29 October 2014

Fast Month #4 // What Else?

Source: tumblr

Last month, I explored the reasons for going shopping, and what to replace it with, when the real motivation really goes beyond acquiring a new needed item. This month, I've been pondering about what a "legitimate" purchase might be, and how a shopping fast shouldn't only be about (not) shopping.

As I made a half-way round up of what I did purchase these past four months and evaluated whether they were "legitimate" or breaking the fast, I started wondering what may be considered a reasonable purchase for a smart consumer, in order to prepare for my post-fast consumption habits.

I also realized I was spending quite a bit of time thinking about shopping, purchases, item collections and consumption within this shopping fast experiment - which is, indeed, its initial goal. But, as I spent as much, if not more, time pondering these subjects these pasts weeks, I started reminding myself: doesn't living with less also mean spending less time thinking about these things?

About "Smart Purchases"

These past four months, I've experimented a shopping fast, or rather a "shopping recasting", as the list of my purchases, which I deemed necessary at the time, goes beyond bare necessities. Which made me wonder: what are the criteria that would differentiate an "unreasonable" purchase from a "legitimate" one, when we live in a society in which we already have all we need?

Of course, I have no definite answers, as this matter, just like numbers in minimalism, depends on  personal needs, lifestyle and values. But I have explored the ideas below as I went through my purchase list:

  • Well Prepared Purchases: One of the main characteristics of an "unreasonable" purchase, as far as I'm concerned, was the fact that they were unprepared, giving into a temptation of the moment, items I hadn't assessed a need nor a budget for. Like the early fast mistake for example. The first step of a reasonable purchase is to prepare for it, assess the need, characteristics, priorities, budget, quality, offerings - this diminishes the power of marketing, ads and targeting, as you have prepared along your own criteria.
  • Personal example:  Replacing depleted beauty products at Sephora, making a list, verifying stocks, and waiting for a reduction coupon to make the purchase.

  • Making Everyday Life Easier: If not an absolute need, what else can justify adding an item to your collection? Since they are supposed to be tools for daily life, making it easier can be a reason for purchase - simplifying annoying tasks, helping with organization, allowing to practice an activity...
  • Personal example: A yoga outfit, more loose and comfortable than my running gear.

  • Using a Special Reduction or Occasion: To get what you otherwise couldn't afford, scale up in quality, or simply save up on something you would have bought anyway. That's a tricky one though, easy to get fooled by an attractive discount.
  • Personal example: Getting a set of 18/10 inox pans following an introduction to Ayurvedic cuisine & further research on the matter, benefitting from a 40% discount as these are quite expensive.

  • Optimizing the Overall Collection: One possible reason for a new purchase could be to increase the use of what you already own with this new purchase. Examples can be, a newer Blu-ray reader that make you watch films from your blu ray collection more often, or heat-tech underlayers to help you wear thinner knits longer through winter.
  • Personal Example: Getting basic silver necklaces in 3 different lengths to wear my pendants with all kinds of top neckline.

I plan to explore these "reasons for purchase" further after the end of the shopping fast, as I'm not planning to go back to my previous shopping habits.

Thinking Less About Shopping

This whole trail of thought made me realize that, despite the fact that I've been shopping much less since the beginning of the fast, I'm still thinking about items and consumption a lot. I'm more mindful of each time I'm tempted to go shopping and try to analyze why; I've also been focused on making the best use of what I currently own. But what if this shopping fast was also an opportunity to learn to think less about shopping and items and more about what really matters to me?

Ever since I started simplifying my life, I have spent a lot of time and energy editing my collection of items, "curating" my wardrobe, bookshelves and cupboards, looking for optimal purchases, organizing, thinking about my relation to my objects, consumption and shopping. If there is one down side of this whole simplicity journey, it is this: in the end, I spent more time thinking about objects than I used to before, as I just used to accumulate without much second thought.

I am quite an adept of organization and systems, so I have enjoyed this process - I find the psychological aspect of consumption quite fascinating, and I like updating my little wardrobe excel sheet. However, one of my objectives when I started editing my wardrobe for example, was to ultimately spend less time and energy on clothes, and just select them quickly in the morning and being at ease with my outfits. In other words, having objects fulfill their purpose in the backdrop while I enjoy my life.

In order to do this, I have decided, for these two last months of fast, to explore ways to think less about shopping, consumption and maintaining my collection of items. The first idea is to think about what is really important to me, what I really want to spend my time and energy on, and make time for it. I'm thinking that, since we only have 24 hours a day, if I start focusing on what matters, then naturally, the time spent on objects will shrink.

What about you? If you are simplifying your life, how do you feel about the time you spend on objects? How do you put what matters back at the center?


  1. Interesting and insightful as always. I agree that focusing on our consumption is an important first step, but the end goal is to not think about it at all so we can focus in what really matters. I'm still working on this myself and it's turning out to be harder than I thought, so I'm definitely interested to see how you tackle this!

    1. It is harder than we think, isn't it? I have noticed that too, especially when you spend a lot of time pondering what an object needs to be adequate, researching brands, quality, ethics, personal preferences... It takes some time and it's quite difficult to suddenly stop thinking about it. I guess it's gradual though - as we learn to understand ourselves and shop smarter it becomes a habit and we can spend less time on it. Let's see how this turns out :)

  2. Very interesting thought! I ve become quite interested in the topic consumption, consumerism, living with less etc. but I ve also become aware of the probably paradoxical situation that the mindful, critical consumer (as I intend to be) might be thinking much more about consumption than someone else who does not consume that much because they might simply not care. And actually, I quite like this thinking process.... I like organising my wardrobe and everything along with it... I d love to say that since the downscaling I can focus on what really matters, but - what is that for me? (I am slightly dramatising here, obviously, I do have a life, sort of ;) )

    1. I see what you mean, focusing on simplifying our lives does take time and can be fun, and when we'd like to replace this it is not always obvious what to replace it with. I guess it's a part of self discovery, the "know yourself" part of the simplification process. I have reconnected with a lot of lost interests these past few years: violin, yoga, writing, collecting minerals... Maybe it requires to simplify the mental clutter first, and see what's left inside? I don't know, to be honest it's still ongoing for me too...

  3. Great post, as always -- you've hit on yet another topic that is so crucial but rarely explored on minimalist blogs. Many writers on this topic never seem to get past the focus on making the "right" or "justified" purchases -- but then they are still stuck thinking about stuff. It's almost like the shopping equivalent of orthorexia with food. I like that you really question things and try to go deeper in your posts.

    I think your categories of "smart purchases" are really interesting and well articulated. I'm especially struck by the purchase of silver necklaces in three lengths so you can wear your pendants with all types of tops -- that is a really smart idea. And one that most people wouldn't think of -- I'd bet that most people would feel dissatisfied with their necklace options and buy another pendant! So, to me one question is how do you develop the habits of mind to notice the real source of your dissatisfaction (or to notice accurately what is not optimal/adequate about your current possessions) and problem-solve effectively, BUT somehow make all that go on in the background of your life. That would be a real trick I think -- but a skill that could serve lots of us very well.

    1. Thank you for this note! I agree that there is a lot of "minimalist" or "simplicity" literature out there that still seems to be focused on curating the perfect collection of objects rather than trying to understand what's behind it.

      I think the "curation" part is a natural step of simplification, we are so overwhelmed with clutter in out everyday life. But I also think there should be other steps afterwards, as we see thinkgs more clearly when we reduce clutter in our lives. I wonder if this "getting stuck" in the item editing part isn't linked to the fact that brands and marketing are exploiting the concept of minimalism and simplicity these days. How better to make aspiring minimalists consume than to trick them into believing they are "curating" a selection of well chosen objects? It's just an idea but still...

      As for noticing the real sources of dissatisfaction, I have to admit it's kind of an "organic" process - with time, trial and error. I'm guessing it's a long term process of finding inspirations, figuring out what exactly inspires me, trying to reproduce it and refine personal details through trial and error. Sometimes I see something in a decoration magazine, or something a girl wears on the street and I think "smart idea", then try to apply it to my own collection and style. If it makes any sense... I have the impression that it gets easier with time, as I know my taste better.

      The "make it all go at the background of my life" is precisely what I need to work on now. Again, I'm starting to wonder if it isn't solved in time - for example, when you decide to buy more ethically it will take a lot of time and research at first because you don't know the brands, the criteria to look for etc. But after the initial research process, you just naturally go to the brands you have defined as ethical - so it doesn't take time anymore, it becomes natural. It's the same as habits really - when you introduce a new habit it takes a lot of time, focus and intentionality, but in time it becomes automatic and slips at the background of your life.

  4. this whole series has been really interesting, and I would like to share something I thought.
    About the fact you realised you are thinking much more about all these things, I believe it is natural, considering the process you decided to go through. I believe as time goes by and you transform your habits, actually taking your life more and more into this path of less consumption and more consciousness, all this will "settle", and become less a subject of much thought and consideration. Meaning, it will just become a routine.
    It is perfectly understandable why you are thinking so much about all this, it is the moment for changing a long-time habit...
    I hope you get what I mean.

    I love what you write, thank you so much.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thought on this! I think I undesrstand what you mean, in a way it's the same process as forming a habit, it takes a lot of time and energy at first, but as it becomes natural the habit turns into an automatic routine that doesn't require energy anymore.

      But I'm also wondering if there isn't a need for me to consciously want to turn all this into a routine. Because it can also be endless, the item curation, the purge and acquire cycle. I think that maybe, in order to create and foster habits so that they become routine, it has to be intentional at first, if it makes any sense.

  5. this is really spot-on ! I just can't stop thinking about buying or having desires to buy for a very long time.
    I've decided to be kind with myself on this one, because frustration always backlashes... so when I need to browse, I let myself browse, but trusting the progress I've made to stop myself from actually shopping. It always works. I can strongly desire one item or another, but usually for just around 1 or 2 hours. Then I decide it's not worth it. Strangely I have the impression that on the long run, it strengthens my decision rather than weakens it.
    I am really looking forward to your tips though ^^

    1. I wonder if it's even possible to stop wanting new things at all. I was hoping that with the shopping fast, and realizing that when I don't buy the things I desire, I forget them in the end, it would make me desire less. But it doesn't really, maybe we are wired to always look forward to something new. I guess the idea is not to give too much importance to it and focus on other things. Let's see how it all turns out ^^

  6. I definitely still think about stuff too much - planning future purchases, decluttering and organizing things I already own ... I have thought about it a lot and here are my preliminary conclusions. First, it's probably not too awful to have this period where you spend a lot of time and (mental) energy on material possessions. For shopping, as for everything else, I would say practice makes perfect (although the topic of perfection is quite another thing). Maybe this period of heightened awareness will just accelerate your learning process. A personal example: for quite some time I was a bit obsessed with beauty blogs. I was insatiable about new products and how-to's and creative new ideas, and at the same time a bit embarrassed by it (since make up isn't supposed to be an 'acceptable' hobby for someone my age, intelligence etc.). But now this 'obsession' has nearly completely disappeared (to the point where I have to be careful not to let a MAC coupon expire!) but I AM actually glad that it left me with a bunch of knowledge about what products, application techniques etc. I prefer for myself. And this knowledge is just there, in the background, as are the actual products, making my life (or at least my beauty routine) easier without demanding too much attention. So now I'm really hoping that it will be the same for clothes for me after a while, and maybe someday even with all material possessions.
    Second, as my remark on my beauty hobby above demonstrates, we might sometimes just be too hard on ourselves. I have a pretty good idea about the things that REALLY matter to me. And I do give them time and energy. Just not all of the time. I cannot put aside my tablet computer (and mindless browsing) in favour of learning a new skill or experimenting with vegetarian cooking each and every time. Maybe it's more about finding a good balance than about actually reaching that idea of who you aspire to be...

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your beauty products example is really interesting and easy to understand. I see what you mean - spending time on beauty blogs and make-up techniques and all that is some sort of "investment" so that you acquire a knowledge of brands and techniques which make your beauty routine easy and efficient without thinking about it anymore after a while.
      I think it's a good way to see things indeed - and it also helps spending our time and energy more efficiently when we know it is an investment for future habits we won't need to think about anymore in the future. As you say it's a way to build slowly the person we want to be in a way. Thanks for offering this idea, I'll think about it.

  7. Better to put the thought in before the purchase than to get it home and think "what the heck am I going to do w/ this?" Clothing-wise, I remember when I would buy the most random things, which ultimately was a closet full of nothing to wear. It took (and still takes) a conscious effort in order to have an "effortless" wardrobe...because it requires being aware of our bodies, moods, habits, lifestyle, etc...I know what cuts work on me, what cuts will make me self-conscious, what fabrics are comfortable for me, etc... My best outfits are the ones I throw on & go, all the better if they are stylish or f-'n cool and comfortable (thank you Rick Owens!).

    And my interests ebb & flow. There are times when I’m content. Times when I have the urge to purge. Times when too much is not enough. Times when I’m obsessed with a certain bag. But right now I’m content, and I have other priorities, responsibilities, deadlines, etc… that I actually deleted my shopping links since I was wasting too much time mindlessly clicking them. Right now I’m actually interested in making investment purchases ---not a Birkin! LOL!

    -ps. I have scary wardrobe excel sheets...with formulas....

    1. It's a good point though, that you learned to have an effortless wardrobe through the effort of understanding your body type, taste, the cuts, fabrics etc. It is an ongoing process and I'm hoping that the better you know yourself and your style the less time it takes to figure things out. I certainly think about my style less often now that I figured out my own preferences and details. I hope it can be the same way for the overall consumption habits and patterns.

      Oh I know what you mean about excel sheets with formulas. I actually like this :)

  8. Kali,

    I feel like the energy previously put towards 'love of fashion'/shopping should be diverted elsewhere. Else, it is not a realistic long term goal. My friend of mine is currently living in a yoga ashram in Mysore learning yoga from the source. She loved shopping. And spent lots of hours browsing, pinning, analysing items, etc. She is now in a completely different frame of mind. She says the people around her make her realize there is more to do than worrying about appearance. And other ways to 'look good'. And other ways to invest time. I think that is wise, but i was hoping i will reach that conclusion after a few more years of vanity. Maybe when i am older. But then, the same happened to me. Travel did it for me. I had a small travel capsule wardrobe. I could see how happy i could be with very little. I feel like to simplify, long term, resisting or going on shopping fasts are great as interventions. But to be successful, a change in investment of time/energy is required. Oh well, this is my theory. Am testing it out on myself.
    - Archana.

    1. Thanks for sharing, I like this idea of diverting the energy elsewhere, and I agree with you that it's difficult to get away from the consumerist cycle if we keep putting our energy into stuff - even if it's about decluttering it. Indeed it is about considering objects differently as well - for the case of fashion, realizing that appearance isn't that important and doesn't define who we are, but it's probably the same for any object collection: that we are more than what we own. And what we do, the actions we actually make, may matter more to our identity than the objects we collect. I also think that this shift of energy may be also hard to accomplish, especially in our modern society. If you do find ways that work for you please don't hesitate to share :)

  9. Another brilliant post - I adore your blog. So much food for thought in what you write, and you explain yourself so elegantly. I'm looking forward to reading about your explorations on replacing shopping.

  10. This is a great post! I think one of the pitfalls of compulsive downsizing is neglecting other spaces in your life where you "need" or can afford to "upgrade." Every purchase is then seen as an evil one. I've stumbled upon this challenge obviously late but I have, for most of my life, teetered in and out of shopping waves. Ever since I discovered online shopping and a strange love for beauty products, it has been harder for my willpower. I am also, unfortunately, really sentimental. Anyway, I think I am slowly realizing that overhauling these consumerist leanings is harder than I thought, and so I am hoping to begin a serious attempt at it when the next year begins, to adequately prepare myself.