer that is doing their best to lessen their impact on the planet.
- Objects that are long-lasting and repairable.
It’s the last point that I want to elaborate on in this article. One of the hardest tasks on my zero waste journey was finding a way to sustainably dispose of all the broken and non-repairable goods I’d accumulated over the years. I now do my best to avoid allowing flimsy items into the house in the first place. It’s not always clear which objects are longer-lasting and repairable, plus we want our items to look good as they age too so here’s a few tips on what to look for.
- Look for a long warranty. Companies that offer a warranty are invested in making the item last in the first place.
- Check the availability for spare parts online before purchasing. A company that sells spare parts are showing their commitment to reducing waste and making goods last.
- Check if there is a repair service in your area. This might be through the company directly, as is the case with Patagonia and Levis or through a third-party like an independent repair company.
- Look for extra buttons on clothes. It’s a sign that the maker expects the garment to last a while.
- Avoid jumpers with signs of pilling. It’ll only get worse as time goes on.
- Synthetic fibre jumpers are useless at keeping you warm, so opt for natural fibres if that’s what you need.
- Avoid jeans that have a high percentage of elastane in them i.e. stretch jeans, as they will lose their shape quicker than others.
- Jumpers with tape on the shoulders will hold their shape better.
- When buying suits buy two bottoms, as they’ll wear out quicker.
- In general the thinner the fabric the less well it’ll wear over time.
- Leggings with deep waistbands will be more comfortable to wear.
- Check the transparency of leggings before buying. I’ve seen enough buttocks flashing through thin leggings to last me a lifetime!
- Partially-lined trousers are a sign of quality. In fact lined-anything can be a sign of quality.
- Beware of painted finishes on anything. They wear off very easily making the item look tacky.
- Synthetic finishes wear less well than natural finishes.
- Shiny finishes wear less well than matt finishes and varnished or lacquered finishes are harder to repair than oiled or waxed finishes.
- After buying shoes bring them to a cobbler / shop repair person straight away to see if they can be resoled and re-heeled. If not bring them straight back to the shop for a refund, explaining why when you do.
- Avoid fabric shoes with thin soles, like pumps. The sole is too low to protect the fabric from wear and tear and they’ll look like crap in no time.
- Love your Clothes have guides on how to buy the best quality clothes.
Take Care of What we Own
The most damaging thing to buildings is water so check your gutters and roof annually. It’s also a good idea to clean out your gutters before the winter so make sure they’re working fully.
Ventilation is a home’s best friend. If you’ve mould in your home it’s down to poor ventilation of moist air. Install quality extract fans in kitchen, bathrooms and don’t dry wet clothes indoors.
Use good quality mats to stop dirt from being tracked into your home and damaging your floors or take shoes off once inside the door.
Prevent sunlight from bleaching fabrics, carpets and rugs by keeping the blinds down or curtains pulled on really sunny summer days. (In Ireland? we wish!)
Do not use silicone-based furniture polish like Pledge and Mr Sheen! As part of research for my Masters I learned that the silicone penetrates the timber making it impossible to repair / refinish in the future. Here’s a recipe for homemade furniture wax made with just 2 ingredients
Don’t leave plastic furniture outside for extended periods. They’ll degrade quicker if left exposed to sun and rain.
Invest in pressure-treated timber outdoor furniture or repaint metal or wooden furniture annually to extend it’s lifespan.
Keep your tyres at the right pressure. Not only does it reduce fuel consumption it helps your tires last longer.
Hoover out the filter at the back of your hairdryer to prevent the motor burning out from lack of air-flow.
Replace the filter pad in your hoover every time you change the bag to keep air flowing to the motor.
Remove the batteries in appliances or toys that are being stored for extended period of time to prevent damage from battery leakage.
Aim to deplete a devices battery completely before recharging if possible, and turn off the device when charging if you can.
Shoes & Accessories
Clean your shoes regularly. Dirt can act as an abrasive against seams, weakening them over time. A damp toothbrush dipped in bicarbonate of soda is a great way to clean white shoes or runners.
Polish your leather shoes weekly with a nourishing silicone-free polish. Don’t use spray polishes or ones that dry to give a coating on the material. Leather needs to breath and so wax-based polishes that you buff to a shine are best.
If your leather shoes get wet don’t put them on a radiator to dry out. Direct heat is not good for leather so instead stuff them with newspaper and place them in a warm place to dry out slowly.
Make sure to re-heel and re-sole BEFORE it’s needed. A stitch in nine and all that I’ve boots on the go for decades because of this.
Feed leather bags with a nourishing cream 1-2 a year. You can buy leather cream from the Irish company Janni.
One of the easiest ways to care for your clothes is to wash them less. If you’re the type of person that washes their clothes after every wear, STOP. Unless you’ve been sweating there really is no need and it wears clothes out and everytime you wash synthetic clothing you’re putting tiny pieces of plastic (microfibres) into our waterways. Not only does this pollute our oceans and affect marine life, it ends up going into the food and water we consumer. Depending on the weather and my level of activity I can get 3 or 4 wears out of something before washing it. If you’re concerned about smells just hang the clothes up somewhere airy after wearing to allow them breathe. Give it a go, what have you got to loose?
Iron dark clothes on the reverse to prevent shining
Hand wash bras.
Avoid wearing bras two days in a row in order to let the elastic rest. I’m told this helps them last longer.
Don’t put elastane or Lycra near direct heat, i.e. radiators or tumble dryers, as the heat damages the fibres.
Avoid using fabric softner with elastane or Lycra. It shortens it’s lifespan.
Use wider hangers on jumpers and jackets to help maintain their shape.
Wash clothing that pills in net bags in the washing machine to reduce abrasion.
Close hooks and catches before putting in the washing machine to prevent snagging, or wash garment in it’s own mesh bag.
Treat stains as soon as they happen, or as soon as you can. Visit my blog article on sustainable ethical laundry for tips on stain removal.
Repair small holes & tears as soon as you can. After all a stitch in time save nine!
Repair over Replace
One of the most sustainable acts you can do is to repair what you own instead of replacing them. Over the proceeding decades a lot of people in Ireland have lost the skills and interest in repairing – something I’ve noticed hasn’t happened in other countries. The move away from a repair culture has resulted in a loss of a lot of businesses that relied on the professional and hobbyist repairers like DIY shops, cobblers, and furniture restorers.
I appreciate that a lot of goods are designed not to be repaired and really the only thing we can do is to avoid buying them and pressurise our politicians to expand the recently introduced ‘Right to Repair’ legislation to offer spare parts and instructions beyond professionals and to owner of the goods themselves. For items we can repair her are some tips.
If you notice a whitish bloom on a wooden surface it’s most likely water damage. The easiest way to remove water marks from wood is with an iron and a tea-towel, as show in this guide here.
Sometimes the legs of your furniture get marked from hoover head etc. To hide the blemishes simply rub with whatever natural oil you have in the house; sunflower, olive or rapeseed. Remember to buff the wood after oiling to remove stickiness.
I’ve bought replacement parts from The Hoover Centre in Dublin 6 and Kenilworth Electrics in Dublin 6.
You can also check out spare part websites like
If you need a new part and the manufacturer doesn’t sell them consider printing one for free at your local library. Some of the larger libraries have 3D printers and you can source the part from websites like Thingverse.
If you need to fix something plastic and traditional glue isn’t cutting it consider trying Sugru, or Fixits, two brand of mouldable glue or Bondic, a plastic welding solution. Sugru is made in Ireland and and has hundreds of uses, which you’ll find it you search ‘sugru life hacks’ on Youtube. I’ve haven’t used Fixits or Bondic myself so would be keen if anyone has experience of it.
Orchard Toys offer a free replacement service on it’s games for UK customers and you can buy replacement lego pieces to complete sets. Also the 3D printing platform Dagoma has a whole host of files for printable replacement toy parts. You’d just download and print yourself or bring to your local library or 3D printing shop. And if you’ve a precious teddy that needs some tlc contact the Teddy Bear Hospital in Cavan.
If your shoes are scuffed beyond belief then consider buying leather dye from a quality shoe repair company. It’s easy to apply and although it will need retouching every so often ll make them look like brand new.
In my experience the cheaper the garment the more frequently it needs to be repaired, and that’s if it can be repaired at all. The seam on some items are so skimpy that it’s impossible to fix a ripped seam. Go through your wardrobe and do an audit of your most worn items. Here’s a list of some of the most common repairs and links to some step-by-step tutorials where possible.
Sewing on a button. If you notice a button is getting loose better to remove and reattach than risk losing it on the street someday and then having to search for a replacement.
Replacing an elastic waistband that’s no longer stretchy. I do this all the time in pyjamas. This tutorial shows the removal of the old elastic before putting in the new elastic but sometimes the old elastic is stitched in place and it’s not possible to remove it. In this instance I simply leave the old elastic in place and just feed a new piece in to sit along side it. Works for me!
Shaving pilling or fuzz off knitwear. Years ago I invested in an electric fabric shaver. It is amazing good at removing the little balls that accumulate on soft knitwear, making it look as good as new. A low-energy version is a sweater comb, which you can pick up in a lot of supermarkets.
Here’s a video on how to repair a hole in a knitted jumper. And if you’ve major holes there’s a clever technique using foam, felting needles wool roving. You can buy kits from Woodfiller in the Netherlands, or Sugru in Ireland or possibly a local craft shop.
I haven’t tried this but apparently spraying cold water and vinegar on water stained leather helps to remove the stains.
Use white eraser on suede to remove scuff marks
Have a dying party to refresh dark clothes that have lost their intensity. Clubbing together with friends can make the whole process more fun and more efficient.
I’m a member of the Facebook group, the Modern Mending Club run by author Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald; a great spot run to ask for some visible mending tips.
Patagonia has released guides on how to repair their clothes.
And Hubbub has a guide to looking after clothes with glitter, beads and sequins
This website has great tutorials on how to alter / mend an jumper
Tools – The great thing about repairing tools is how few tools you need. A simple needle, thread and scissors.
A thimble can come in handy for pushing needles through stiff fabric and you can pick these up in a lot of charity shops or get one in a Christmas cracker.
I would suggest investing in a spool of black and white thread as these are the colours you’ll use most often. Ideally match the thread to your fabric, which means cotton thread for natural fabrics and synthetic thread for synthetic fabric. I’ve sourced organic cotton thread on a wooden spool and recycled polyester thread if you want to go all out eco. For coloured thread the easiest way to avoid all those plastic spools is to buy a thread plait with a range of colours on it.
There are a few interesting repair kits on Irish website Sugru
A Helping Hand
These are relatively new to Ireland but are becoming increasingly popular. They are generally run by community groups and differ from standard repair services in that the owner of the broken item is expected to participate in the repair so they can learn how to do it themselves going forward. I’ll always share information on repair cafes in Ireland on the Living Lightly in Ireland Facebook page so follow me there if you want to go to one.
I’ve always had shoes repaired but very little else up until a couple of year ago. Now I’ve bought replacement parts for our Miele hoover and Kenwood blender, had very good upholstery work carried out by Mia Upholstery in Rialto, Dublin 8 and had my leather bag restitched by high-end leather repair company Issac Jackman in Dublin 2.
I also came across the Sneaker Surgery in Dublin on my travels. Haven’t used them myself but might be worth a shot if your trainers are in need of tender loving care. Another place appearing to take care of runners includes the Jervis Hub, in the Jervis Shopping Centre, Dublin 1. And an postal service is available from Just for Kicks
The cycle clinic does call outs for bike repairs.
If you’re in the UK and need some repair work done on clothes check out The Seam, which lists local seamstresses and tailors
So over the festive period dig out all those unloved items in need of a bit of TLC and get gluing, polishing and darning.
Thanks for reading