How to Find Products You Only Need to Buy Once in a Lifetime

Choosing products you buy once in a lifetime
Living a (close to) zero-waste lifestyle means only buying what’s really necessary, and when you do need to purchase, finding products you only need to buy once. There are times when I’ve found items I needed to buy or replace only to be disappointed when the new product breaks down. So, how do you find products you only need to buy once?

You see, everything’s built to last a finite amount of time. A rule of manufacturing is to never invent the perfect lightbulb. Back when lightbulbs were first made, they were practically indestructible. Lightbulb makers quickly realized their business wouldn’t last long if they made lightbulbs you only need to buy once. Thus, lightbulbs were made with filaments to burn out after a few years. Occasionally you’ll see one of these very old lightbulbs that keeps shining, but as we know, lightbulbs, like many other products, aren’t built to last a lifetime.

There are, however, certain items you only need to buy once. Either they’re guaranteed to last or they’re built with such high-quality workmanship, they keep working for years. Here are the rules you should use to find practical products you only need to buy once in a lifetime.

How to Find Quality Products You Only Need to Buy Once

find quality products
For the last year, I’ve tried to maintain a zero (or close to zero) waste lifestyle. The biggest step I’ve taken toward doing this is that I’ve largely stopped buying anything other than consumables (like food, toilet paper, and toiletries). Not only does this cut back on the amount of waste and trash I produce, but it’s also great for saving money.

When I do need to buy or replace an item due to wear and tear, this is how I go about finding quality products I only need to buy once (or at least won’t need to buy again for a very long time).

Research the Life of the Product

research product life

I’m a big proponent of researching before I ever spend money on an item. This was especially true as I built and outfitted my tiny house. Of course, there are certain cases when I haven’t had time for extensive research, but usually I follow a rule to check reviews and thoroughly compare options before I buy.

At the very least, I always read the reviews on any product I plan to purchase. I look for independent reviews and unbiased sources whenever possible (and I post my own product reviews for others). Of course, most manufacturers put glowing reviews of their own products on their website, so it’s usually not the best source for honest product comparisons or learning the pros and cons. Look for independent sources. For example, when looking into solar ovens, I tested several brands against each other and posted my solar oven reviews online as a helpful resource.

Solar Oven Review and Guide

I look for review forums that I trust. If I’m looking for tiny house supplies, like a power generator or solar panel gear, I go to other tiny house forums and websites. Someone with a large cabin or a residential home will offer a very different perspective on these types of items because chances are their needs are different from mine. As a blogger, I also think it’s very important to share my own experience to help others navigate issues like how to find the best tiny house plans.

When I’m buying a larger item like an appliance or electronic, I’ll also check Consumer Reports (when possible). Most of their product reviews are only accessible with a paid membership, but many public libraries carry issues of the printed reports. It may also be worth the cost to access a report before a major purchase.

consumer reports for product reviews

Reviews on Amazon and Google are also helpful for products, but because they aren’t as carefully regulated, be wary of bias and false reviews. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people give items a poor review for strange reasons like, “It didn’t fit on my counter” or “the color didn’t match my house.” Read with discretion, paying close attention to mentions about the life of the product, common problems, and customer support offered by the manufacturer.

One tip is to read the 3-star reviews. People selling the product are only going to give themselves 4- or 5-star reviews. Competitors might try to fake bad reviews with 1- or 2-star reviews. Three-star reviews are the sweet spot; no one is going to pay for a fake 3-star review, so you can usually get a good view on what the product is really like.

There are also sites like Buy Me Once and Buy This Once that offer full listings of products built to last. Many of these items either feature a lifetime guarantee or are so highly durable, they’re proven to last years, so you only need to buy once. Reddit’s sub r/buyitforlife is a great source to learn what will last and get advice.

Budget to Spend Extra

budget to spend extra on quality goods

Personally, I tend to live on the frugal side. However, I’m willing to spend extra if it’s an investment in quality. I’m a firm believer of avoiding a “pennywise and pound foolish” mentality. This is especially true if you’re seeking items you only need to buy once. As a general rule, if I use something every day, I give myself the permission to spend big if I find the perfect item.

For example, I ordinarily wouldn’t spend $20 on a pair of socks, but these Darn Tough Wool Socks feature multiple excellent reviews, promising they’re durable. Better yet, the company offers a lifetime unconditional warranty. So, if you stick to a uniform wardrobe like I do, then a few pairs of tough, long-lasting socks may be the last sock purchase you ever need to make. In that case, the price seems worth it.

darn tough socks

Of course, there are other times when the price isn’t justified. For example, buying certain brand name cast iron cookware is more expensive than a second-hand, generic, or cheaper brand cast iron skillet. Yet, the life of cast iron is proven across the board. So, in this case, paying extra for a fancy brand at a culinary supply store isn’t worth your investment.

For the most part, quality items require more workmanship, design, and high-quality materials. The reality is quality is often more expensive. If you research the product thoroughly before purchasing, you’ll get a good idea if the price tag is justified.

lodge cast iron skillet

The other area to look at is the planned use of the product. If you’d like to find a product you only need to buy once but plan to use every day, a high price is easier to defend. A pair of dress shoes that cost $100 that you wear once or twice a year means you’ll pay $10-25 per wear over the next few years. On the other hand, a quality pair of sneakers that cost $100 but you plan to wear every day may cost much less than $1 per wear over their lifetime.

Test the Return Policy

test return policy on products you buy

Does the product come with a lifetime guarantee? Does the store offer a “no hassle” return policy?

Don’t feel afraid to test the limits of warranties, guarantees, and return policies. Typically, when a guarantee is offered it’s because the manufacturer believes the product is built to last. The other reason is company owners know returns are a hassle, so they bet on the fact most people won’t take them up on the promise. They may also require complicated documentation in the hope customers will give up.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, keep receipts, (typically a scan or photograph is acceptable, but read the fine print) and send back warranty cards, especially on major purchases. If you’re already minimizing the number of items you buy, then chances are you won’t have many receipts and warranties to keep track of anyway. Certain credit card companies also offer purchase protection and extended warranties on major purchases.credit card

Many retail stores—like grocery stores—guarantee the quality of their products as well. This means when you find produce that goes bad too fast, or mold on a block of recently purchased cheese before the expiration date, return the item to the store for an exchange or refund. While consumables aren’t meant to last a lifetime, it’s still worth it to ensure you get what you pay for. Stores with great return policies include Nordstrom, Costco, and Eddie Bauer. Both Aldi and Trader Joe’s offer satisfaction guaranteed, easy returns.

Ask Around Before You Buy

ask around before buying

Another way to find products you only need to buy once is to ask around! Talk to your friends and see what they’ve found reliable and trustworthy. Check with product experts and repair people to find out what products will really stand the test of time. See if someone will let you test, borrow, or check out the product so you can see it in use.

worn red wing bootsIt’s amazing how experience changes your impression of a product. Many of us feel gung ho about a purchase at first, but then once we’ve tried it for a while, we may change our perspective. I like to check with friends who’ve used a product for a long time before I go out and purchase it for myself. Everyone loves a new set of pots and pans, a great kitchen knife, or new power tools. The real question is, how do they feel about those same products 3, 5, even 10 years down the road?

Again, this type of information sharing is so important, especially in the tiny house world. When you have a minimal amount of space and are living a minimalist lifestyle, each purchase should be deliberate and long-lasting. This is, again, one of the main reasons why I like to share reviews as much as possible with my readers. I also like to do follow up reviews, like my three year review on the Luggable Loo composting toilet.

When you ask someone you trust for their opinion, you know you’re getting the full, unbiased picture of how the product will work. I’ve found maintenance and repair guys often offer a lot of insight on products like power tools, small machines, and appliances because they’re the ones who get called in when something goes wrong. So, listen to the advice of friends and those with experience!

Seek Quality Materials and Simple Designs

quality-materials

Call it the Occam’s razor theory of finding items you only need to buy once: the simplest choice is often the best. Typically, products that last will feature simple, straightforward design and are made from the highest quality materials. Truth be told, a simple design is loaded with nuances and details you have to get perfect.

When it comes to design, the reason simple products are the best is well…simple. When there are a lot of bells and whistles, there’s more pieces to break. There are more areas where something will go wrong. Unnecessary complexity leads to bigger complications and concerns. Think of all the different “cutting-edge” technology and gadgets that flopped after consumers got their hands on them. When something breaks on a complicated machine, it’s often the “extras” that cause a problem.

surefire flashlight

While it’s tempting to seek the latest and greatest product with the most modern conveniences and digitization, at the end of the day, simplicity and function win out. Think about what you really want the product to do, then seek a trusted brand with quality materials and manufacturing.

For example, Stanley Thermos has been around for hundreds of years. The simple, insulated design works time and time again, even as new versions of water bottles, coffee mugs, and thermos-type containers come out on the market every day. It seems the more complex the designs, the more likely imitation brands are to leak, spill, or lose heat. Many reviewers report they’re still using Stanley thermoses for 25, even 40 years (that said, there are reports the quality declined in recent years). Stanley also offers a lifetime warranty.

mason jars

Another example is DeWALT tools. The simple designs and quality materials have been used for decades and they’ve become a household name and standard. They also offer a lifetime warranty and have stood strongly behind their products.

I’m a big fan of using mason jars for storage as well. They work much better than plastic products, seal tighter, and are usable again and again. When you’re looking for a solution to a household problem, the tried and true answer is often the best. Look at what your parents or grandparents did. While modern conveniences and technological advances have improved many areas of life, there are also places where it’s unnecessarily complicated life too.

Ryan’s Top Ten Lifetime Products (for Everyone)

top ten lifetime products

I’m not a proponent of going out to buy items you don’t need simply because they’re recommended. Use what you have on hand first and wait until you’re ready to replace it. Once you are ready to buy a new item, here are my top ten items you only need to buy once (or will at least last for years).

1. Cast Iron Skillet

lodge cast iron skillet

2. Mason Jars (for storage, cooking, drinking)

mason jar

3. Vitamix 5200 Blender

vitamix blender

4. Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle thermos

stanley thermos

5. Chef Knife

chef knife

6. KitchenAid Artisan Tilt-Head Stand Mixer

kitchenaid-mixer

7. Pendleton Wool Blanket

pendleton blanket

8. Yeti Cooler

yeti cooler

9. SureFire LED Flashlights

surefire flashlight

10. Le Creuset Dutch Oven

lecreuset-dutch-oven

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of how to buy smart, so you only need to buy once or twice in the future. Choose high quality items, read reviews, and do your research before you spend your hard-earned money on products that won’t last.

Your turn!

  • What quality products have you found that are built to last?
  • What stores and retailers offer superior warranties and customer care?
11 Comments
  1. I’ve been using my Mr. Coffee coffee pot for so long, that I forget when I bought it. It’s quite satisfactory, as long as I make a whole pot at a time.

    Also, I love my Nutri Bullet — use it every day and the only issue is remembering to remove the rubber gasket and wash it, and the groove it sits in, every few uses. And then remembering to put it back in! Not pretty when you leave out the gasket, LOL. But it makes excellent smoothies and works great as a small blender also, with a much smaller footprint of counter space than a blender.

    I have three of the things on your top 10 list, too! The dutch oven, KitchenAid mixer, and iron skillet. I can vouch for all of those!

  2. This is the one email you’ve sent me I’m holding on to. As a seasoned minimalist, this is the one (lol) email I’ve referred back to several times. Thank you!

  3. I have a men’s corduroy, button down, hooded shirt jacket from Quiksilver. Bought it while working for a clothing store before I even met my husband. Now, my soon-to-be 20 year old daughter is wearing it. Durable for sure.

    I have some favorite bath towels from Charter Club – think from Macy’s, used frequently over the past 14 years. The edges are only beginning to fray now but there’s still a lot of life in them! Nice and thick and absorbent.

    Authentic wool rugs of course.

    Good quality small leather goods.

    My mom has one of my Sanrio (think Hello Kitty) alarm clocks from the 80s and it still keeps time really well.

  4. Hi,
    I’m offering reusable straws on my website and I was wondering your opinion about it. I would like to know what are you thinking of this product?

    Here is the website : ale-ecoworld.com.au

    Sincerely,
    Alexy Gaunand

    • Georgia Romeos, vintage pendelton, sprinter van, sharpies, tape measure and a good wool hat.

  5. Looking for kitchen items at thrift stores or antique stores has worked well for me. My mindset is it’s a great way too see if things stand the test of time and repeated use. If a metal colander from the 60s hasn’t rusted yet, it probably won’t in the next 50 years either.

  6. All-Clad is also very good, the restaurant quality one. It has thicker walls, and it cleans very well. Stay away from anything with hard to clean handles, or groves inside of the pot. Also, any kind of holiday shape or style pans. You’ll look at it years from now and think, “Why did I buy that?”.

  7. First, love your blog. Helps keep me inspired. I was thinking about this yesterday. I purchased (yes!) a cheap plastic toaster for $5 a few years ago. I use it frequently, and it is starting to loose it’s glamour for me. But the darn thing just works so well! Oh, I guess I will have to just keep it and use it until it finally, if ever, breaks! On the other hand, about 35 years ago I bought an Oster blender for $1 at a garage sale. I picked up an extra glass container for it for $1 at a later date, worrying that the original might break eventually. I’m happy to say that even though I moved from California to Florida about 25 years ago, the blender is still in perfect condition. Unfortunately it’s avocado green. Doesn’t really go with my carrara marble countertops, my one huge splurge, but because I want the minimalist kitchen, it stays in the pantry unless I need it. One of my best investments ever!

    • I admittedly know nothing about cutting wood, but have you considered getting a crosscut saw instead of a chain saw? It’s probably just the writing, but an article I came across while regretfully wasting time (http://www.bifl.org/bifl-products-still-made-in-usa/) convinced me that it would be worth thinking about a crosscut saw for the refined design, utility, and ubiquity of used options (regardless of the fitness benefits mentioned in the title) if I ever became a person who needed to regularly cut wood.

  8. Woolovers Wool Cardigans. I wash mine in cold in the machine and lay it out to dry on the rug overnight before hanging it. Pure wool lasts amazingly well when properly cared for and lets me be more frugal with the furnace since it holds in body heat so well. Wool hats also.

  9. I bought a Vitamix 5200, I am very pleased with its quality.

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