6 years ago, I decided to stop buying things for a year.
I supposed it was easy to stop consuming stuff. After all, I didn’t want to be part of that machine any more – I wanted to break free, to get rid of the knee-jerk twitch that made it so easy to mindlessly keep adding to the piles of stuff in my home. On a surface level, the habit of spending was easier than I thought to break, and for a few months I was coasting. I did two separate years, and have had a lot of time since to think about the impact it had on my thought patterns. It’s good to look back – now I can see things with a degree of detachment. The whirlwind of minimalism has settled and I’ve taken what I needed from the experience. Lasting habits and a degree of introspection.
I found that it was the ingrained meanings beyond that flimsy surface of consumerism that needed more than a ‘no-spend’ challenge to sort them out. Buying nothing ended up much more than a 12-month challenge. It ended up shaking me to my core.
I’ve written about the other side of a buy nothing challenge, and I don’t really want to write the same post here. Instead, I want to look at what the act of buying brings me. Understanding what I get from consumerism nowadays is important to consider. Just what does buying give me?
Being ill this last year or so gave me chance to examine (and overthink about) the habits I’ve learned. It also taught me that no matter how in control of my spending I thought I was, the ingrained thinking that stuff = happiness is incredibly hard to get away from. I found myself compulsively buying things to feel some sort of spark in the middle of severe depression. I found myself spending to ‘treat’ myself when I was tired and weak with fatigue. And I’d click buy, and feel a little jolt of happiness. Of course, the jolt soon faded, replaced with a sick feeling of guilt and shame.
I’m feeling a little better now. I’ve been thinking about cutting down on buying stuff again, stopping short of the whole buy nothing challenge. It’s interesting to see what I get from consumption of ‘things’, though. Are the benefits of buying a real benefit, or one imagined for me by society?
When I was ill, I got a feeling of comfort from the act of spending. I felt like I still had some autonomy, to take control and treat myself. I felt I deserved something to make me happy.
Now, as I’ve left my job and have no personal income at all, buying things gives me a feeling of independence, countered by a sickening worry that my meagre savings are soon going to run out. But spend I do. I want something for myself. Buying gives me that feeling.
Everything in society is geared to tell us that buying stuff is normal. Consuming more and more makes us ‘happier’. Even though the tide is turning, with more people becoming aware of the environmental damage that throwaway culture is doing, society is still built on the premise that we must consume to be successful. Take physical products out of the equation. We still consume services, land, leisure activities…
Cutting down on spending means I’ll have to find something else to replace those feelings I get from consumerism. What else gives me that feeling of independence? How do I make it so I feel ‘treated’ when I’m trying to look after myself? What else will give me that sense of achievement that I feel when I have the means to buy something for myself?
I know that happiness doesn’t come from stuff. But giving up buying stuff doesn’t mean that I’m going to immediately find my true self, either. Buying nothing was just the beginning.
Do I feel a failure for finding solace in buying stuff? If I’m honest, yes… although the difference now is that I can find compassion for myself. It was something I needed in that time. I think it’s important for me to find that alternative way of giving myself that little jolt of happiness though. So I’ll be searching, over the next few months, and writing about it here.
Something that gives me independence.
Something that gives me pride.
Something that gives me autonomy.
Something that gives me pure, electric, joy.