Less is more

socratesChoosing a life of simplicity does not mean you must live an austere life. No one is telling that by “buying into” simple living, that you have to sell all your possessions, shave your head and live out the rest of your life in the mountains of Nepal. You don’t have to give up modern day conveniences like internet, smart phones or flushing toilets. You don’t have to even wear second-hand clothes, if you don’t want to.

Simple living is conscious living. It requires shifting ourselves from a consumer mindset, to a citizen mindset. It requires critical thinking; looking past the messages we are exposed to everyday that we are not good enough, successful enough, smart enough, fashionable enough. As though buying the latest iPhone, or that sleek car will somehow make you everything you ever wanted to be. You know how the story goes though. As soon as you buy something, because everyone has it, the newest version comes out. You are once again no longer enough. There is a reason there are new trends every few months – preying on our deepest basic human desires to belong and to feel worthy is good for big businesses bottom line.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. The past 60 years have seen us gain more material wealth, bigger houses and more money than at any other time in history, but our happiness levels have not increased. Rates of depression, anxiety and stress-related illness have, however. If we continue to look to consumer goods to meet or satisfy our needs, can we ever really find true and lasting happiness? As the wise Socrates once said (over two thousand years ago, at that), happiness cannot be found in seeking more, but in learning to enjoy less. When we recognize that our worth in society is not defined by what we have, but by our character and contributions, the acquisition of more begins to seem less and less necessary.

Choosing simplicity is not only good for the wallet, it’s good for the soul. Making a conscious decision to live outside what has become the current societal norm means that instead of falling for clever advertising and marketing ploys (“It was on sale!”), you can make rational, thoughtful decisions about what you choose to bring in your life. Living with less means that you have more time to appreciate and be grateful for what you already own. The possessions you acquire will serve you, rather than you being a slave to them. Your life satisfaction and happiness will no longer be measured by how many gadgets or shoes you have. You might find satisfaction, instead, in volunteering to help others less fortunate than you. Or, in reading a good book (borrowed from the library, of course!), that offers you new perspective and insight, helping you make positive changes in your life. In soul-nurturing quality time with good friends. In the ache in your legs after a gruelling hike, which was worth it to see the breath-taking views from the top of the mountain.  Perhaps you may begin to realize that beyond a warm bed, food in your belly and quality relationships, you really don’t need much else in life.

Choosing to decrease the amount of things you bring into your home should not be looked upon has a restriction or limitation. Shift your perspective – think of the freedom that it can bring! Less time trying to organize, clean, maintain, find, what you own. Your financial resources can be freed up to realize your dreams, that until now have seemed impossible – to become debt-free, to travel, to work less, to spend more time with family and on leisurely pursuits, to retire earlier, to quit your job – the possibilities are simply endless.

As you further embrace the idea, and travel along your journey of living with less, maybe selling everything you own, and escaping to another part of the world might not seem so crazy after all.

Less stuff. More fun.

So tell me, have you tried embracing simple living in your life? What benefits have you seen? What were the challenges?

 

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9 little steps to help free yourself from the shackles of consumerism

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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 consequenceI 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?