How to Buy Less Stuff and Why You Might Like to Try

I was researching something for a KITSCH.inc client about popular past times and hobbies for people in the UK. As with much of marketing, the focus is increasingly driven by statistics so I had to base my research on data. I couldn’t just pop up a Twitter poll or ask my mates. In comes Statista, telling me that top ways that adults like to spend their free in the UK includes:

  1. Watching TV
  2. Spending time with friends and family (vague but let’s say that’s potentially code for drinking)
  3. Listening to music
  4. Eating out at restaurants
  5. Browsing the internet
  6. Shopping

Is anyone else feeling a little sad for humanity? Sure, we’re busy and we’ve got limited funds, but with over 80% polled adults participating in shopping as a spare time activity, it got me wondering about our flawed priorities. Even if this stat includes shopping for essentials (like food) it seems a bit superficial to be ranked higher than reading and any kind of sports or physical activity, which could be considered genuinely enriching ways to spend time. No wonder we’re all feeling a bit meh! If we’re spending the majority of our time buying stuff or browsing mediums that spend a big chunk of their time trying to sell us stuff. Also, hilarious that so many people enjoy listening to music, yet so many live music venues and grassroots music projects are struggling to exist! But, that’s for another rant.

Shopping Addiction is a Real Thing

I mean, we’re not messing around here, Shopping Addiction is a genuine thing! Healthline reports that the condition is estimated to impact over 18 million adults in the US alone and that’s just counting the ones they diagnosed! It makes sense that purchasing items makes us feel good, there’s research proving that shopping causes us to release more serotonin. However, since most of us are living in a capitalist reality, is stopping excessive spending (to deal with addictions) really high on the agenda of the most powerful? Probably not, money does of course, make the world go round.

“The person with a shopping addiction gets the same rush or high from making purchases as someone who misuses drugs gets from using. Once the brain associates shopping with this pleasure or high, the person with a shopping addiction will try to recreate it again and again.”Healthline

The Age of Extreme Consumerism

We’re living in a time of peak stuff, it’s virtually impossible to spend a single hour without being even at least subtly advertised to at some level. Unless you live in Sao Paulo (Brazil) where they banned billboards from 2007 and are only recently looking at their return, but with a social difference. Whether you’re scrolling Instagram and seeing #ad or just waiting for a bus you’re gonna be filled with temptation even on a subconscious level. As well as being in the time of peak stuff, we’re also living in the time of peak environmental damage and we have knowledge about how our excessive consuming is injuring the planet and future generations.

In a recent podcast episode with best-selling author and Business Consultant, Jonathan MacDonald, Misael discussed with Jonathan the importance of individual action in order to make a real impact on the future. We can see in the politics and in the conversations online, change will not happen fast enough through policy change or any kind of politics, their agendas are skewed. If we want to make real change to the future, we must commit to making changes on a small and potentially imperfect personal scale first.


So, how do we go about refocusing our priorities and minimising our spending in order to have a brighter, healthier and more sustainable future? And remember, we’re not talking about a change for only yourself, we’re talking about change for the greater good, your friends, your family and the generations that will (hopefully) follow in our footsteps.

What Matters the Most to You?

You cannot put anything into action until you set yourself goals, realistic and honest goals. What makes you genuinely happy? What items can you REALLY not live without? Sure, the honest answer might be as simple as food, water and soap, but then again it might also include art supplies if you’re creative or musical equipment if you’re in a band. I’m not talking things you just like or things that you think you need because society has conditioned us to think that everyone female identifying person should own AT LEAST one pair of high heels, no matter your height or build or personal taste. I’m talking, genuine, true to the core values. What REALLY makes you happy?

There’s been a lot of hype around Marie Kondo in the past few years, culminating in her (quite frankly cringe) Netflix show. Whether you’re a fan or not, her twee but true concept of “Does it spark joy?” does make a lot of sense to a lot of people when considering whether or not to toss or keep something, as well as being a deciding factor in whether or not you really needed to purchase your 100th red lipstick or 50th pair of Nike Air trainers.

GIF from GIPHY

Practising or Trailing Minimalism

I would never have considered myself a minimalist or thought it would be an even remotely achievable goal for myself, until I tried it to enable us to go travelling for 9 months. I would definitely have been described as a hoarder as a kid, always working on some kind of arts and crafts project, I couldn’t throw anything away in case it became useful for a project in the future. (Sorry Mum for not helping you sort out that childhood stronghold!)

The closest I’ve gotten to a Marie Kondo moment before travel was a routine clear-out the few times I’ve moved house between the ages of 16 and 29. Going through the usual steps of Gumtree, eBay, Depop and charity shops. Oh and let’s not forget the time I grew by 3 dress sizes, decided that was where I’d be for the rest of my life, sold my entire (beautiful, sustainable) wardrobe and then reverted back to my original size just a few months later, turned out a prescription just really hated me. Regret and still waiting to fill those many gaps in my wardrobe. Except this time it’s more difficult, because I’m not willing to buy into crap anymore.

The Power of Influencers

During my time as a beauty blogger in London, minimalism definitely wasn’t going to happen. Sure, I wasn’t having to buy much myself, but the excess still hurt me (and no doubt the planet too!). Going from feast to famine (with stuff) when I started to wind down blogging was weird, I didn’t want to get rid of the hoard of stuff, but I didn’t want to see it go to waste either. I’d see stuff I thought I desperately wanted on my influencer friend’s streams, only to look up the price and realise it was vastly outside of my real world budget. It’s easy to look good when the majority of the contributing stuff didn’t cost you anything. It’s also easy to ‘sell’ a product or a lifestyle when you’re getting paid to do so or are in some way being ‘sponsored’ to say such things via the marketing methods of gifting, press trips or complimentary experiences. Sure, content creation takes skill and takes time to do properly, but when you’ve received many of the tools for no cost to yourself, you’re starting out in a privileged position.  

No matter how unbiased a person claims to be, we’ve got to admit that humans do like free stuff, they like money and it’s evident that even the most ethical of people would struggle to stay neutral with the right enticing package for them, at the right time. What I’m trying to get at is, individually we need to be more aware of when we’re being advertised to and influencers (of any level) need to take more responsibility for the types of lifestyles and products they promise to support and promote. You can’t always trust what you’re reading on the label, on social media or on a press release, you need to do some of your own research and thinking. Are you being thoughtful? Is what you’re doing a sustainable life choice? How are you influencing others and does that make you happy?

Social Media and Intelligent Ads

In addition to the influencer world, we also have highly powered advertising campaigns to attempt to avoid. Facebook Ads, Google (and other platforms like them) know exactly who to target, who will most likely buy the thing, whether or not you have a family…etc. and there’s no escaping this super targeted advertising when you’re scrolling online for work or for play. Whereas pre-internet (yes I’m old enough to remember that time) you could avoid ads by switching off the TV or radio, not reading magazines or newspapers or by escaping to the countryside for a day.

We’re now in a state of constant communication, where those advertising messages don’t give us much of a break.

It’s not so easy to ignore that advert telling you that you’re the exact right demographic and age to be having children (thanks for the empathy, internet!), when it follows your digital footprint, everywhere.

It’s not easy to realise that buying those shoes/that fake tan/that plastic jewellery won’t make you happier, that perhaps this constant purchasing might be about something else.

But perhaps, it’s worth thinking outside of those algorithms and to get back to basics, what makes you personally tick? What purchases are essential? What purchases are totally worth it because they genuinely improve your life? And if you still don’t think you’re being influenced by your time on social media, please watch the Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’ to get acquainted with more than the basics on the power of social advertising and influence. 

Consuming Less to Help the Greater Good

The world is changing, it’s clear that our over consumption is doing more harm than good. Systems are broken and it’s going to take an awful lot of people caring enough to make a difference. Whilst the Amazon Rainforest burns, many are advising we should eat less meat (especially beef, in this scenario), our oceans are riddled with plastic (and worse) waste so we should be using less plastics and the fast fashion industry is burning resources and abusing workers for the sake of superficial, ever-growing profits. It’s overwhelming to know where to start on a personal journey to help, because we are only human, we can’t do everything and we’re going to fuck up sometimes.

 

Naturally, every single product that we consume (product, food or service) has an environmental or ethical cost associated with it. Of course, those profiting from unsustainable practises aren’t going to be open with communicating this, but with a little research and personal thought you can dig up some reliable science to support your ponderings, so you can make a smart choice for you.

 
 
 
 
 
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Buying less in general is going to make a positive impact. When you’ve recognised where your morals and priorities lie, you can then identify specific areas you can make a change in such as using less single use packaging, avoiding buying new fast fashion or choosing to go vegetarian/vegan. It could also be all of the above or a completely different mix, depends on you. 

Finding the Satisfying Balance

As with most things in life, a balance is key. We’re all looking for harmony and happiness. So, stopping purchasing completely is an unrealistic goal, like I said, we live in capitalism, you have to spend money and there’s a lot of fun and joy to be spread when spent wisely.

One of the best exercises for me were those 9 months in Asia with just a backpack each. It taught me it was possible to get stuff done, be comfortable and happy with hardly any material items. It also taught me which of those home comforts, luxuries and personal items really mattered because I knew specifically what I missed. That’s why we’re currently travelling around with a PS4 and our very decent gaming collection, it’s a good way to unwind and it simplifies access to watching YouTube, Netflix and the like.

The other huge thing that I missed was having creative space and my arts supplies around me. I do still miss this and I cannot wait to one day have some kind of studio space, all set-up and ready to go when I’ve got an idea. We almost had this set up in Barcelona, so close, thanks for ruining that for us, Brexit! If you’re travelling like me, these things are bit trickier to fit in, but things like focusing on digital art (instead of traditional mediums) and having a small space dedicated to my sketchbook and pens is a satisfactory stop gap, which is also teaching me patience and new techniques.

I can’t tell you how to find that satisfying balance, because it will be different for every single person. Probably a good place to start would be to acknowledge your core values and ethics, once you know what you care about the most, you’ll know which purchases to cut back, which to shop more wisely with and which to prioritise. For me, one of the things was that I wanted to create less product waste, so I stopped using conventional haircare and I continue to shop smarter when I do have to buy new things, like choosing a reusable/recyclable glass contained coconut oil over one in a plastic tub or by swapping liquid shampoos and soaps with solid ones because they last longer, cost less and cause less waste. You can read about my Shampoo Free journey here.

Anyway, I hope some people read this and I hope it makes you think. It is difficult to change any habit but personal growth is part of life and we should embrace any opportunity we have to start being better. Better at communicating, better at doing our own research, better at caring about more than the basics in life.

If you liked this article, you can find more of my classic rants through the 10+ years archive of this site. For something to listen to instead, check out Miz’s podcast, Promote the Hell Out of It! for a variety of interesting discussions about causes, concepts, creators and businesses worth promoting!

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