|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 IndulgenceFirst, 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 MindsetThe 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?