Conscious/mindful consumption
July 10, 2019 5:55 AM   Subscribe

I’m on board when it comes to becoming minimalist. Decluttering, sparking joy. Where I fall down is continuing to bring new things into my home... and staying minimalist.

I’m getting better at being selective when it comes to clothes, shoes, and accessories. Things that feel good and fit. Things that I will actually wear. Trying to avoid fast fashion and make purchases that are more aligned with my values. All good there.

Similarly, I’ve kind of/sort of had some success with holding objets d’art and discovering whether or not they spark joy. Some really do! And I try to refer back to those examples whenever I’m shopping.

The area I struggle most in are personal and household items, or komono(skin care products, makeup, household equipment & supplies, kitchen goods/food supplies). I am familiar with The Minimalists 20/20 rule.

Especially tricky are those that represent my fantasy self. For example, I am trying to become a better cook, and have made a number of aspirational purchases.

I want to save money and while I truly enjoy the process of decluttering, I realize how wasteful it is to buy shit only to declutter it down the road.

I’m wondering if you have a personal mantra or adage that levels up from “Do I really need this?” or “Does this spark joy?” to help you cut costs and stop bringing more crap into your space.
posted by nathaole to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not minimalist at all, but I do remind myself that the things that spark joy for me can change. That my historical purchases don't have to stay if I decide no I really will never learn how to decorate cakes. There is no blame, it was useful, now it's not it can go. Something new is okay, even if it's providing me just a hope. That at the time I really do want to do whatever it is, and it's okay for that not to go as planned and I don't have to beat myself up over it. I am very comfortable with my house representing who I am in a moment, and changing my home as I change without judgement for who I was or who I will become.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:27 AM on July 10 [13 favorites]

So for decluttering, this is an idea: Make a list of all of your items like this. Every item! Don't lump them together. Make a conscious day choice (list) to use the item that day. Is it useful and would you use it again without prompting? Do you enjoy using it? Was it kind of annoying to you that it was on the list and you had to use it today?

My personal mantra has been #1 stop using credit, this makes money much more real and I pay attention. #2 cancelled the Amazon Prime account, no more instant purchases. These two things have dropped my buying crap dramatically.

I don't agree with this Christian Discipline Daddy aura but Dave Ramsey's book is pretty empowering to just stop buying things. It's about getting out of debt and maybe you're not in debt, but you get out of debt in large part by spending less so his book actually encouraged me with lots of stories. I just read it this month as kind of a "I wonder why everyone loves this book." and I do totally get it and did feel empowered.

And finally, I now stop myself before I buy something or go out to eat just because. Later that day/night I'll look back and feel actual legitimate relief/good feelings that I didn't do that. I don't miss it most times. So maybe try that a few times.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:49 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

I try to cultivate a personal allergy to advertising. Like picking apart the ads I see, going into how they're trying to trick me into buying things, internally screaming "fuck you I won't do what you tell me" at the ad. In your position, I'd be analyzing promo pictures of items I'm considering and trying to see how they're being marketed, refusing to become a target audience for that product.
posted by gakiko at 6:52 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

I just keep receipts and return things. I find that once I actually have the time home I want it less (the whole “keep it in your shopping cart!” Thing doesn’t work for me
posted by raccoon409 at 6:56 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Here's what jumped out at me:

Especially tricky are those that represent my fantasy self. For example, I am trying to become a better cook, and have made a number of aspirational purchases.

I get this hard. You think that you could do so much better if you just had the right tools. That's an awfully seductive trap, and it's one I've fallen into before.

What helped me a lot, though, is: "It's not the tool, it's the person using it." Like - if you have a super-boffo ice cream maker, but you don't really know much about making ice cream, then your ice cream is just gonna be meh. But if you know a lot about making ice cream, not only would you be able to use the super-boffo ice cream maker, but you'd also know how to make it without the super-boffo ice cream maker. Buying the super-boffo ice cream maker will not instantly make you a better ice cream maker overnight; therefore, you don't need it right away. Or maybe ever.

Maybe remind yourself of that. Remind yourself that you will get those tools when you're ready for them, and trust that you will know when you are ready.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on July 10 [10 favorites]

Hi, I am not a minimalist and definitely have too much stuff (mostly books tbh.) One way I work with my urges is to minimize what I buy new. Do you live in a place with a thriving second hand market for the things you most like to buy? Do you go to garage sales/check Craigslist first/buy secondhand or remaindered books?

One side effect of buying used is that I am less attached to the things as mine and mine only - I see myself as part of a web of users. I let go of things relatively easily, and like to think of people using and enjoying things I have owned.

Some of my favorite kitchen things were bought at a rummage sale, or handed down by a relative.

When I declutter I do it by first having a garage sale, or taking things to the consignment store, and only then dropping bags at Goodwill. I think that asking people to pay me a small amount for my stuff is a way to honor the use value of the stuff, and maybe gives people the minor thrill of getting a deal.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:21 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

For the aspirational cooking, what about putting that money towards cooking classes where you get to use fancy equipment and learn how to do the cooking/baking? That would give you a better idea of whether you'll actually enjoy or use something and see how an expert does a task, maybe the fancy tool is not needed and there's a simpler way.

My thing is clothes and trinkets, the key for me is not shopping as a pasttime, avoiding online websites, and appreciating what I have already. I try not to buy something unless the thing I want to buy would truly change my life, like if I don't have any gloves and it's cold, I can buy some, but a 5th skirt or dress when I have lots of options I like already is out. In the kitchen I think it's less wasteful than with clothing to donate and upgrade if you use things regularly and it's within budget.
posted by lafemma at 7:25 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

One of the things I've run into in the past is that I buy aspirational stuff then only use it a couple times. My rule now is that I can't buy a new tool until I've done things the more manual way a few times and know that I'll want to do it a lot. For example, if I were doing this now I wouldn't let myself buy a mandoline until I had tried making dishes that use one, but just with a knife. If I really love making potato chips and ratatouille and I'm getting annoyed about how long it takes with the knife, then I can start considering a new tool. But if I decide "I shouldn't make potato chips more because they're super greasy and I prefer chunky roasted veggies" then it becomes clear that I don't really need the new toy.

I also start out with the mindset "I don't really need this" rather than asking myself if I do. If something is really fun I can usually convince myself if it's a question, but for some reason the statement makes it harder to have that internal conversation.
posted by brilliantine at 8:05 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

In my neighbourhood we have a Facebook group where we can ask to borrow tools for a one-off job, or to try-before-you-buy. For example, someone asked to borrow my food processor and then at the end of the week they decided they probably don't need to buy one.
posted by tinydancer at 8:27 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

Time delay. Non-consumables get put in the virtual shopping cart or Evernote list and if I keep thinking about them for two to four weeks (depending on price) with the same level of joy, I buy them.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 8:29 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

For kitchen stuff, I think about where I would put it. Is a new toy worth having cluttered drawers and having to paw through it every time I want a spatula? Also, is washing it going to be a hassle?

For skincare, I try pretty hard to use things up as a reminder that a little bit lasts a long time. I find another use if a product doesn't suit what I bought it for. Moisturizer that gives me zits is hand cream. Shampoo that irritates my scalp is okay as shave cream. I also store all products in bin in the bathroom where they're visible, so I have that reminder that it's easy to overbuy.

Don't buy extra stuff to get free shipping - even if you like a product now, you may have different needs in six months or a year.

I do the whole Marie Kondo thing that when I throw something away, I think about what it has done for me and thank it - the review helps me avoid making the same mistakes in the future. (e.g. "Thanks toner, it was fun to try a new product, but I don't like scents and prefer a simpler routine.") And I remember that humans crave novelty and try not to beat myself up about it / find other ways to meet that need.
posted by momus_window at 9:07 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

My household has effectively tamed this problem (and it was indeed a problem for us and remains so for many, many people) in two ways:

1) Delete your most used online shopping account. Just do it. Maybe all of them. Online shopping has destroyed all barriers to impulse purchases. You have to quit it like you would smoking or other impulse behaviors. Have you ever read about a cooking tool and then looked for it online and bought it same day? Quitting online shopping will cure that.

2) As I claim sanctuary and others have said, you need a buffer period for purchases. Our version is extreme but it works, and you need an accountability partner to do it. We do it like this: Once a month on a designated day, meet up with a list of your object wants and make a case for them. Let your partner attempt to question your need or otherwise dissuade you. If you determine you still want to obtain the item (it's not up to your partner--their only role is to make you think about it), wait another 30 days, then go out and shop for it.

Exempted from all this is food and basic necessities like toothpaste. Everything else can handle a waiting period.
posted by quarterframer at 9:10 AM on July 10

"Would I rather have this or do X?" is most effective for me, since I generally value experiences more than things, and always have a mental list of stuff like concerts and vacation spots that I want to try. (Recently put a sweet pair of shoes back on the shelf because it cost as much as an awesome local zipline tour I've been wanting to try. No regrets.)

It also helps me to think about how I would feel if didn't buy the thing, and then went back for it a month later and found out it was permanently out of stock. Most of the time it wouldn't matter. I'd get a similar product or live without it. 10% of the time I know I'd feel real regret about not getting it--if it's original art, or a particular item of clothing that just feels unusually awesome, or something that will enhance near-term plans (e.g., new bike accessory and I have a bike trip planned that weekend)--and then I buy the thing without guilt or buyer's remorse.
posted by xylothek at 9:30 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Buy one thing discard one thing.
I have tried (tried) to do this for my category of doom: books
I feel like it could work? Maybe especially if you do have a list of "all the kitchen things I own" and then can see what you will be able to discard if you buy the gadget of your dreams.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:32 AM on July 10

Oh, I came back because I wanted to stress that when I said I stopped using credit, I meant mostly use cash for items that aren't single use. If you have to physically go to a store and hand over $20 bills, you will be a lot less likely to splurge on a thing you haven't considered well. Like $89.99 on an ice cream maker on Amazon is like oh sure whatever maybe but if you actually have to withdraw a hundred and hand it to the cashier, you will have a very different feeling.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:45 AM on July 10

brilliantine and xylothek have captured the type of thing I’m looking for.

Upon reflection I want to write the quote/question/mantra on a post-it note so I can wrap it around my debit card to prevent the purchase in the first place. I don’t need decluttering tips. I want to become a more mindful consumer.

“I don’t really need this”
“Would I rather have this or do X?”

More like this please!!
posted by nathaole at 12:08 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

It’s not quite as pithy as a mantra, but I do have list of questions that have helped me short-circuit a lot of unnecessary purchases:

1. “Does this fill a need?” (Is it replacing something I use, filling a known gap, or is it something entirely new that I know exactly how I will use immediately/frequently.)
2. “Does this make me happy?” (Do I need to buy this particular thing, or should I keep looking for one with features/materials I like better?)
3. “Where will it live?” (Do I have a place for it? What would I give up to give it a place?)
4. “Will cleaning it make me want to set it on fire?” (This has killed so many potential purchases, I can’t even tell you, although I recognize that others may be less annoyed by cleaning than I am.)

Usually, by the time I’ve answered these questions, I have a pretty good idea of whether the thing is worth buying. There’s not a particular formula - sometimes a strong “YES” to #2 does outweigh lackluster or negative responses in other areas, but it slows me down enough that I don’t do a whole lot of impulse buying.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:58 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]

"Is what I want now, what I want the most?"

Basically applies to every corner of my life, esp. when I'm being lazy about working toward a goal.
posted by BeeJiddy at 5:03 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Also agree with the one in, one out rule. I'm pretty bad with clothes shopping, though I generally second-hand shop so at least it's financially and environmentally kinder in my eyes. If I buy a new skirt, I have to donate something in my closet that I no longer wear or I bought aspirationally and never got worn in the first place. I refuse to buy any more coat hangers! Otherwise I would start to infringe on my partner's right to space in our home, which isn't cool.
posted by BeeJiddy at 5:10 PM on July 10

It's easy to forget that consuming media shapes our purchasing/consumer habits. In specifics to cooking - are you watching a lot of cooking shows (and commercials geared towards selling things to cooks)? Do you subscribe to chef/food magazines? Could you shift your leisure time from consuming those things to picking a cookbook based on a new cuisine or skill and methodically cooking everything in it? Once the book is completed if you loved the process maybe you reward yourself with a tool specific to the style?

In regards to the mantra, is the a long term/big picture goal that you could focus on and create a mantra around, "I don't need this, because I'm saving for that".
posted by vividvoltage at 5:14 PM on July 10

"Will this make my life better?" The answer needs to be a strong "YES," not just an aspirational "maybe" or "well I like things of this class, so more are probably better?" New sheets when mine are worn out will make my life better. New sheets because they're pretty might make my life better, if I really love them. New sheets because they seem like a great deal will not make my life better: they'll just be another object to store and clean and manage, and I'll have less money! If it makes your life better, you will never have to declutter it until it's served its purpose.
posted by teremala at 5:45 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

"Will this go away?"

In other words, is there some reason you actually have to buy the item right now? If it's a limited edition, or a ridiculously good sale, or discontinued...maybe. If not, it'll still be there in a month when you think about it again, right? What's the hurry?

My budget runs mostly month to month, so just saying "I'll think about it again when the budget period rolls over" helps considerably.
posted by praemunire at 5:47 PM on July 10

This is an old trick from "Your Money or Your Life" and won't work if you are wealthy.

Take your salary and figure out your ACTUAL hourly wage like this:

Your weekly take-home salary
MINUS the average weekly costs of working (commuting, parking, makeup/clothes only for work, lunches out, office gifts)
DIVIDED BY the actual hours you spend door-to-door and working (commuting, staying late, checking email on weekends)

Once you have this hourly wage, you ask yourself "is this worth working 3 hours for?" (or whatever the cost works out to for that item.)
posted by warriorqueen at 6:05 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Another thing: I try really hard not to let advertisers/packaging invent problems for me. If I'm buying something, it should be to solve a problem that I identified independently prior to coming into the store/visiting the website, not an issue I've just suddenly realized I totally have. Every once in a while, it turns out that the information they provided was legitimately educational and/or their product is something unique and worthy that makes things better in a way I hadn't realized was possible, but really that only happens every couple years and I could tell you specifically what my last 3+ exceptions were. All the flashy Kickstarter videos and clever Instagram ads I've watched in the meanwhile have ultimately boiled down to "eh, this looks cool but I wasn't actually lacking for an X, come to think of it."
posted by teremala at 7:05 PM on July 10

A couple of suggestions, from a former maximalist:

- Moving ten times in ten years, five of which were international, with only two suitcases to my name, did wonders to curb the impulse to buy. Ask yourself if the object is something you'd be willing to pay to have shipped overseas, and it instantly becomes less desirable. Ditto with reminding yourself that excess baggage fees exist.

- I recommend the books Digital Minimalism (for cutting down drastically on the consumerist BS you consume) and Atomic Habits (one of the best books on behaviour change and habit formation I've ever read) if you want to do some more mental work on the subject. At the very least, framing it as an identity: 'I am a minimalist and a minimalist does not do X' works better than framing it in terms of an action/willpower problem.

- YNAB is an excellent tool for saving for specific goals. It's subscription-based, but they offer a month-long free trial.

-Finally, remind yourself that for most of history, humanity has gotten by on far less than we ever did and for the most part managed fine. they're just things.
posted by Tamanna at 8:46 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]

4. “Will cleaning it make me want to set it on fire?”

YMMV but this short-circuits more purchases than anything else. Especially anything kitchen-related.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 10:55 PM on July 10

Is this for me, or for imaginary me?

Taking it further, I sometimes deliberately do a whole bunch of window shopping for imaginary me. Like I'm going to Ascot and need fancy clothes and a hat, or I'm cooking Christmas dinner for 12 and need all the dishes and decorations. And I think about what I would buy if I was imaginary me. And then, I just don't purchase.
posted by plonkee at 4:58 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]

My mom is 79, and thinking a lot about end-of-life stuff, like her will and medical decisions, etc. This summer, I've been helping her clean out her house of all the old crap that accumulates in a lifetime. After returning home, I usually spend the next day or two in a frenzy of tossing my own stuff.

So my mantra lately, for decluttering items I already have, as well as buying new things, is "If I died or had to move into a nursing home tomorrow, would I want my daughter to have to deal with this thing?" Kind of morbid, I realize. But it's been working for me.

PSA - don't buy things for elderly gift recipients. Give them consumable items, like their favorite chocolate or tickets to a show.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:18 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]

So I am far from a minimalist in my personal taste, but I also have a small house without much storage space and I hate cleaning and also have ADHD, so I've been trying to find ways to work on this myself.

For me the biggest rule has been "don't shop unless you have taken your ADHD meds" but that is only relevant if ADHD is driving your impulse buys. :) It helps a lot if it is, though.

However, here are some other strategies that have helped me:

-Decide that I will allocate X space for Y category of item, and if I buy a new Y, I need to get rid of an old one.
-Frame this process to myself as being about curating a home that includes only awesome stuff that I love (instead of the negative self talk blame cycle that often goes along with minimalist/decluttering stuff)
-Similarly, use positive framings that are about my own choices and control (not scoldy, blamey negative framings.) I don't talk about "not being allowed" to buy stuff - I try to refer to it, even to myself, as "I have all the X I need right now" or "I want to wait to get more X until I've used up the ones I have so I don't have to store extras" or "I'd rather spend that money on X than Y." I have a very strong "you can't tell me what to do" streak, even when the person telling me what to do is ME, so this actually helps avoid the knee-jerk Rage Against The Machine response mentioned upthread. (gakiko, we totally use that song as a reference point in our household.)

Questions that help:
-Where will I put it?
-What will I get rid of to make space for it?
-How much of a PITA will it be to clean/set up to use?

Strategies to help:
-Add to wish list instead of shopping cart
-"save for later"
-consider upgrading stuff once. I always impulse bought inexpensive cute dish sets and never had room to store them. Finally I donated all of them and bought one set of the dishes I really wanted (Fiesta!! SO CUTE SO STURDY). I no longer even seriously consider dish sets - my dish set longing is fulfilled. If there's a category where you always want to spend, do some searching as to whether there is one thing you REALLY want but won't let yourself get because it's too nice, and save up to get that instead. One Kitchenaid Mixer is pricey but when you add up all the single-use gadgets you don't buy because your desire for them was a sublimated desire for the mixer, you come out ahead in the long run.

And one that's a little more complex but has helped me:

1) first, be using a budget (YNAB is what I use and it is great.)
2) have a budget category that is explicitly for whatever the category it is where you want to stop yourself from thoughtlessly purchasing.
3) put enough money in this category that you will be able to buy something regularly, but NOT MORE than one or two things.

What I have found is this. If I just cut the budget category for, say, yarn or quilting fabric or comic books completely, I was really susceptible to this chain of events where I'd be "good" for a while and then I'd start feeling deprived and then I'd start thinking about how I really DESERVED a treat and then I'd end up blowing $200 at Webs or something. (Your area of spending may vary.)

If, instead, I KNOW that I'm getting, say, $30 a month to spend on hobby supplies. Well. THEN, for some reason it becomes FUN to plot and plan and compare to decide where that's going to go. Do I want a single skein of fancy lace yarn? Do I want to get enough Knit Picks to make two or three pairs of socks? Do I want to save up for a new sewing machine? Or some combination - one fat quarter and the rest goes to the Fancy Sewing Machine Fund!!

Of course this doesn't eliminate purchasing entirely but it can help moderate your purchasing impulses and direct them in ways that align with your values. For example, you could allocate your Sometimes I Just Want To Buy Something Fun budget to seeking out something like original art, products that benefit people you would like to help, products produced in a way you find ethical and want to support.... whatever it is that makes that spending thoughtful and deliberate; a choice and not a default.

Good luck!
posted by oblique red at 10:14 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]

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