08 November 2014

What Else // First Ideas

Journaling // Personal picture (iPhone 4 test)

Following the latest Shopping Fast wrap-up, I've started thinking about how to spend less time, energy and money on material items overall, and have them fulfill their purpose in the background while I enjoy my life. Here are some first ideas below on the matter, as I think no matter how deep we are in our simplification journey, this step has to be intentional, it doesn't seem to come naturally.

This subject is a bit of a regular for me, as spending less energy on objects has been my initial and ultimate objective ever since I started thinking about simplicity, and specifically since trying to be a more mindful consumer leads to spending a lot of time thinking about objects and purchases.

On Indulgence

First, I would like to stress out the importance of being indugent with ourselves. It's been seven years since I first started shifting my values, yet I still feel like my objects have too big an importance in my life. Whether it is about inspiration searching - lately, interior decoration - , researching for the adequate item when I need something, or simply desiring something new and reasoning with myself that I shouldn't break my fast for that.

After spending time judging myself, I tried to see the positive side of things: at least, I am trying to simplify my life. We have grown in a consumerist society - it is most likely that our parents have too - we are surrounded by this idea that material items somehow define us, help us position ourselves on the social ladder, be integrated in a certain group of people, and make us happier. When we have been educated that way, and keep being conditioned to think that way every day, it is difficult to deeply change this mindset.

I have noticed that the process of shifting our inner values and detaching ourselves from this vision of items is slow. It takes time to understand and integrate the ideas behind consuming less, shifting values and redefining priorities. I have noticed on myself, that there is a sort of "time difference" between the moment my brain understands and wants to apply a concept, and the moment I integrate it and actually start applying it in my daily life.

I guess what I'm trying to say here, is that trying is already something. No matter how hard it is, no matter how long it takes. Because doing something is always better than doing nothing at all. And indulgence is, in my opinion, the first step toward succeeding at granting less importance to objects themselves in our lives. It helps acknowledging the small steps, gather courage after a setback, and persevering.

1. Know Your "Adequacy"

One of the ideas that were suggested in the comments of the latest shopping fast post, was the fact that finding out what kind of item works, personal taste and preferences, can be a time "investment", rather than a wasteful focus on objects. Why?

Because, in order to spend less time selecting objects and being able to use them "in the background" while enjoying our lives, these objects have to be adequate to our needs and preferences. And knowing what "adequate" means to you can take initial research and understanding.

If I give you the personal example of wardrobe editing, in 2011 I realized my style was dissonant with my personality so I needed to figure out my "adequate" wardrobe, starting from zero since I've never been interested in fashion or style. Three years later, I have invested a lot of time figuring out what I liked, knowing my body shape and how to flatter it the way I wanted, researching fabrics, brands, quality and ethics. But as a result, now I have created a wardrobe which allows me to put outfits together easily in the morning while remaining diverse, makes me feel good about myself and, most importantly, allows me to live my life without thinking about how I'm currently dressed.

I think this relates to habit forming really: when you introduce a new habit you have to figure out how to integrate it in your everyday life, spend a lot of time and energy, of focus, on this new habit. But after a while, once you know at what time of the day it works best for you etc., this habit becomes natural, automatic, and you no longer give much thought about it. It is the same for objects - it may require initial focus and energy to figure out what works for you, but then the object or collection becomes a natural part of your life and habits.

2. Intentionally Shift Your Mindset

The first idea above is very "technical": in order to an item to be "silent", it has to be adequate, easy and joyful to use. This second idea is more psychological: the way we consider our objects in relation to the rest of our priorities, our identity, the image we have of ourselves, our place in society etc.

As I said in the indulgence part above, we live in a society which taught us that our collection of objects is an extension of our identity, social status, tastes, savviness... I think this is something we have to "unlearn". Yes, the objects we choose to surround ourselves with say something about who we are and what we like, but they are not a "part" of our identity. They are only objects.

It is also about realizing that objects don't have the "magical powers" marketing makes us think they do. No matter how perfect, a new cashmere knit won't make you more self confident. It can make you feel warmer, more comfortable, be the part of a style you feel confident in, but if you are not confident, the knit isn't going to "heal" your self esteem.

Objects don't make us happier, more attractive, more professional, more environment conscious, more intelligent or cultivated... Our actions and choices make us all of these, and objects may be tools to help, but they don't magically make us all that. Therefore, what matters isn't the collection we accumulate, but the choices we make, the skills we learn, the people we spend time with...

In order to change this mindset and start realizing that, not only on a "brain" understanding level but on a deeper level of actually believing  it and changing our mindset, I came to believe it requires intentional action. How to act toward it is what I am currently working on, but here are first ideas I've been exploring:

  • Make a list of priorities: what really matters to you? A way to see priorities clearly could be to engage in a slightly morbid exercise: if you were on your death bed, what would you regret most? Chances are it isn't "I didn't buy that dress". (See the book: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying)

  • Note down what qualities you think define you (either who you think you are, or most probably who you want to be), in terms of personality but also actions, values, skills you'd like to master, anything that you think is important to you and your identity. Then note down what *actions* would help becoming that person. For example, I realized playing music was a big part of who I wanted to be, so I started playing violin again after a decade. But what will make me "a violonist" isn't (only) to buy the violin, it is to actually play it every day.

  • Practice some gratitude exercise: a regular list of things you are grateful for, a daily gratitude journal, even instagram pics of grateful moments... By noting down all these moments that make you happy, you may realize it isn't linked to accumulating things, and this may help shifting mindset. Examples: I have 2 gratitude habits - the sporadic "forget me not" posts, and a daily note describing a moment of gratitude on a small notebook.

  • Go back to old wishlists and purchase lists: what became of them? I heard via TED (I don't remember the talk but might be Dan Gilbert) that we overestimate how happy a purchase will make us, then when we make this purchase we forget how happy we thought we would be and don't realize we were wrong. So I thought it might help to actually go through old wishlists, consider purchases we used to "obsess" about and consciously remember what we thought we would feel versus the actual place of the object in our life.

What do you think of these first ideas? How well do you know yourself and how did it impact the time you spend researching and planning purchases? What other techniques may you use to shift your focus toward other priorities in this consumerist society?


  1. Excellent blog post, very thought provoking. I am in the early stages of simplifying my life, but I am working on it. Realising that items needed to be "adequate" not "the ultimate" was a very important learning point for me. I had replaced buying too much with searching and constantly upgrading one thing looking for the ultimate thing, as only that would be good enough to be the one thing of that type I owned, it had to be the best. I now see how wrong I was, adequate is so freeing; if it works and fits the essentials of the brief it is adequate and what I need. I no longer buy too much or spend hours researching the ultimate and stressing over it. If something breaks, I consider IF I really need to replace it, if I stop when I find an adequate replacement, so freeing in terms of time and mental energy. Good luck with your journey Jane

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I wonder if this is something a lot of people go through when they simplify their lifes, after all a lot of the minimalist literature is about "quality over quantity" and it's easy to interpret it as "getting the perfect item so that we don't desire anything after that". I have lived that phase as well, and like you it made me spend way too much time evaluating, researching, and replacing perfectly valid items. I'm currently wondering what is the balance between taking the time to find the adequate items to enjoy, and taking the time to take care of them etc., and spending more time on non-material pursuits, but I agree with you, realizing what is "enough" is very freeing indeed! Good luck with your journey too.

  2. I always enjoy the thought and depth you go into in exploring concepts like this. I am torn on one hand between wanting simplicity and minimalist ease, and on the other hand by loving fashion and wanting to participate in it somehow, even if that excludes lots of purchases and shopping. And, of course, there is the marketing that has conditioned us to think that life will be perfect once we buy "X" item. And there is the reality that a few things I have purchased have given me quite a bit of joy, whether in their usefulness or their aesthetic appeal. I try to find an intersection between price, a small amount of the item, usefulness, and design. I guess it's better to spend the mental bandwidth on window-shopping rather than actual shopping, but it would also be nice to spend less mental energy and time on it all as well. I have to remind myself that it does double as entertainment for me, so perhaps it's recreational in some ways and not completely to be avoided.

    1. That's an interesting reflection to have indeed - I understand this paradox between being interested in fashion, hence wanting to spend time and money on it, but not letting ourselves get sucked into the consumerism of it all. I'm feeling the same about other areas of my "material life" too (I'm not really interested in fashion so I don't get that paradox about clothing) - for example I'm a very "cosy at home" kind of person and I enjoy interior decoration, but I don't want to get sucked into the "magazine perfect" living room and spend too much money on this, when what really matters is feeling good at home.
      Maybe a trail of thought about this is to wonder: what do you like about fashion exactly? Is it to keep yourself updated with the latest trends - seeing the latest fashion creations as we would see new pieces of art - is there something about the creativity of putting together outfits, etc. Maybe figuring out what you enjoy most about fashion would help setting a limit for you - between enjoying the time and money you spend on it, while avoiding all the marketing and artificial cravings etc. It's just an idea, I know that's what I'm trying to do to figure out what's worth spending my time and money on...

    2. I like your idea! I will put some thought into that. And I totally agree with you on the interior design rabbit hole that one can get sucked down as well. My husband and I have just purchased our first home (I'm in my mid-30s), and all of a sudden furnishing a house is a huge, looming "thing." Before, I could put off purchases of furniture and pictures based on the thought, "Well, I'll just have to move in a couple of years, and who knows if the stuff I buy now will fit the new apartment, so better wait to purchase." But now that moment has come where we know we'll be here for years, perhaps, so I don't get the excuse of putting off purchases unless I just actually want to.

    3. On the interior decoration front, I found a really sobering thought to make me put back most cute little things back on the shelf: imagine yourself moving out and having to put everything in boxes. I just finalized the moving out of my appartment in Lyon (my fiancé moved into his own appartment there) and sorted out 12 years of stuff stored in the cellar, including nice little wooden tables, lamps, little boxes and other decoration items, remnants of the various interior moods I had in the past 12 years. It was tedious as hell. So now, when I see this cute, minimal lamp, I imagine myself in a cellar sorting this lamp and wondering what to do about it (sell it? move it to my new place? throw it?) 90% of the time it makes me put it back on the shelf. Now I only buy things that have a story, something special that makes me feel sure I'd like to make the effort to move with me in future moves... If it makes any sense.

  3. What a great post Kali. I really enjoyed that it is caused me to do some inner reflecting (which I have really been needing to do). You are so right. We have grown up in a society that tells us more is better and it can be really hard to get out of that cycle. For example, we own a Keurig and I was so very happy with it (mainly because it fit my needs, I hardly ever drink coffee). But now that the Nespresso has come out it doesn't seem adequate anymore (marketing will do that unfortunately). It is so frustrating because I am a marketing student myself and know it is perfectly fine but trying to win that battle with my brain about this and so many other things in my life can be tiring.

    1. Thanks! You're actually right about that point: marketing is trying to make us think what we have is no longer adequate, hence making us want to upgrade. It's difficult to fight, because we see other people around us upgrade and it kind of creeps into our minds. I agree it can be tiring to feel like we "fight" against our brains, I've also felt that way a lot since the beginning of the shopping fast - the brain manages to create very compelling justifications to make me buy things. I'm hoping that it gets easier with time, that the brains "unlearns" some things marketing imprints into us. If it makes any sense...

  4. So much agreement with your post. I agree that habits and routines are a way to free up time in most areas. Perhaps the trick is that habits are different for everyone depending on that person's specific circumstances/needs? I've noticed it takes me awhile to become aware that a new habit is needed. Once I have that awareness then I can start forming the habit for the result I desire.
    On the flip side I can be slow to realize when a habit no longer works and needs to be adjusted. For example: I do very well in limiting objects and minimizing clutter. Until the year I got married. Two months after the wedding I looked around my house wondering why I felt so crappy. I then realized that my habit for dealing with stuff had not been adequate to deal with the large amount of wedding presents coming into my life. I would love to make habit-adjusting a habit. :)

    1. Oh yes I agree with you, habits should definitely be tailored to personal needs, preferences and strengths/weaknesses. For myself, I realized it required trial and error - for example for sports, I had to try several types of sports and several times of the day before finding out the best time for me to get motivated, and the best sport to be both enjoyable and efficient.
      I also agree with a regular "check" of daily life and habits, as they can drift away from the initial intentions with time, or as life circumstances change as you say :) Actually it is a good idea to do a regular 'habit check', I think that's what 'new resolutions' periods are for - at New Year, and maybe after summer as well, a sort of bi-yearly check of habit evolutions?

    2. I think that would a great use of the 'new resolutions' periods... increasing awareness about what is and is no longer working for one. Perhaps triggered by seasonal wardrobe change?

  5. That was an interesting elaboration on the topic of adequacy! Personally I have often taken the even longer way towards knowing what's adequate for me by taking a detour trying to learn all about what others, or society, think is the most stylist / cool / ... But I'm learning to deal with this approval-seeking side of myself and so I don't necessarily see my 'detours' as a waste of time.
    The exercises you propose in the second part seem very interesting. What had helped me most in coming to understand my (subconscious) expectations towards material objects is mindful meditation. It's become easier to identify the moment when emotion takes over, and also to take a step back and ask myself whether this or that object will truly enrich my life or if perhaps I could easily live without it.

    1. I'm hearing so much about meditation and mindfulness, it seems to be a very powerful tool of self discovery and understanding of otherwise unconscious patterns. I haven't quite managed to introduce this habit into my own daily life, but I'm glad to hear it helps you! Maybe your "detours" are a way to know yourself better and I agree that it isn't a waste of time, in that case.