Have you ever noticed how your aesthetics, style, decoration preferences, wishlist contents, even colours, change over time? Often, when we crave for certain products or brands, it isn't so much the object itself we are after, but rather a certain "mood", "lifestyle", even "identity". Why buy the object then, when what we really want is something else entirely?
It all started when I made an inventory of my jewelry, shortly after sorting out my bathroom. It was earlier this summer, and I had just decided to put everything within eyesight to increase rotation. Given the success of my (otherwise weird) habit of tracking my wardobe, the whole stock ended up on the same excel sheet, to figure out which items I really wore and why.
And that's when I noticed a pattern, otherwise unconscious: most of the jewerly items I bought these past two years were of obviously "exotic", "indian", "ethnic" aesthetic. Simple patterned silver jewelry, natural stones. Same for decoration: my latest purchases were an Indian poster of sorts, a Moroccan rug and a painting from LA, vastly inspired from Japanese aesthetics.
And that's what got me wonder: why have I been attracted to this kind of aesthetics lately? Obviously, this has always been within my taste, for example I dug out a lot of rings I bought ten years ago, during my "hippie" style years. But isn't there something else behind buying a Japanese reminiscing painting when I already have tons of decoration from Japan sitting in my cellar? Or to get another silver & natural stone ring when I already own 10 of them? Is this the object I'm after, when I obviously don't need any more of them? What do I really want?
The Real Desire Behind PurchasesI was precisely wondering about this curious consumption pattern, when a friend of mine told me he was leaving for Thailand on holidays soon. That's when the long brewing "aha" moment happened: what I really want is to travel, and "exotic" jewelry and decoration items are a material surrogate for that deep, repressed wanderlust.
But why was that desire unconscious, if it is so deep ? I'm coming to my late twenties, and I think I have lived my life by default these past few years. Everything seems possible when we are at the beginning of our lives, choosing what to study about, what we want to do later. Life starts and all dreams seem possible. Then come the mid-twenties, graduation, economy crisis, social pressure to find a job and remain on the rails. I haven't forgotten I want to travel the world, I've just kept pushing it back to "later". After I graduate (I've worked week-ends and holidays when I was a student), after I find a steady job, after I finally live together with my fiancé... And my unconscious desire to discover the world has rippled into my purchasing habits, as if to compensate an unfulfilled wish.
I believe this "compensation" might be a natural phenomenon, a way to deal with the frustration and find other ways to be content with our life. I don't know if it's meant to be filled by material items though. And what i'm sure of, is that marketing, and the psychology of consumers, is playing with that need to make us buy more.
Why do advertisers associate their brands and products with intangible values such as travel/evasion, simplicity, elegance, modernity... Because they're hoping you will buy their product as an answer to what you really want (travel, live a simple life, be more elegant, modern...).
This is the advertising promise lurking behind this object or brand: if only you buy this, you will be happier because it will fulfill what you really want. After all, it is easier to buy a product than to try and step out of our default lives, isn't it? But it doesn't fulfill what we really want, does it? I don't see how a turquoise ring can replace discovering Morocco, in my case.
On Wanting Less, and Doing MoreAs consumers, how can we adjust our behaviour towards these promises made by brands and products? First, know yourself. It seems to be a first step to many paths of growth, and it isn't as hard as it seems (even though it isn't as easy as it seems either...). If I had listened to myself earlier, I might have owned less decoration items and accessories, but traveled more these past few years.
In this particular case, a first idea is to look into your wishlist, or latest purchases, and examine each item. Why do/did you want it? Is it a purely practical purchase (skis for a holiday in the mountains for example)? Is this more of a social need? Do you already have similar objects? If so why do you feel like buying another one?
You may not find anything further than a real wish for the object itself, but, more often than not, there might be another, non material motivation behind that purchase. An identity you want to build for yourself, friends or family you want to impress or be noticed by? Why? Is there an activity you used to do (painting, trekking, theatre) and deep down would like to learn again?
I don't know if you'll point out something right away, after all it took me quite a few years to notice my lingering wanderlust and corresponding material compensation, but you may as well find something out straight away.
If you do, then act! Instead of buying artsy outfits and Dries Van Noten tees, spend the money on painting lessons! If you feel inadequate in your workplace because you are from a lower social/cultural class, then go learn about this culture you haven't got from your family instead of buying Louboutin to prove you belong here. I intend to save my money for upcoming travels, instead of buying kimono-like cardigans and indian necklaces.
Consequences on Consumption HabitsI can only speak of personal experience here, but since I've restored my self esteem as a "proper woman", I've been much less attracted to fancy, expensive brands. The travel affair is much more recent so I'd need more time to report back on that, but I can already confirm that since that realization beginning of August, the items I was eyeing and letting float in my mind for possible post-fast purchases (a red coloured mineral stone silver pendant, a kimono-like printed cardigan) have lost their appeal.
I think buying less is a natural consequence of figuring out what you really want. Because you can actually get to it, instead of purchasing items that make the false promise of giving it to you. I know it saved me a lot of sartorial purchase mistakes since my style overhaul and life simplification. The same probably apply to most emotional purchases, from the piece of art to the expensive car.
However, I don't think that means you'll magically stop buying anything at all. We have our tastes, and the items we buy reflect this complex identity carved by our background, wishes, motivations and personality. Chances are, next time I need/want a decoration item, it will still be influenced by this simple and "exotic" aesthetic I've been buying from lately.
Besides, sometimes it is good to have a compensation when we can't get what we really want. It can help us deal with frustrations, and enjoy even the most transitional situations. I think these compensations don't have to always be objects. Besides, when you are aware you are buying something as a compensation, or as a waiting "gift" to pass a difficult period, I think it's much healthier than splurging on material items to fill a void in our life.
I don't know to what extent this kind of self realization can be induced though. Sometimes, we just need to be ready to see certain things about ourselves. What do you think? Have you ever discovered such a consumption pattern in the past? If so, how did you adjust?