The economic system we are all part of is designed to do one thing: grow. Year on year, we have to produce and sell more to pay off last years debt. To pay off investments. To keep shareholders happy.
Which means SOMEONE needs to consume more.
That SOMEONE is you.
Which is why there is an entire industry devoted to do one thing: MAKE you buy stuff. Or better: make you BELIEVE you need stuff. It's called marketing and sales.
And these guys are incredibly clever. It only takes a little bit of knowledge about how our brains actually work and you can sell a bicycle to a fish. In a morbid way, it's actually fascinating.
And there's more: algorithms. Every word you google, every photo you post, every email you send can be scanned for key words... and the next ad that pops up is just the thing that solves the problem you just told Aunty Jane about. Ever notice that?
OK - you say: We're being sold. That's bad. It needs to change.
Truth is: it likely won't. Not until we change our entire process of money creation and our entire economic system. Which is possible - but won't happen tomorrow.
What you CAN do tomorrow is this: check out.
Because the honest truth is this: no matter how frigging clever those computers, algorithms and sales people are getting - you don't have to buy it. At the end of the day - you make the choice. So just - STOP.
Which is easier said than done.
So let's look how to make your transition into an anti-sumer as smooth as possible:
1. Find your why
Take a piece of paper and work out what 'buying less stuff' is going to give you. Just write a list. Concerns you have about excess consumption that may be alleviated. Benefits you'll gain (like: more money to pay off the house!). How you will feel when you have less clutter to deal with. Who you will be when you have taken control of your shopping addiction.
2. Create leverage
This bit is a bit painful: In a new list, write down all the bad stuff that happens if you carry on buying shit. Like: It'll take another 10 years to pay off the mortgage. Forests will die. Children will be exploited. Sea turtles will drown in plastic.
This is the place to get real and write down all the stuff you ALREADY know that is going on behind the scenes. The stuff that is being kept behind the curtain. The stuff you've seen in documentaries... and resolved to never buy again but ended up doing after all.
List it all.
And then expand it: Where will the world be in 5 years time if we all continue our consumption habits? What will have happened? And 10 years from now? 20? What world are your children going to be living in by the time they have reached your age?
Write it down.
3. Reduce exposure
In your early days of anti-consumerism, you'll want to reduce temptation as much as possible. So do what you can to get rid of those pesky ads! Put a no-junk mail sign onto your letter box. Install an ad-blocker on your browser. If you're a user of skype or YouTube, you may even want to upgrade to the premium, ad-free versions (you'll make the money back from the 'less shit' you buy!). If you still watch TV, change channels during ad breaks. Delete the shopping channels from your SKY menus. Be vigorous and pay attention where you are still seeing ads - and turn them off. (Some you won't be able to, but we're doing what we can here!)
4. Find alternatives
If shopping is a form of recreation for you, or a social activity, you'll need to find alternatives. Remember those things you used to do before you spent all that time walking through the stores? - That's right. You were going to learn guitar. Read Shakespeare. Walk the dog more often. Take up karate. Good news: now is your time!! - The more you fill up your schedule with non-shopping alternatives, the less time you'll have to to kill at Walmart.
If you are a social shopper, it gets a bit more tricky: you'll have to convince your friends. The best way to do that is to start with a declaration. Share with them your "Why" (Step 1) and your leverage (Step 2) - but keep it personal. No preaching. Just say "I have discovered that for myself, I want to..." "I no longer want to contribute to...". And then take a big breath and say some version of "I'm addicted to shopping and I want to break the habit". Or, if you want to make it sound a bit less extreme, say "I'm overspending on stuff and want to save more". Find a version that works - but enlist their help. If you pitch it right, they'll want to support you in your mission and come up with a ton of ideas what you can do instead all by themselves.
Where it gets tricky is if you shop to...
Exactly. Shop to make yourself feel better. Shop to have fun.
If you find yourself heading to the shops to COMPENSATE - for a stressful day, a frustrating conversation with your boss or the fact that you feel lonely - or to CELEBRATE - a successful day, a work success, or the fact that you value yourself - you'll need to do a bit of deeper work.
First - you need to unlink the two unrelated events. What other things could you do after a stressful day? What non-consumer activity could you to to get rid of frustration? What could be a great way to celebrate yourself that DOESN'T involve a new handbag?? - Do a brain storm - and write a list.
And maybe, just maybe, you need to fix the underlying issue (this is where it gets DEEP). If those frustrating work days are a frequent occurrence - maybe you have to change jobs. Or book a 'conflict resolution' course. Maybe you need to address your workload.
5. Apply the museum trick
If you still find yourself browsing the stores, here's a great trick you can use: Pretend you are in a museum. This is the museum of the 21st century, and what you are looking at are the artifacts of consumer culture. They are amazing - just absolutely fascinating - and look! - They made a thing to do - what?? - And then keep walking, because: In a museum you're not allowed to touch anything, right? Let alone take it home.
Admire things, enjoy them - and leave them in the store. Come back and visit them whenever you want even - just no longer take them home.
I am actually no fan of Marie Kondo - throwing stuff out and decluttering doesn't solve the stuff problem. You may just find yourself needing the same item down the track and end up buying a new one. Minimalism doesn't solve anything - we still need to meet our basic (and varying!) life needs - and we still want variety. The 3 pairs of T-Shirts in your wardrobe are going to get boring at some point (ok - unless you're a bloke maybe).
Instead: keep your items, but APPRECIATE them. You are surrounded by an overwhelming amount of AMAZING things! Just have a look around you - how lucky you are to have that tea mug sitting there that you bought in that little pottery shop that one time. And the unspeakable fortune to have that bedside lamp since the 1980s...
Walk around your space and take in the things you see. See them with new eyes. Think about where they came from, what purpose they fulfill - and keep them in your heart.
I have a bread knife I inherited from my father. The wooden handle has pretty much dissolved and is held together by insulation tape. But the blade is still sharp and has never been sharpened. It's a precious piece - and no new bread knife will ever take it's place.
7. Create diversity
Now, of course we like having new stuff around. It's kind of exciting. So let's make sure that can still happen. The way to do that is to drop any preconceptions you have ever had about second hand stuff. Just get rid of them - they no longer serve you, they are irrational (there is no reason why a second hand blouse is any worse than a brand new one) and they were manufactured by that same consumer system you despise. So drop them.
And before you know it - a whole new world opens up. Thrift shops. Organised clothes swap parties. Even picking up things on the side of the road (we found a brand new mattress on the river bank one day - it's now our guest bed).
So - shopping is allowed - shopping new is not. Unless you have a VERY good reason (see below).
8. What about... the Joneses????
So what about the Joneses then? The ones that you need to keep up with? What are they going to think when you still drive your 10 year old car, and haven't replaced the furniture in the last 3 years? How are they going to judge you if they found out that that cute new skirt you're wearing belonged to someone else before?
Well - here's what I have to say: Become the most happy, warm, friendly, supportive, genuine person you can be. Go see the Joneses - and light up their life in a way they will never forget. Ignore their bitching and chatter and focus on adding real value to their life. Persist.
Most likely, they'll forget all about the car.
And if they don't - well, how about you go and hang out with the new friends you made from the clothes swap party?
9. And when you must...
Ok, unlike the AA where you sign out of alcohol forever and ever - with shopping that won't be possible. You'll need to buy food. Every so often you may actually need a new pair of shoes.
The instances where you can't replace a necessary item with a second hand version will be rare - but they may occur. So what to do if you need to shop NEW?
This is where lists are your friend.
Write a shopping list - EVERY time. If you can - order online (pick up in store). That way you will be less tempted to grab stuff you don't actually need.
For bigger items, create a list of qualities you really want and NEED for your item. What do you need it for, what does it have to do? - And I actually want you to write this DOWN. If you make it up in your head, you're more likely to cheat. Needs shoes that are waterproof and match your favourite pair of green pants? - Write it down. Need a new backpack that holds your laptop, sunglasses and that awkwardly shaped lunch box you found the other day? - Write it down.
Then, take your list to the store and buy the most expensive, best quality item that TICKS ALL THE THINGS OFF YOUR LIST. And DO NOT COMPROMISE - and DO NOT GIVE UP. This is where you have the license to shop - keep looking until you find that thing. And no, there is absolutely no "I know these aren't exactly waterproof, but the buckles are ultra-cute and maybe I just won't wear them in the rain..." - No. Tick your list.
And last not least - treat each purchase as if it were your last. If you're buying a bread knife, think of it as the one bread knife you want to hand down to your children. Maybe choose one that doesn't have a wooden handle - they disintegrate after about 45 years. I speak from experience.
Check out my livestream on the topic in our FB community for Ambitious Abundant Hippies.
- Reckon that's all very well, but you'll need help? - Book a call and we'll get it sorted.