How to buy less?

Why minimalism now is so often spoken about? Read the article below to prevent the symptoms of spending more

spend lessThe minimalist movement celebrates experiences rather than things. We can all take part in a new and modern style of life by simplifying  our environment composition.

“The bigger your garage, the more you fill it with stuff.” A knowing observation from the guy on a neighbouring stool as the crowd around us watches sports on big-screen TVs. It may not be the usual scene for such a philosophical discussion. Or perhaps it’s the perfect indication that people from every slice of society, from barflies to celebrities, are aware of our cultural obsession with accumulation. 

READ ALSO: What are the advantages of online shopping?

Quality over quantity

For those who want to do more than philosophize - there is minimalist living. You may be more familiar with minimalism as an art and design movement with roots in the 1960s. Ever since, this concept of using simple elements (and fewer of them) for maximum effect has influenced music, visual arts, architecture, and literature. As a way of life, minimalism is about owning less, and living more. When asked to define it, it should be simply said, “I am intentionally trying to live with only the things I really need.”  Imagine a life where happiness is found in experience, not shopping, where you enjoy the freedom to ignore commercials,  where, environmentally, you’re making a difference by not consuming unnecessarily. The fact is, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. Sounds good in concept, but is it achievable? Absolutely,yes!


Mother to minimalist

For Rachel Jonat, mother, wife, and writer from Vancouver, the final straw struck in September 2010 when she was on maternity leave. After 10 months at home, she was sick of the clutter that exploded as soon as her son arrived. “It was taking up a lot of my time and too much space,” she notes. “My sister had been sending me articles about minimalism, and I thought having fewer things could help keep my home tidier and make life easier.”

Five carloads of donated, recycled, or sold household goods later, Jonat and her husband had embraced the lure of a simpler lifestyle. Less  housework.  More time for family, personal passions, and sleeping. More space in reclaimed closets and shelves.  And more money. Over the next two years, they got rid of $80,000 in consumer and student loan debt.

“It seemed insurmountable,” Jonat recalls. “But by using the tenets of minimalism with some luck added in, we paid if all off. It still shocks me that we did it!”

Grab a box and go

Now, living in the Isle of Man, Jonat has just two pairs of jeans—but no debt, and more time to maintain her website, the Minimalist Mom. What started as a personal journal has grown into a popular web resource, including a “getting started” series on streamlining your home, finances.

In the meantime, the first step can be as easy as de-cluttering. “Don’t overthink it,” Jonat advises. “Put a box in each room of your home and when you come across something you aren’t using, put it in. Donate, recycle, or sell whatever is in the boxes at the end of each month.”

For motivation, she suggests finding a de-clutter buddy. “It doesn’t have to be under the guise of minimalism, either. It could be that they, or you, want to sell things to generate cash to pay off debt or go on a trip, or it could just be that you want to de-clutter the guest bedroom so you can have family stay over. Find the reason that resonates most and go with it.”


Embracing the journey

So if you aren’t quite ready to part with Grandma’s china yet, that’s okay. There’s a happy personal medium between living like a nomad and a hoarder.Looking back, Jonat does have one thing she would’ve changed. “My start was a whirlwind few months of purging loads of things from our home. It was actually a very stressful and emotional time. I wish I’d paced myself a bit more and seen that it would all get done in due time.” As a matter of fact,  minimalism is always a matter of the heart.  After the external clutter has been removed, minimalism has the space to address the deepest heart issues that impact our relationships and life.

And like any meaningful change, be prepared for obstacles in your path. For Jonat and her husband, it’s a matter of staying clutter-free now that their family has grown to two children; they stay on track by regularly reviewing their possessions.

Still, given the energy consumption and disposal issues associated with many goods, there’s something appealing about the thought of being less of a drain on the world’s finite resources by buying out of excess consumerism.

“The interesting thing about minimalism is that you can apply it to whatever area you need help with most and to whatever degree you are comfortable with it,” Jonat says. “This tailored approach makes the idea of living with less accessible to everyone.”

For the sage barfly beside me who doesn’t seem quite willing to give up the big-screen TV, perhaps his first step will be cleaning out that overflowing garage.


One more step to minimalism

Five years ago, Kelly Sutton, a 22-year-old software engineer from Brooklyn, got rid of all of his possessions except for his laptop, iPad, Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, “a few” clothes and sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment. “I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts,” he commented on his actions.

Just possibly, Britain has joined this new puritan movement. Consumers here spent 26% of their total household budgets buying physical goods in the early part of the last decade. Indeed, The National Statistics Office reported that the amount of material consumed in the UK has fallen from a peak of 889.9m tonnes in 2001 (15.1 tonnes per person) to 659.1m tonnes (10.3 tonnes per person) in 2013. Material consumption was lowest in 2011, at 642.0m tonnes (10.1 tonnes per person).

Why is this happening? Certainly, the rise of digital media has allowed us to stop cluttering our homes with DVD box sets, books and CDs. Another explanation involves the “peak curtains” hypothesis. Essentially, it posits that we have got enough things in our homes, thanks very much. “If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings.”

Howard’s argument trades on a mounting revulsion for acquiring physical consumer goods – be they Billy bookcases, ostensibly must-have Nespresso machines or state-of-the-art humidors. Why? “Materialism is making millions of us feel joyless, anxious and, even worse, depressed,” argue the journalists.  The disease was given a special name - affluenza . Affluenza was a virus James reckoned was spreading virulently because it feeds on itself. When you try to make yourself feel better by buying a car, for instance, you make yourself feel worse, which makes you want to buy more things.

An interesting fact  we could escape from that endless cycle of misery by focusing on having nice experiences instead of on acquiring more stuff. Experiences are more likely to lead to happiness. That shift from consumption to what he called “experientialism” is certainly a trend that thrives on social media. Think of it this way: instead of putting pictures of your newly acquired Triumph Bonneville on Instagram for your followers to like or diss, you post snaps of your walking tour through the Andes. What is the significant difference between the two? Experiences are more likely to make us happy because we are less likely to get bored of them. “We’re more likely to see them with rose-tinted glasses, more likely to think of them as part of who we are, and because they are more likely to bring us closer to other people, and are harder to compare.
spend less

That sort of buy-less philosophy is echoed in the online shop Buy Me Once. It offers Patagonia brand coats, leggings and shirts that come with a lifetime guarantee;  Tweezerman tweezers that you can send back to be sharpened and realigned; teddy bears that can be returned and repaired in a bear hospital; and Le Creuset dutch ovens that carry lifetime guarantees.

Only one problem-  the stuff is not cheap. It would be ignorant to assume that it’s pure evil that fuels the cycle of buying cheap crap that breaks: it’s not. For many, it’s the fact that coming up with $15 to replace an item every year is far more feasible than coming up with $100 to invest in something that will last a lifetime. The buy-less philosophy as cure for affluenza is itself a luxury product.

Nevertheless, we constantly move  to what it calls a circular economy - we move from a ‘take-make-dispose’ approach towards ‘recycle-repair-reuse’”. We are increasingly nudged towards such reductions in consumption, and to mend rather than end. Last year, for instance, the French government began forcing manufacturers to tell consumers how long their appliances will last. French companies will also have to inform consumers how long spare parts for their products will be available, or risk a fine of up to €15,000 (£11,000). The aim is to help to combat “planned obsolescence” – the practice of designing products with restricted life spans to ensure consumers will buy more. You know the kind of thing: you have to buy a new electric toothbrush because the batteries can’t be replaced.What was appealing about this decree was that, for once, government was standing up to big business and recognising that corporations often design their products to fail. In 1921, for example, it was created created light bulbs that would break after 1,000 hours instead of providing the 1,500-2,000 hours previous bulbs managed.

And then there was the recent news that the city of Hamburg had banned disposable coffee pods , along with bottled water and beer, chlorine-based cleaning products, air freshener, plastic plates and cutlery as part of a drive to reduce environmental waste. The capsules can’t be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminium. It’s six grammes of coffee in three grammes of packaging. They in Hamburg thought that these shouldn’t be bought with taxpayers’ money.  If material consumption is falling, one reason is because initiatives such as these make us reflect on what we are consuming and the extent to which it can be recycled.

Another official nudge to reducing consumption came in 2008, when then prime minister Gordon Brown argued “unnecessary” food purchases were contributing to price rises. At the time, a government study revealed that the UK wasted 4m tones of food every year, adding £420 a year to a family’s shopping bills. If there has been a fall in food waste since, it may be due to such nudges – appeals, not just to great environmental responsibility, but to self interest. Recently, for example, Recycle for Wales called on householders to dispose of food waste in their food bins rather than putting it in black bin bags  – and sweetened the proposal by adding that “recycling 36 used tea bags creates enough electricity to power a TV for 80 minutes – enough time to watch Wales play in both halves of a Six Nations game”.But the fall in material consumption is not just due to changes in consumer behaviour. The root cause is a mixture of,  digitalisation, but also that western countries – and possibly China as well – have now got the capital stock they need to operate a modern economy. We are using less material to make roads, build buildings and other forms of infrastructure. Broadly speaking, we each need about 12 tonnes of stock of steel to give us a modern lifestyle – obviously, much of this is in the form of public infrastructure. We all have washing machines now. This means a reduced demand for metals and building materials overall.

In any case, would being less materialistic make us happier anyway? A few years ago, Daniel Miller wrote a lovely book called The Comfort of Things. It was lovely in part because it confounded the growing orthodoxy that material things ruin or in other ways degrade us. The book was the result of a 17-month investigation into the lives and loves and domestic interiors of 30 households in a randomly chosen London street. In them, the ethnographer found collections of plastic ducks and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, mementos of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, bottles of whisky from the Queen’s Jubilee, religious images, photographs of reality TV babes, and miniature bottles of foreign liquors.

Why did these things matter, and why did they comfort? Because, Miller thought, they make us what we are, they restore our memories, connect us with others and with the past. “Material culture matters,” he wrote, “because objects create subjects more than the other way round.” The saddest place he visited was a flat of a man called George. “The flat,” Miller reported, “was empty, completely empty, because its occupant had no independent capacity to place something decorative or ornamental within it.” George, sad to relate, had never felt able to take responsibility for anything, not even the decoration of his own home. Rather, his characteristic sense of powerlessness deprived him of the ability to make a home filled with soothing, physical things. Instead, George’s flat contained nothing but the most basic carpet and furniture. It wasn’t, though, a minimalist sanctuary from clutter or a Brooklynite hipster rebuke to overconsumption, but a space devoid of comfort, a heartbreaking expression of self-neglect.

Perhaps the digital counterparts of physical things may offer us consolations, but what is clear is that depriving ourselves of the comfort of things is not a sure fire path to happiness.
live more

This week, I went on a rewarding shopping trip. I tried on shoes until I grew tired of undressing and re-dressing my feet. I flipped rails in search of the cross-season midi skirt of my mind’s eye. I re-angled lamps, opened the drawers and doors of items of furniture, picked up bowls, bars of soap, face creams, children’s socks, storage baskets, placemats, greeting cards. I bought nothing. Result! I had thrown myself into the lion’s den of consumerism and walked out unscathed. I strolled lightly home, swinging my bags of free satisfaction.

I used to love shopping – the kind that entails handing over money in exchange for stuff – but life has changed. This sort of ghost shopping is a new, unguilty pleasure in which the act of withholding, that little moment of consumerist disavowal, rings with a pleasing, silent kerching. (Also, because it is ultimately fruitless, this sort of shopping trip is not something any emotionally stable person with a reasonably busy life would want to do too often. Which saves even more money.)

I have noticed this non-spend consumerism stealing into other areas of life, too. I doubt I am alone in having a stand-off with the central heating to see who wins which months. Who owns November? Who owns February? Is it the thermostat, or my jumpers and my iron will? Like many, I have become more waste conscious, so now the shelves of the refrigerator are replenished according to at least a half-plan of how we are going to use all those vegetables. It sounds topsy-turvy, but it is fulfilling to watch the shelves empty. Throwing away half a head of yellowed broccoli or some corn that has gone mouldy inside its cellophane wrapper, as happened yesterday, is the equivalent of a guilty purchase. It feels transgressive, in the way that spending too much on a dress used to.


Sometimes I still buy the dresses, but they are more likely to be of the “investment” kind – likely to last 10 years. I frequent discount sites where prices drop over time, thereby rewarding the old-fashioned virtues of patience and frugality, while introducing an element of play. After I have tried it all on, it gets sent back.

Mostly, I wait until the point of need before I buy. And, increasingly, I find that the point of need can be deferred. The sofa is ageing before my eyes, but no one can see quite how many holes I have hidden under the blanket. (Or maybe they can and they’re just being kind.) I buy predominantly unisex clothes for my daughter, which has the double advantage of allowing her to enjoy colours that are not pink, and of making it possible to hand down all her clothes to her younger brother. Toys and clothes that aren’t worn or played with go in the loft. The loft is a magic place that makes old things novel. So when the stuff comes down again or the kids go up – even more fun – it sparkles with fresh interest!


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