Shopping is part of our life, and I am absolutely not advocating giving it up. But ‘mindless’ shopping (the kind where you go to the mall or the supermarket out of habit or for entertainment, rather than genuine need) is the thief of life, in more ways than one. Dramatic I know, but hear me out.
- ‘He who buys what he does not need, steals from himself’. Buying things costs money (duh). Money has to be earned. Thus, the more you spend, the more you need to generate. The more you need, the longer you must work. Now this is less drama for those who love their jobs with a passion, and bounce out of bed each morning just itching to get to work… but sadly that is the vast minority of us. Reducing your outgoings is the first step to getting off the hamster-wheel.
- Buying things you don’t need results in you owning things you do not need. The problem with this is that you are not mobile or agile. In subtle ways, a material-heavy existence can be trapping and limiting. Spontaneous life changes (like moving abroad for work) take longer to decide on and are more difficult because of the cost involved in either shifting or disposing of all your stuff.
- We become attached to things. The longer we have them, the more power we give them. We believe that ‘things’ have memories.. But in reality it is us who have the memories. The things may be symbolic, but it is arguable that we need them given that many intensely ‘sentimental’ items are in boxes in closets and never looked at.
- ‘A cluttered home, represents a cluttered mind’. Downsizing can be incredibly therapeutic. Reducing the amount of stuff you have to take care of, insure, clean, dust, maintain, repair, service, polish, dry-clean, disinfect, wash, mend, certify etc frees up a lot of mental space. So much so, in fact, Mark Zuckerberg (and a host of other young entrepreneurs – simply google) even wears the same t-shirt every day to reduce ‘frivolous’ concerns and allow himself to focus on his work with more energy and clarity.
- Spending unnecessarily is wasteful, especially when it comes to food. Many of us are in the habit of going to the grocery store every few days, whether we need to or not. How many of us go through the pantry and fridge before we make our grocery list and google recipes that use the ingredients we have left? You would be amazed at what can be put together from ‘nothing’.
Grocery stores are set up with much input from psychologists to create need and trigger impulse buys. Therefore, the more often we are there, the more likely we are to buy things we don’t need, things we didn’t intend to buy, things that often won’t even get eaten. ‘The $21 Challenge’ is a book written by the curators of the SimpleSavings website and it suggests that every couple of months you can have a $21 grocery week (for a family of 4) by simply cleaning out the back of your pantry and freezer and then only buying supplementary items needed to turn all that leftover stock into meals. Their website has a ‘vault’ of tips for getting through life without spending much money that is very much worth the subscription. They argue that living cheaply does not have to mean living without fun, or treats, or luxuries. It just requires a little cleverness, and purposely avoiding wasteful or mindless shopping.
One of my friends calls this habit my ‘peaches and beans on toast’ trick, because I loathe going to the supermarket unless my cupboards are genuinely bare, so I occasionally have some unusual concoctions for dinner to use up the last of the haul.
- Environmentalists: this one’s for you. Consuming requires production. Production happens in factories. It is naive to think all factories are solar-powered life-affirming beacons of human technological advancement. Having personally been to Asia and seen the pollution first-hand, I can tell you: You do not want to contribute to this industry any more than is absolutely necessary. There are more than enough toasters for everyone already in existence; pop down to your local Goodwill store and get a perfectly good one for $5. Then, when you move abroad for an amazing career opportunity you can simply drop it back there. No muss, no fuss.
Consumerism as a social and economic order and ideology encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. Obviously that isn’t sustainable, for both the planet and your wallet. No-one is saying don’t shop; I am only encouraging you to think carefully about what you need, make informed purchases and donate or sell what you don’t use to make room in your life for all the joy you can possibly cram in.