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Break Free from the Constraints of Consumerism

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things that bring you joy and the removal of those that do not.” Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

In case you haven’t heard, minimalism is a sweeping trend that’s taken the blogosphere by storm. Originally associated with an artistic movement describing simple, abstract (often black and white) images and sculptures, minimalism has grown from a design aesthetic into a way of life. Numerous websites and documentaries are devoted to this enlightened mindset that promotes intentional living and the gradual elimination of distractions.

The benefits of minimalism are widespread, especially when it comes to saving money and gaining the freedom to use your time as you choose.  By learning to downplay our focus on consumerism, minimalism brings new opportunities to live life on our own terms. Rather than spending the weekend clearing out a cluttered garage or working overtime to maintain an overpriced lifestyle, minimalists are liberated to travel, pursue creative projects, and spend quality time with loved ones. If these benefits sound appealing to you, consider some simple changes to move your life in a more minimalist direction.

Quiet the Noise

An initial interest in minimalism is usually piqued when the time comes to clean house. If you’ve ever been tasked with the challenging job of managing a loved one’s estate, you can probably relate to this experience. Sorting through a lifetime of memories, collections, and physical items that inhabit a person’s home is downright overwhelming. Humans have a strong emotional and financial connection to the objects we own. If you or your loved one has items of perceived monetary or sentimental value, they can seem too difficult to let go of.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to feel free or clear-headed when we’re encumbered by the weight of things that we don’t need or use. Everything we own requires energy to maintain, store, and ultimately discard, pass down, or give away. The old adage, “the more you own, the more it owns you,” rings undeniably true.

If you feel trapped in a cycle of overspending or are tired of being surrounded by clutter, start the journey towards minimalism by clearing the excess. Consider hosting a tag sale, creating a donation pile, or sorting through old files, paperwork, and family heirlooms. Beyond removing physical items, there’s a freedom to be gained by clearing our schedule as well.

When we think about our “resources,” we tend to think about money. However, time is ultimately our most valuable resource. Learning to say no and streamlining our schedule to include more of what inspires us and less of what doesn’t is a necessary pursuit for living life to the fullest. You owe it to yourself to quiet the noise, remove the clutter, and make space for whatever is most important to you.

Make a Purchase Pause

How often do we see the words “limited time offer” or “get it while it lasts” posted on different marketing campaigns? Retailers know that no one wants to feel like they’re missing out on a chance that might not be available in the future. Whether it’s Black Friday, a Columbus Day sale, back-to-school, Labor Day, Amazon Prime Day, or an after-Christmas sale, there’s no shortage of “limited opportunities” to buy more than we need.

Instead of falling prey to impulse buys, why not give it a little time? The advent of online shopping has given us easy access to instant gratification; however, it also enables us to put something in our shopping cart and let it sit for a couple of days before hitting the purchase button. You might be surprised at how often you go back a day or two later and aren’t as excited about buying the item as you were initially. You may even end up forgetting about it.

Taking a step back and making a conscious decision about what to buy (rather than an emotional decision) gives us more control over our spending, finances, and time. If we cut back on unnecessary expenditures, saying no to that extra shift at work, that second job, or that unpaid vacation time starts to become a little less out of reach.

To get a better idea of how much you’re spending through passive online shopping, challenge yourself to a “no-spend” week (or month). Set your own rules on which necessities to buy, like groceries, basic toiletries, gas for the car, and ban the rest. See how it feels to say no to seemingly small purchases. The little things we buy when perusing the store or scrolling online can add up to a significant annual expense.

Create a Capsule Wardrobe

If you live in a climate with different seasons, you may be familiar with the common practice of packing away winter or summer clothes. As the temperature changes, you pull out a storage bin of forgotten items. Even without shopping, it feels like you just got a brand-new wardrobe. However, this practice doesn’t have to be reserved for New Englanders. Even if you don’t have to change your attire for the season, you can still choose to limit the number of items in your closet and switch things up without shopping.

There are several benefits to curating a minimalist wardrobe, notably a reduction in decision fatigue. Famous figures have chosen to stick with a self-imposed uniform to give their mind a break from worrying about what to wear. You may be familiar with the Steve Jobs turtleneck and jeans or Mark Zuckerberg’s grey t-shirt.

The concept of a limited, or capsule, wardrobe is nothing new, with origins dating back to the 70s. For a practical guide on defining your style and making your own (not-so-boring) capsule wardrobe, minimalist Courtney Carvers offers tips through her Project 333 initiative. Creating a capsule wardrobe allows you to reap the benefits of minimalism without having to get rid of things that you’d prefer to keep.

Identify and Reject “Retail Therapy”

For many people, “retail therapy” has become a coping strategy for life’s disappointments. There’s a spark felt when we get a good bargain or load up our shopping cart with exciting new purchases. Often, the things we buy are aspirational— more suited for the lifestyle we wish we had rather than the life we actually have. If you’ve ever purchased a treadmill only to use it as a clothing rack, you’d understand.

Unfortunately, like most self-destructive behaviors (including substance abuse and binge eating), the mental boost from retail therapy is short-lived. The joy of buying a material item depreciates rapidly as the temporary happiness that follows a “good buy” quickly dissolves. Shopping for more than we need leaves us with a cluttered living space and an empty bank account.

In contrast, it’s said that experiences appreciate over time, as they morph into fond memories. Getting out and living, whether that means going on a trip, visiting a friend, trying a new hobby, or seeking an adventure, contributes to our future well-being with a stream of rewarding dividends. As we look back on a life well-lived, we continue to reap joy reminiscing about the moments we shared instead of the items we purchased.

Using some of the strategies we discussed enhances our mindfulness around spending and halts the destructive accumulation of stuff we simply don’t need. This holiday season, reconsider your opinions and norms related to shopping. Explore new ways to show appreciation and love to those around you by finding opportunities to give your time and talents, rather than material things. A shift in mindset can unlock the freedom to live a more fulfilling and intentional life.

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