thoughts on conscious consumption

I’ve been kicking this idea around for a while and finally decided to put pen to paper…or fingers to keyboard, whatever.
I’ve noticed that ever since going vegan almost a year ago and around the same time adopting a regular meditation practice, I’ve concurrently become more conscientious of my purchasing behaviors. That’s not to say that one caused the other, but it’s certainly no stretch to say that both veganism and meditation cause you to really and truly think. With veganism, the questions tend to be ethical, environmental, and health-oriented, while meditation typically raises deep inner questions on psychology, spirituality, and meaning. The idea of conscious consumption has been gaining a bit of traction lately, but is far from mainstream. Imagine if consumers as a group actually paused to think a moment beyond the instant gratification that comes from a purchase!

About a year ago, I started asking myself a simple question before I purchased something — Why?

Why did I want to buy a new shirt? So people at work would compliment it and think that I’m more professional because I have a new top?

Why did I want to buy a new throw pillow? So friends who come to my apartment will think I have good design sense?

Why did I want to get a manicure? So some random stranger that saw my nails on a subway pole would think I look important and put together?

Why did I want to purchase a coffee every morning? So the barista would think I’m busy and professional?

I really went down the rabbit hole with this simple practice of questioning the implications behind a potential purchase. And the more I thought, the more I started reading up on the concepts of minimalism and “enough.”

conspicuous-consumption-fulfillment-curve

Source: TreeHugger

Enough is a powerful idea, isn’t it? Once you own enough [fill in the blank] to satisfy your basic needs and live comfortably, why could you possibly need anymore? Josh from Becoming Minimalist puts it beautifully by saying, “But we already have enough. Once we train ourselves to recognize this truth, we are freed from the pursuit of more, we are liberated from the bondage of discontent, and we begin to experience true freedom in our lives.”

At this point in my life, we’re well enough off financially that it would be almost too easy to slip into lifestyle inflation. Buying a new and bigger TV, having the latest technology, shopping at more expensive stores, replacing our well-worn furniture with brand new designer items…but why? The fact is, we’re living luxuriously in accordance with our values. Sure, when things we own fall into disrepair, only then will we replace and maybe upgrade. But with the current state of items being manufactured shoddily (which presents a whole host of other problems), people barely bat an eyelash at throwing out still-functioning items to get the biggest-best-newest-coolest things. And that right there is wreaking havoc on earth, as those cast-offs typically wind up in landfills.

Aside from curbing my former shopping habits, where I’d recreationally shop with friends, to cheer myself up, or just to kill boredom, I began to seek out likeminded individuals online with whom I could identify and learn from. Cait from Blonde on a Budget was a big source of inspiration for me, as she’s in the midst of a 2 year long shopping ban, as were the anonymous FrugalWoods, whose city-living frugal weirdo habits Kristian and I happened to already wholly embody!

Some of the steps I’ve taken:

  • Limited beauty supplies and makeup. I buy what I need when I run out, but my shower is no longer bursting with 5 different types of shampoos and conditioners.
  • Tossed out all my nail polish and eschew manicures and pedicures. This was partly influenced by the NYTimes Price of Nice Nails piece and partly because all of the polishes I had were collected over the years and I barely used them.
  • Bought <10 items of clothing this year. A couple new shirts when I started a new job in February, a bathrobe, a much-needed winter coat, a new pair of workout capris…and looking to buy even fewer items next year.
  • Stopped buying coffee every day — I drink it at home and get it from the office. That’s it!
  • Stopped viewing shopping as retail therapy — I no longer meet up with friends “just to look around” stores. Nope.
  • Not buying home decor to jazz our apartment up — In fact, I’ve gotten rid of so many items. It was all clutter, plain and simple.
  • Donating/giving away/selling TONS of barely worn items of clothing, video games, movies, books, shoes, jackets, accessories, kitchen items, and more
  • Curbed our takeout habit. We still get it every so often, because we’re in New York, after all! But it’s not nearly with the frequency that we used to, and we now view it as a total treat instead of a given.
  • Avoided buying books. I’m a diehard library fan now, especially after discovering that you can rent e-books directly to your Kindle.

This is all still a work in progress, and I’m learning and uncovering new ideas every day. It’s so liberating to free yourself from the cycle of earning money just to spend it, and then having to earn more money to sustain your lifestyle. Once you hop off the hamster wheel of consumption, it sort of feels like you’re Neo choosing the red pill and seeing things how they really are. Sure, you might feel a little out of place sometimes, but the fulfillment of having enough and being perfectly content with that is well worth it.

 

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Hiking with friends > expensive, boozy brunch in Manhattan

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