We live in a society where we are constantly told we need something. A society in which we have more material possessions than ever, but are simultaneously more unhappy, more lonely and more stressed than ever. We’re working longer hours; many of us in unsatisfying jobs that drain our energy and suffocate our souls. Instead of looking inwards, many of us look towards objects to fill these gaps in our life. As though a new pair of shoes, the latest in technology or that trendy top will somehow solve our problems. We have full closets, empty wallets and deflated spirits. The notion of simplicity is catching on, though as many are realizing that money can’t buy happiness. Still, we are inundated with pressure by society, friends and family and advertisements to be consumers rather than citizens. Changing our mindset is therefore no easy or quick process. It takes time, dedication and must be a conscious daily decision to live simply.
The ABCs of buying
Sometimes making a change can be as simple as knowing our ABCs, a popular technique often used in behavioural therapies. First, we must recognize what stimulates a behaviour, known as the antecedent, for example I saw an advertisement. Next comes the behaviour (or thought), for example I want to buy the object that is being advertised. Then, follows the consequence… I bought the advertised object….(even though I already have 10 of these objects that I don’t even use) . The biggest thing you can do to end this cycle, is of course, reduce your exposure to advertising! Although I’m by no means an expert, here are a few steps I’ve taken in my journey towards simpler living.
1. Unsubscribe from flyers, newsletters and catalogues for both email and snail mail.
In Canada it’s a little more difficult than the US to get rid of admail, but even putting a sign on your mailbox saying “no flyers/junk mail” should be enough. If you get addressed admail or catalogues, call or email the company and asked to be removed from their mailing list.
2. Download an ad blocker for your browser
This removes everything from those annoying YouTube ads, to the banners on websites. I use AdBlockPlus.
3. Curb TV time
Almost a third of a 30min TV show is commercials. Not to mention the product placement, or wardrobe/vehicle/house envy that ensues!
4. Stop, or limit online shopping
If you find yourself mindlessly perusing online stores, and receiving packages in the mail a few days later wondering when exactly you ordered something, consider using an extension on your browser to stop you from accessing websites or limiting your time. I personally use Stay focusd, but there are many similar programs. (tip: this also works well for blocking distracting websites at work. Productivity win!)
5. Take a look at your reading materials
Although magazines may have entertaining and informative articles, the majority of the pages are advertisements, and most of the articles are simply advertisements in disguise. Try finding blogs or books that align with your new goals, instead. May I recommend zen habits, be more with less and the art of simple…all my personal favourites.
6. Don’t shop when stressed, lonely, sad, bored
Basically, try not to step into a store unless you are going for a specific purpose. Make a list before you go, and only buy what is on the list. Replace shopping with other activities to help you deal with difficult emotions – call a friend, have a bath, exercise, listen to some good music, journal, read a book. Shopping may make you feel better in the short term, bug the feeling won’t last.
7. Exchange your “wants” and “needs” with “likes”
Instead of saying “I need a new scarf”…”I want a new cellphone”..try shifting your vocabulary, and mindset, by saying “I like that ______”. You can always admire things without actually needing to own them.
8. Take stock of what you already have
Organize your closets and cupboards in a way that makes sense to you. Be honest with yourself if you actually use everything you have. Consider donating duplicates or unused items. If you’re feeling especially brave, try project 333..too extreme for you? Try 66 items, 100..anything to help you evaluate what you own. You will likely realize that you continue to wear or use many of your favourites, while other things sit around collecting dust.
9. Borrow over buy
If you need something for a short, or for a longer term, don’t rush out right away to buy it. Ask around – on social media, at work, family members. Try websites like kijiji, craigslist or free cycle. Many people willing to share what they have. My partner and I both recently borrowed shoes from friends to attend a formal dinner, rather than buying a new pair we may only wear a few times. I would also be remiss to not mention how wonderful libraries are..(hint:you are already paying for the books, CDs and DVDs through your tax dollars!
So, tell me…what are your tricks for getting rid of a consumer mindset?