“Buy, buy, buy!” “A diamond is forever.” “Buy now, pay later.” “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline.” “Because I’m worth it.”
In our modern society, we are bombarded with reminders that were not enough and that we need to fill any of our personal, spiritual, emotional, or physical shortcomings with stuff.
But the planet disagrees, and our well-being does, too. Many of us have fallen into the trap of living just to buy, and we’re losing out on the living aspect (not to mention ruining our planet).
Fortunately, the path towards minimalism is perhaps easier and more fulfilling than you imagine. That said, here are seven easy tips to consume less stuff.
1. Organize and Assess
A good place to start when it comes to how to consume less stuff is to actually know what stuff you already have. How often do we go to the grocery store to buy an item, only to realize that we already have that item (maybe several) already at home?
Once you take inventory of, say, all the stuff in your closet, it makes it easier to become aware of certain buying patterns or a type of item that has perhaps become problematic. Once you notice that you have 20+ pairs of shoes, you’re less likely to buy a new pair this month, for instance.
Another way you can do this is by taking control of your finances. Either through a friend, adviser, or budget app, you can take note of all that you’re spending money on. It’s hard to realize that you’re going out for coffee three times a week—until you see it on a spreadsheet or in a list.
This process also entails spending time with your thoughts to determine what exactly you want out of life. Have you always wanted to be a painter, yet the 60+ hour work weeks always get in the way?
Maybe by noticing that you’re spending a lot of money on streaming apps (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+) you might also realize that by cancelling your subscriptions, you’ll save several hundred dollars every year—and end up with more free time. With this in mind, you might be able to stop saying yes to working on the weekends, and instead pursue your creative interests.
We can’t tell you what to prioritize in your life, but one of the big benefits of adopting a minimalist lifestyle and consuming less is that you’re able to live more. You’re able to spend more time exploring the great outdoors, connecting with friends and family, and simply just being.
As Socrates said in 469 BCE:
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
2. Acknowledge Spending Urges
Once you take stock of your spending, you may notice a few trends.
For instance, perhaps you joined millions of others during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, when online shopping was up significantly? Not only were more people scrolling their way to grocery purchases, but sales in electronics, general merchandise, and Lululemon leggings—amongst other things—also skyrocketed in the early months of the pandemic.
Did all of these purchases fall and they “need” category? Probably not. As more people were spending more time at home, and oftentimes alone, we were turning to purchases to fill the voids left by shutdowns and restrictions.
Even if you didn’t get caught up in the coronavirus consumerism, perhaps you notice that after spending time with certain people, exposing yourself to certain situations, or even after one-glass-too-many of wine, you may be hitting that “add to cart” button too much.
Take some time to assess when you’re buying and what it is you’re spending money on, then think if all your “stuff” is really contributing to a better life—or just a burst of feel-good chemicals that are quickly replaced by a desire for more.
3. Avoid Advertisements
If we’re addicted to the release of neurochemicals that accompany a shopping spree (cough, cough “retail therapy”), the advertising and marketing industry is a very lucrative drug dealer.
Not only has it been shown the advertising makes us unhappy, but it also encourages us to make purchases that we likely wouldn’t make with a sound mind and a clear conscience.
We may realize that the newly-launched perfume won’t make our partner, friends, or family love us more, but with the beautiful model, convincing music, and aesthetically-pleasing visuals, it’s hard to resist.
Here are a few tips to minimize your exposure to ads:
- Stay off your phone, and away from those pesky targeted ads on social media.
- Watch less TV.
- Clean up your inbox by unsubscribing to junk mail and business newsletters.
- Enable settings to block pop-up ads.
- Recognize that advertising is powerful, likely more so than you think. See through their false promises.
4. Take Your Time
We live in a world that involves making purchases in order to fulfill our needs. It would be silly and impractical to plan to never buy anything again, but spending some extra time to think about these purchases is helpful.
Give yourself some time to ponder that item on your wishlist—if weeks or months pass and you feel like you still want it, go ahead and work it into your life/budget. Chances are, you’ll forget about it though, or it will get replaced by another “want.”
It might be helpful to start a wishlist that regularly gets updated based on what purchases are more pressing. Having a physical representation of those shoes, clothes, video games, or electronics, might allow you to see how many material items you desire, and choose which ones to cross off the list based on practicality or finances.
5. Pay With Cash
Here’s an easy one: use cash for your spending money (safety permitted, of course). Allot yourself a certain amount every week, and vow not to go over it. Just like having a physical list of your wants and needs, being able to see how much money you spend can also help you consume less stuff.
Between things like Apple pay, credit cards, and Venmo, it’s all too easy to spend without much thought. So, if you find yourself often spending money on walks or when you’re out with friends, even consider leaving your phone and wallet at home.
6. Become a Conscious Consumer
Every single thing that we purchase—regardless of how eco-friendly, green, or ethical it is—has an impact.
Take some time to get to know the brands in the products that you’re bringing into your home.
- Are they made in a way that respects the natural environment and workers?
- Are they backed up by transparent practices or certifications?
- Are they mass-produced or created in a way that promotes traditional handiwork?
- Are they supporting your local economy or a giant multinational corporation?
Know who and what you’re supporting with your hard-earned cash, and be sure that it aligns with your ethical and sustainability values.
If supporting fair trade or organic companies isn’t possible with your finances, explore alternative ways of “purchasing.” Check out local thrift stores, look for used products on Facebook Marketplace, or even borrow or trade for items you need.
7. Create an Accountability Loop
Creating long-lasting and sustainable change in a vacuum is difficult. Coming to terms with some of your unsustainable practices and employing new habits that are better for people and our planet is much easier when you have support.
To borrow from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, creating an accountability loop is one of the best tips to consume less stuff—especially when you’re bombarded with reminders to consume more coming from nearly every direction.
Here are a few ways you can incorporate some accountability into your minimalism efforts:
- Let friends or family members in on your plans about becoming more minimalist. Even if you’ve been practicing minimalism for awhile, it’s a good idea to verbally share your commitment and your plans for the future. This will build accountability and will encourage you to continue making positive changes.
- Use social media to share minimalism goals and plans. Social media can certainly be a distraction and encourage more consumerism, but it can also be used as a tool for positive change. If you have specific plans for your journey to consume less stuff, share them on your social media accounts. You’ll likely receive encouragement and/or tips from other people.
- Take before and after photos. For both your personal records and to share with other people, it’s a good idea to capture images of your home, closet, bookshelf, and/or kitchen before and after you start to cut back. This will serve as a reminder of how far you’ve come and what is possible.
- Catalog your journey, in either a private or public way. Going above and beyond social media, consider starting a blog to share your journey. It may encourage others to follow suit and try to own and consume less stuff.
- Create a community, or invite others to join you. You know how they say the best way to learn something is by teaching it to someone else? That sentiment is also true for minimalism, and the sense of community and collaboration of ideas can help you and others on your journey.
Speaking of community, we’d love to know any other thoughts or tips to consume less stuff! Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.