My material items consumption has changed a lot since I started my simplification journey. One year ago, I decided to be more mindful about my shopping habits. I probably still have a way to go before shopping in a more frugal way, but here is how I shop in a more simple and mindful way now, if it can help.
Why think about shopping habits? One aspect of a simple life is to be a more conscious consumer. A simple lifesetyle doesn't mean we stop buying things altogether, but it means buying less, and more carefully. When optimizing how I shop, what are my objectives?
- #1: Spend Less Time on Shopping - Unless you buy everything online, a shopping trip can take some time, going and coming back from the shopping streets, entering shops, queing etc. My main objective here is to shift my focus off shopping to pursue other activities.
- #2: Enjoy it More - I'm one of those who hates browsing stores, trying things on, queuing to pay etc. One of my objectives is to make the shopping experience more enjoyable in itself, to avoid feeling I have "lost" an afternoon when I do go shopping
- #3: Shop Smarter - This third objective includes smarter ways to shop - finding quality products for a reasonable price, spending less, more ethically...
A List of the PossibleThe first change I made to my shopping habits is the approach to shopping lists and wishlists. In order to avoid the feeling that a shopping list must be crossed off in order to feel "complete", I have decided to maintain a List of the Possible instead. The items on the list are candidates, options, ideas, and not "to-buy". Thus, the list evolves, matures, some ideas are removed, others are changed.
Here is how I add items to the List of the Possible:
- Consumables are about to run out: I know I'll need new candles soon because I'm burning the last one - hop, "Candles" to the list.
- A daily used item just wore out/broke: Hop, possible replacements on the list
- A need arises in my daily life, that would make it easier or more enjoyable: I notice, repeatedly, that a garlic crusher would make my cooking much easier. Hop, on the list
- I read interesting brand or product recommendations: A new book recommended on the radio? A new ethical brand was suggested to me? Hop, on the list
- A change or special occasion adds a new need: I'm invited to a birthday next month? Hop - "present" to the list.
Concretely, I divide the list per category (home stuff, books...) or per shop (Muji, the Body Shop...). When a new item needs to be added to the list, I just note it down on the little notebook I carry around with me, so it actually takes very little time to maintain.
Shopping Trips, Revised
Instead of rushing off to the shopping street every week-end, or as soon as a need/wish pops up, I now plan a shopping trip depending on these occasions:
- I need to make a time sensitive purchase: Sometimes, we need to buy something for a specific event or occasion - birthday presents, sports or activity gear, a travel in a different climate...
- Emergency: a daily object broke down: There are some items for which you can't have the luxury of waiting before buying a replacement, especially when your possessions are already pared down. For example, if my French Press was to break I'd probably need to replace it within the week. No café, no travailler.
- There is a specific, non-shopping related occasion and I'll be near the shopping street: It can be street performance planned for one week-end, a friend coming over to visit Paris, an exhibition I bought tickets for, a special flea market... Since I'm there, if I have time, I can pop at a couple of stores and refill a few things.
- There is a shopping specific occasion I should wait for: Sales, special cleanout, travel that includes airports and local shops I can't find here, a trip to an outlet village... When I know such occasion is going to happen, I gather my needs and plan a sortie.
When one of the occasions above arises, I decide which neighborhood I'll go to, depending on where to find the emergency item or where the special event is. Once I know where I'll go and how much time I'll have, I dig up my List of the Possible and check out what else I can find easily there.
On Choosing What I Shop ForIn a simple life, the idea is to slow down the buy > use > throw consumerist cycle, so, selecting which item to buy is a quite challenging step, especially when you don't want to waste time and energy looking for the perfect item. I think the List of the Possible helps a lot with this, as, instead of planning for a precise purchase, I have ideas under my sleeve and consider an option only when the opportunity or necessity arises.
To further reduce research time, I have preferred stores or brands, where I know I'm likely to find someting without hours of prior consideration. For example, I know Muji will deliver simple and practical solutions for home organization.
Knowing myself better also helps reducing the time spent on material items as it reduces the trial and error, the experimentation, the inspiration research... I have a pretty good idea of what my "adequate" items must be like. I still do some background searches on new brand or product recommendations I get, but knowing yourself make intuitive purchases much more reliable.
Finally, when I plan for a shopping trip and make a selection from my List of the Possible, I always ask myself if this is really what I want to spend my disposable income on right now. I imagine what else I could get with that money. If the item is solid and will really make my life easier and more enjoyable, it stays on the shopping list. But more often than not, it makes me identify a fleeting fancy and I cross it off the list altogether.
Here is how these shopping habits help with my simplicity objectives:
- #1: Spend Less Time on Shopping - Waiting to have several items on the list before going shopping makes trips fewer and farther apart, freeing more time for other pursuits. Besides, having a list of "possibilities" allows me to just write ideas down without fiurther research, until it becomes necessary.
- #2: Enjoy it More - As I love list, maintaining this little List of the Possible makes the whole thing more fun for me. Grouping a shopping trip with another occasion also makes it less boring and more enjoyable. Finally, having fewer shopping trips makes them a bit more special.
- #3: Shop Smarter - Since the List of the Possible isn't a shopping list, I don't feel the need to buy everything from it. It gives me time to think about my purchases and wonder if I really need/want this, and if that's really what I want to spend my money on. Planning shopping trips according to specific occasions also helps getting quality items for a reduced price (sales, outlets...)
What about you? Did your shopping habits evolve as you grew older? If you are simplifying your life, how do you approach the "buying" part of the consumption cycle?