Minimalist Shopping: Decisions & Considerations

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Faithful readers of my blog will be familiar with my past shopping struggle. A habit that, I’m ashamed to admit, has commandeered my free time – many hours I will never get back. And now that the holiday gifting madness has begun, I want to address this habit that has become more than just a chore, as businesses continue to enhance the shopping experience, making it an immersive, mentally engaging act that has captured the leisure time of teenagers and adults all over the world, no matter what financial situation they’re in. They start with commercials, enticing you with eye candy and personas that go beyond the product itself. Buy our clothing, and you will be more attractive, successful, confident, or healthy, like the person in this commercial. Buy this magic pill, and behold the transformation you will experience. Buy this car, and just look at how happy and safe your family will be. Buy this beauty product, and you will attract attractive people. This is no more evident than in perfume ads. Buy this massage chair because hell, you deserve it, and oh by the way, we offer a payment plan, in case you cannot actually afford it! Browsers store your shopping history, and that pair of boots you were drooling over suddenly follows you in other places – news sites, social media, blogs, and more, reminding you that the option to purchase is still there, until you finally cave and make the purchase.

All that aside, I am not going to be that strict minimalist who tells everyone to opt out of gift giving or shopping altogether (I do still buy things!). Some people have traditions they want to follow, or kids’ birthday parties to attend, and who’d want to embarrass their kid by not bringing a gift? And, we still have to buy things from time to time. Things break, become obsolete, and so on. And in many cases, a purchase or upgrade will save you time or significantly improve your quality of life. This post is meant to help you think through the buying process from the perspective of a conscious consumer and not a gullible buyer.

Let’s now move onto factors to consider in any purchasing decision.

Emotional Buying

“Retail Therapy,” as it’s commonly known. I like to think that most people know why they are out browsing things at a store, but when you ask them why, they answer that they don’t know, or have “nothing better to do,” or “why not.” It is easy to cultivate an addiction, too – the high that people experience after acquiring a new item can feel like a  physical reward from the effort of making money, and the excitement of getting to enjoy the new item is a pleasure, particularly if it’s something highly coveted.

Humans are not always logical and sensible creatures – otherwise no one would smoke – so we must at least learn to recognize if our shopping habits are emotionally driven. Without that awareness, we won’t be able to stop ourselves. Commonly, we shop in response to stress – at work, at home. We also shop in response to positive emotional events, like when we get our bonuses (anyone go out and spend their entire bonus in one piece?), or when we get a promotion, or when we just “feel rich.” Without a specific need in mind, shopping, just like drinking, can easily become something we do to distract ourselves, rather than something we do because we need something.

Lifetime maintenance

As seasoned readers know, stuff begets stuff – clothes need detergent, sometimes even special detergent; spare tables then require spare chairs; leather requires leather cleaner. A great example is owning a bike or car. Unless you plan to bring your bike to the shop every time something goes wrong, you have to buy a lock, spare tubes, degreaser, a pump, bike lights, and a helmet. More stuff, more time spent dealing with said stuff, more money spent. With a car, you have to deal with oil changes, gasoline, tires, brakes, fluids, storage, parking, insurance…have I mentioned that cars are ridiculously expensive? The same thing with a home – the larger your home, the more time and money you will be sinking into your living space to maintain it.

I’ve already talked a lot about the maintenance of certain types of clothing (dry-cleaning, removing pills, ironing…), but the same is true of anything you own. Everything needs to be stored and probably maintained to some degree, taking up space and time – time to maintain, organize, and clean.

Longevity

As people say, classics are for life – but what is a “classic,” really? I still think that some “classics” are just things that have been marketed really well, and that we should build our preferences and styles not around what other people deem as “classics.” There are many arguments for buying things that last – not needing to buy another one later (the poor man pays twice) environmental impact. For this reason, “disposable” or “temporary” items are to be avoided. Dollar store junk – anything that fills kids’ goody bags, party goods, particularly anything made of plastic – as wasteful as it gets, even if they are cheap and convenient. I don’t know about you, but walking around a place full of garbage sucks. It’s too bad I can’t make other people care about this – garbage out of sight, garbage out of mind, after all – but sooner or later, we are all going to feel the effects.

I also recommend, for this same reason – in some situations, buying the cheaper option is not always the right option – delaying gratification and buying only . A good example of this is buying a cheap mattress – it will cost you more in labor, money, time, and likely frustration than it would to buy one that will last and serve you well.

Resale value

Another thing to consider is resale value. As a long term eBay seller of used things, items of quality that retain usefulness over time will sell much better than cheap crap. I like to check eBay for approximate resale values of certain brands. Ideally, I shouldn’t need to sell what I buy in the long run, but sometimes, it happens.

Money

This one should be self-explanatory, but there are certain things where you are blatantly paying for a brand and not a higher quality item. I am skeptical of the quality promised by certain brands, when it is not always the case that you’re buying a higher quality item. Often times, a cheaper version could be better. One good example of this is clothing made by Abercrombie and Fitch. I have no reason to believe that their clothes are inherently better than clothes made by companies that make clothing sold at Target, but they’ve somehow built a brand where many people believe that that is the case – so much so that people will buy shirts that simply have the name of the brand on it. Seems silly – or brilliant, for the brand – to pay a company to advertise for them.

There is also the question of affordability. I like to calculate the number of working hours for each item, but it’s also important to recognize the power of compound interest, and every dollar that you spend today is lost capital gains over time. As a minimalist, working just to buy things seems like a rather unfulfilling, repetitive existence. The whole question of money is not something I want to discuss in this post in detail.

Sales

While we’re on the subject of affordability, I want to mention sales. Sales are just a clever way to entice people to buy. And they are great – if I am eyeing something for a while and I notice it is on sale, I am certainly more incentivized to buy. But buying just because it’s on sale, or just because it’s cheap – won’t cut it. Because you will have bought something – not because you truly wanted that thing, but because you found a bargain, and it is likely that you will then subconsciously undervalue it.

“Personal load”

I made up this term myself, but my fascination with the “living out of a backpack” has led me to wonder exactly how hard it would be for me to pack my bags if I needed to move. It is easy to avoid ever needing to assess the sheer volume belongings I have when I don’t move, or if I am not traveling frequently. This personal load then also translates to an “environmental load” of sorts. How much space am I needing just for my “stuff?” Everything I buy adds to that load burden, and that burden is not just physical, but mental too.

Intent

The question of “why” I want something is really what this whole post is about.

We buy things because we generally believe that these things will make us better, happier people, or they will help us in our quest to become better/happier people. The problem is, we are often awful at determining what truly makes us happy (hint: it’s not more stuff). Ever seen the people in poor countries, barely scraping by, yet somehow still wearing banana smiles and finding the joy in everything

When shopping for others, similar considerations apply, but most of the time, I simply ask what the person wants, and if I must purchase a gift for that person, I buy that exact thing. An unwanted gift is a burden and a lose-lose situation I’d rather avoid.

Happy Holidays and I truly hope that your holiday gift-exchanging practices only add happiness and ease to the holiday season.

The Ridiculousness of Luxury

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Living in America is, by definition, already a luxury. Look how far along society has come in the last 50 years. In the past, we had to chug along in squeaky, horse-drawn carriages. We used to have to farm our own land and weather storms by the fireplace, hoping that we put enough effort into our autumn harvest and that no one catches dysentery. Now, at a moment’s notice, we can hop into our personal gas-powered miracle machines they call automobiles, loaded with fancy surround-sound audio systems, padded seats, and blast air conditioning into our faces as we drive a couple miles to the nearby store to buy some more Fancy things like plastic cases and thin glass sheets for our expensive blinking gadgets we can command to do things like set personal alarms, tell us the predicted weather for the next hour, or navigate us to the nearest pizzeria. Heck, we don’t need to do even that – we can simply power up our overpowered computers, press a few buttons and make a few clicks, and said plastic case and thin glass sheet will show up on our doorsteps in a matter of hours. There are even more Fancy things we can do if we pay enough money. We can buy massive floating machines and hire people to drive them for us as we sip expensive wine. Every time we eat at a restaurant, we’re essentially hiring someone to cook our meals and deliver them to us on a serving platter. We don’t even need to do so much as lift a finger. All we need to do is sit back, relax, and do absolutely nothing. That is what we’ve defined as The Good Life. And that is where the Good ends. Because what those things have in common is that they help us avoid exerting any effort at all. Bring us the Good Life on a silver platter, and allow us to bask in laziness. I sure am curious to know why the feeling of no effort is so satisfying, because I find more satisfaction from earning my way through life and taking full credit for my success.

Society seems so content with lifestyles that suck money and time out of our wallets faster than we care to count the dollars. We insist on eating out once, twice, maybe even several times a week. We book expensive tickets to jet us off to places where we can be coddled in a luxury hotel or private room with a view that looks basically the same as the view in a public area on a cruise ship yet costs several times more than a normal room. We buy absurdly expensive brand name vehicles that, despite having more powerful engines and a slew of Fancy features, still have to follow posted speed limits and are just as likely to suffer a dent or scratch from careless drivers around you. We’re completely okay with buying multiple $7 cocktails on a weekly basis and $30 steak dinners. We buy silly experiences like indoor skydiving, sitting in a motorized teacup to get dizzy for a few minutes, the chance to be a member of an exclusive club of people bragging about their “success,” or a chance to get the latest fashion styles before everyone else does.

As someone who does not do any of those things and does not feel any FOMO, I am confused by the people who feel like they’re poor or lacking excitement because they are simply not doing those things. I can do them should I so choose to throw money around at pointless, empty activities, but what for? I feel no envy for other people’s cars, purses, or foreign countries they’ve set foot in, though I may feel some disdain if it means they’re wrecking more of our earth. I don’t care about the dinners people have in the premium airport lounges (especially because I am skilled enough at cooking to make a meal I’d enjoy equally as much if not more), or the “crazy night out” they had at an exclusive dance club where supposedly they witnessed an “important” celebrity.

The trouble with criticizing this lifestyle of luxury is that no one likes to be told how they should enjoy life. It’s not some kind of universal standard where everyone should enjoy the same kinds of things, even if it has been proven that happiness is not coming from those things per se. I am just some random blogger on the Internet, after all, who just happens to really enjoy pursuing minimalism, and there will always be those who resist it. They have something of a “need” for it. But I think can safely say that there is more satisfaction to be gained from creating rather than consuming.

Let’s make our own silver platters and serve them to the world. The privilege to create and be free with our time on this earth – that is the ultimate luxury.

More Consumption, More Boredom

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Minimalism is frequently criticized as stark, empty, boring, and dull. Some find themselves fearful of the aesthetic, the spartan lifestyle, the “less is more” mantra. Lack of decorations  and unwelcoming, bleak eggshell whites conjure up visions of hospitals and cold laboratories. Not an inviting, “homey” place.

America is a society, a culture if we will, where we buy things to solve problems. Stylishness promises confidence, so we purchase tasteful decor and fashion. Buying a FitBit promises that you’ll be healthier. The large house promises a comfortable, rich, life. The fancy car promises to make your commute or daily drives more fun and tells the world about how sophisticated we are.  We also have tend to consume things to solve problems. Drinking makes us better at socializing. Taking in caffeine to get us through the workdays. Eating (junk food) to prevent boredom while we work. “Killing time,” as they call it, through consumption. Then, in our land of plenty, why are we so unhappy and stressed out?

It is when we think the things we own validate of the importance of our own existence. That we deserve fancy stuff, or think that an upgrade in a gadget will generate dramatic improvements to our lives, that we get stuck in the consumerist frenzy. We’ll finally lose weight, magically have more time, and that thing will be that kick we need to be motivated to be better versions of ourselves. The improvements do happen sometimes, but over time, the new gets old, and the cycle repeats itself.

Buy, get bored, buy, get bored, rinse, repeat. You see what’s happening here?

Consumption cycles can cause us to be bored more frequently as we desensitize ourselves to new things and experiences.

When I feel stuck, I start looking at expensive flights to other countries and fantasizing about travel plans. Yet, if I travel too much, I lose that excitement.

When I feel like I have a lot of unpleasant tasks to do, I feel like getting something to eat while I’m doing them. Yet, if I get in the habit of eating while I work, I’ll work up a dependency on it.

Life tends to get harder as we get older and our bodies and safety nets fall apart.  So when someone suggests minimalism as a method of making life easier, we first resist. Why should we purposely relegate ourselves to less? Gosh, how would we ever prepare ourselves? Say we have a dull day – how do we get through life without relying on autopilot consumption mode?

Think of minimalism as a blank piece of paper or an empty dance studio, where the space is full of possibility. Any little Thing that you add to it diminishes its potential just a little bit. But let’s keep in mind that minimalism is not the solution either. It is a way of focusing ourselves so we stop the consumption cycle and refocus.

The fresh new gadget may refresh your old one, but some empty space just might give you fresh room to breathe, and it costs nothing.

You are what you Consume

Curly fries

Like it or not, our lives are full of consumption. Our bodies consume food and drink; our minds consume ideas and information through books, magazines, television, and other forms of media. Our consumption habits are mostly by choice, and knowingly or unknowingly, our consumption habits drive our personal development, so each consumption choice we make, however insignificant we see them, becomes a reflection of how we direct our lives.

So, in the spirit of an against-the-grain attitude, I do believe that we are what we own, and we are what we consume. There are plenty of feel-good statements out there that people make, like “you are not what you wear,” or “you are not your work,” or “you are not your body.” The truth is, while no one is exclusively work, clothes, or appearance, they all have some contribution to who we are as a whole.

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