Over the weekend, I went to visit my mom and aunt to celebrate their birthdays. They were born one day and two years apart! We hung out at the National Harbor yesterday and I was surprised at how many shops are there now compared to how many there were when it first opened. My aunt loves to shop, so we ended up exploring many of the clothing and accessory stores at the harbor. Although I saw lots of lovely things that would look good on me, I walked away from that place empty-handed, as usual. I have little desire to buy “stuff” anymore, unless it’s something I actually need. I’ve been living this way for about two years now.
When I started working for myself full-time in 2010, I also began to adopt a minimalist mindset to my life. My main goal was to buy less, use what I had and save my money for experiences instead of stuff. As a result, I’ve spent very little on “things” over the past two years. Most of my income goes to housing, student loans, car payment, food and other monthly bills. The rest goes to activities that I gift to myself or other people: traveling, trying new restaurants, attending concerts and going to festivals.
The point of living with less, for me, is not about NOT buying things. It’s about prioritizing the purchase of things that truly matter to you and add to your life. For me, that shift began with ending my habit of buying things I didn’t need. Here are seven strategies I’ve used in that journey that you may wish to consider for your own growth.
Stop watching TV. Constantly seeing celebrities on TV with their beautiful hair, designer clothes and fancy homes does a lot of damage to the psyche. Not only does it conjure up feelings of inadequacy in our own looks, but it can prompt us to buy the exact same stuff they have to make ourselves feel like we’re living just a fraction of their fabulous lives. Please remember that everything on TV is FAKE. It is an escape from your day to day life, but when you start escaping with your credit card, you can end up with a bunch of expensive items that leave you feeling no better than you did before.
Stop watching commercials. Television advertising is insidious. In college, I learned about how car marketers are taught to “manufacture desire” for new vehicles that no one needs. Used cars will do you just fine, but to have commercials tell it, you have to have the latest model BMV to have an exciting, glamorous life. Most commercials are full of lies and manipulation to get you to feel incomplete and lead you to buy things you don’t need. But when you stop watching them, you lessen the power of corporate messaging on the decision-making part of your brain.
Don’t justify shopping because it’s “on sale” or you have a “coupon.” Remember that you’re only saving money if you would have needed to buy the item anyway. In other words, a sale on toilet paper is a score, but a sale on Jimmy Choos is not. My aunt cracks me up with all the DSW and Lane Bryant coupons she gets in the mail every month. She claims she’s “saving” money on all the clothes she buys, forgetting that the best way to save money is not to spend it in the first place. Tell your favorite clothing stores to stop sending you discounts and reserve your couponing culture for buying food or other essential items.
Limit your visits to the mall. I’ve been living in Charlottesville for a month now and I haven’t been to the mall once. I have no need to, unless I’m replacing an item of clothing that’s worn out or doesn’t fit me right anymore. Idle shopping usually results in idle purchases. If you must go to the mall, go in with a purpose – to find a new pair of black dress pants or to replace your favorite pumps.
Stop buying magazines. When I was in college, I used to buy Lucky Mag religiously. I fancied myself a fashionista and I wanted to keep up with the trends. Thing is, each magazine cost $5 by itself, let alone what it would cost to purchase something highlighted in its pages. Women’s magazines are blazoned with full-page ads that promise you instant beauty and weight loss and happiness if you just buy the latest product. And if it’s a reputable publisher like Oprah or Essence, you’re already pre-wired to trust the product recommendations, which can make you even more likely to buy something you see in those magazines. Just remember that you can get many of the same articles online these days, so there really is no need to read magazines anymore.
Stop reading fashion, makeup, natural hair and thrifting blogs. I feel so conflicted about this one, as I love the creativity and artistry with which my fellow bloggers put into their sites. But there are many that I just don’t read, not because I have a problem with the bloggers themselves, but because I know that the whole purpose of their site is to recommend that I buy new clothes, buy old clothes, buy more makeup or buy every new natural hair product line that comes out. If you read blogs to get new information, inspiration or to support the writers, great! But when you find yourself feeling like you have to buy every new lip gloss that beauty bloggers review, it may be time to switch up the blogs you give your attention to.
Avoid hanging out with shopaholics. When you see everyone else around you buying the latest fashions or electronics or accessories, it can be easy to fall prey to subtle peer pressure. Plus, shopaholics are usually the first ones to urge you to “buy that dress girl, it’s so cuuuuute!” with an urgency so fierce that it’s hard not to get caught up in their excitement. So if a shopaholic friend asks you to go to the mall with her, opt to meet her afterwards for lunch or coffee instead. That way, you don’t get tempted to mirror her out-of-control spending habits.
What other strategies have you used to keep yourself from buying things that you don’t need?