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Mindful consumption- a minimalist guide to consumerism

Can you be a minimalist and still go shopping? What happens when your jeans finally wear through, knees poking out through ripped, faded denim? Can you buy a summer wardrobe? What if your computer breaks? Do you use a car? Do books count? Do digital downloads count? How can I even start?

Woah, slow down there, mind. So many questions, thoughts, tumbling at once. Let’s do this the One Empty Shelf way. Get a cup of tea or coffee. Breathe. Ok. Now we’re ready for a chat.

If you google minimalism, a few themes tend to crop up. You’ve seen the houses, right? The precise angles, aluminium, granite, bare worktops, ovens costing a year’s salary, crisp white walls that reflect any emotion and a lingering wonder of just who, if anyone, lives within those sanitised abodes.mindful minimal house
The same for clothing. Capsule wardrobes? A bespoke collection of designer shirts, pressed, wrinkle-free, each costing a few hundred pounds, designer denim. Designer loafers. Sleek. Monied. Unattainable.

At the other end of the spectrum, the minimalists who truly live it. Owning fewer and fewer items, making do, testing themselves.

If you’ve ever been tempted by minimalism and been put off, read on. I’m not one for expensive, moulded, sterile apartments. Ok I can appreciate the aesthetics of a posh shirt, but you won’t find me dressing up to the nines. Nor do I own less than 50 things. Not even less than 100. Not even close. However, I do own significantly less than I did previously, and that is where my story begins and grows from.

The beauty of minimalism

The beauty of minimalism is that you mould it to your lifestyle. You can have a zoo of pets and be a minimalist. You can have kids and be a minimalist. You can be single and be a minimalist. You can be rich, poor, extroverted, introverted. A teenager or over 90. You can be blue or green and still be a minimalist. It’s all about the way you think and see the world. Minimalism increases your appreciation, it increases your motivation, you respect the world and it respects you right back.

Consuming as a minimalist

To answer one of the many questions, yes you can buy things. You can go shopping, if you need to.
If you need to. I view myself as more of a minimalist, although I wouldn’t say I adhere strongly to the principle every second of every day. I utilise the general principles as a foundation, a guide, a code to live my life by. By doing this, it’s helped me see the consumerist society as something ‘other’ to the norm, whereas previously, it was the norm. We need to buy stuff, right? We need new clothes, a house, a car. Right? Right? Er….

And this is where you come in. Think about your spending. I used a little trick, back before my year of buying nothing, where I’d write down what I wanted to buy in a notebook. Previously I’d just purchase it, and add it to my ever-growing collection of ‘stuff’. Using my notebook, I’d give myself 21 days and if I still wanted to buy the item, I’d allow myself to go back and make the purchase. But guess what? I never bought anything from the book. I never went back. Once I’d allowed myself the freedom to spend that money, the thrill had disappeared, the moment had passed. I no longer wanted the item, no matter what it was. I wasn’t mindlessly pulling items from the shelves and swiping my debit card through the tills. I was consciously making a decision. I was mindful of my spending, mindful of my purchase habits.

Once you become more mindful of what you buy, it’s easier to become mindful of why you buy. It’s deep. It takes a lot of thinking. In my own case, over time I realised I bought physical items to project an image. I bought ‘stuff’ to fill up a void, to try and give myself some form of identity. I was artistic, creative but told to make other choices in the subjects I studied, to get a good job in the real world, to study a real subject. So looking back, I used consumerism as a way to show the world, and myself, I was doing well. I had a ‘good job’. I had money. I had loads of stuff. It was the right path to follow. But once all that was taken away, I was lost. I was nobody. Conflicted , torn between what the conventional way is, and the guidance of my heart. It took time to realise I didn’t have to follow the norm. I was here all along. It took time to realise what makes me truly happy isn’t purchasing more and more. It’s living. Experience. Writing. Music. All the things I can’t put a price on, because the price is free.

You can buy new jeans…if you need them. The distinction between want and need is becoming blurred in our 24/7, hyper-consumerist society. We feel we need items because that’s what advertisers want us to feel. We need a good car and a big house because that’s what our society deems as successful. We don’t talk about the crippling debt we’ve entered into to be able to afford those items. All that matters is on the outside, we look like we’ve got it all.

Does digital count?

Does it matter what counts? Personally, I’m not a fan of the counting of items that is the basis of some corners of minimalism. If you don’t need many items, you don’t need to own many items. Someone with a large family will probably need more items than a single person. The trick is to question what you truly, really need, to fill your life with true happiness and wonder.

I love music. I love words. So, I have a kindle, I download books. I don’t need to-I could use the library. But I love to revisit books, mark and highlight pages, and my kindle allows me to do that without having a large chunk of my space taken up with bookshelves, just gathering dust so people can think I’m an intelligent, well-read person. I got rid of the dead space and went digital. Same goes for iTunes. I use it, I love it, it enhances my life. As I say, you can fit minimalism into your life however you see fit.

There are other ways, always. Borrow, swap, write your own. What works for me might not work for you, have fun with it. Challenge yourself. Find your own way with minimalism.

Embrace the mindfulness, the intentionality. Buy things if you need to, if you don’t need things, don’t buy things. Analyse your behaviour. Are you buying another 3 new tops because you have absolutely no tops? Or are you buying them because you need to because the ones you have are ‘so last season’? Who dictates what’s last season? Why do they dictate it? Has your item of clothing had a long, useful life? Or is it going to be discarded without a thought?

You can consume as a minimalist. But consume in a different way. Your way. An intentional way. A mindful way.

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5 thoughts on “Mindful consumption- a minimalist guide to consumerism

  1. […] You may have read elsewhere on One Empty Shelf about my year of buying nothing, which I did in 2012 and which was such an adventure. I blogged throughout on the first incarnation of One Empty Shelf, and reading through my old posts has brought back the lessons, the struggles and many more memories. I’m posting my old blogs here as a guide to what I discovered during that year. I’m posting them with no editing or re-writing so excuse any spelling, grammer and general bad writing…! You can read more about life afterwards here and here. […]

  2. […] You may have read elsewhere on One Empty Shelf about my year of buying nothing, which I did in 2012 and which was such an adventure. I blogged throughout on the first incarnation of One Empty Shelf, and reading through my old posts has brought back the lessons, the struggles and many more memories. I’m posting my old blogs here as a guide to what I discovered during that year. I’m posting them with no editing or re-writing so excuse any spelling, grammar and general bad writing…! You can read more about life afterwards here and here. […]

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