|Dusk lavender, Provence 2013, personal picture.|
Sometimes, life runs by and there is barely enough energy to keep up. And sometimes, the stream slows down, and all the little questions and reflections we didn't have time to notice squash us in the face like little rocks and leaves and sticks following us downstream when life was at full speed. Have you ever questioned your legitimity as an aspiring minimalist? I have, and here are a few thoughts about this.
It all started when I decided to make a list of everything I have done toward a simpler, more ethical and conscious life in 2015. Nine years after my return from Japan, the exchange year that woke me by the extreme consumerism in Tokyo and the sheer number of things I had to bring back to France. Four years after I realized just how much time and money I was devoting to things of image, like clothing and make-up products.
As I tried to muster that list, I realized I hadn't done much toward my bigger goals of being a more responsible consumer, and human on this planet. More interestingly, that list mostly contained things I had purchased, or refused to purchase. "Found a new organic store to get my items in bulk". "Only bought emergency jeans at high fashion stores." "Bought linen tops instead of cotton or synthetic fabrics."
And, as I tried to set up goals for my new year's resolutions, most of what I came up with also concerned consumption habits and item choices "Buy from local creators or ethical brands", "Keep a budget for clothes and beauty products". It was as if I was only capable of measuring my actions in terms of what I buy and what I own.
Surely, we vote with our wallets and the way we behave as consumers - the brands we decide to purchase from, the shops we go to - has an impact on being a conscious consumer and living a simple life. But is this all there is to it? At the age of greenwashing and organic everything, am I really successful at leading a simple life, or am I a fake, cleaning my conscience with a few green purchases while behaving exactly the same as I always have?
Defined by what we acquire and ownWhen you watch the documentary Century of the Self, it becomes clear that we have been tricked into identifying ourselves with what we consume. Want to be a free woman? Smoke some cigarettes, said Edward Berneys to the 1920's women in order to increase the sales of cigarettes in the US. Want to be an eco-conscious consumer? Buy our green product, say many companies and brands today.
It seems a natural reaction in our consumerist society to create change through objects - buying sports gear when we want to live a healthier life, buying organic and local products when we want to be a more conscious consumer, buying simpler, more natural ingredients and tools when we want to lead a simpler life.
And it is a perfectly honorable first step, in my humble opinion. When I started simplifying my life in 2011, my first reaction was to cut my hair, toss my high heels, and buy some simple clothes from down-to-earth brands. As a way to show my will to be a simpler person. But objects should be tools, catalyst perhaps, to something more, and not an end of the actions to take.
Just like 1920s women had much more on their plate than smoking cigarettes if they wanted to be free (say, protest for the right to vote, for example), you'd have to do more than just buy the sports gear in order to have healthier habits. You'd have to actually practice sports. And in order to embrace simple living as a way of life, owning green products isn't quite enough either.
A fake, or in construction?The truth is, it is easy to believe marketing when they say "buy my organic product and you'll be helping the planet". It is easy to buy a COS dress with clean lines, a luxurious "everyday bag" and a couple of organic linen tees. In today's society, it is easier to buy things than it is to find other ways to grow and contribute.
The question is, does it make me a fake? If I knew the answer, I wouldn't be writing this post, but here are some ideas, in case you also see yourself in what I'm describing above, or end up asking yourself, somewhere in your journey, whether you are on the right track.
To me, the path of simplicity has been a journey of self discovery, first and foremost. The initial shock after my exchange year in Tokyo came from the fact that I never believed myself capable of buying so much stuff in a year. In 2011, I realized I was projecting an image completely different to who I thought I was, and started wondering if I knew myself so well, and if my actions were in line with my values.
And that is the point: we are not what we buy, we are not defined by what we consume or own. During these instances of self realization, it was as if I was a woman during the 1920s, smoking a cigarette and suddenly realizing I was ruining my health rather than being free.
I guess my point here is: the first step to this kind of journey - toward simplicity, a meaningful and conscious life - is to know yourself. As long as you are still searching, in the midst of identity crisis and self esteem rebuilding, there is little energy left for big habit changes and turning toward others. But there is enough energy for a start of change. To do the easy part. To buy alternative items.
The Spiral Upwards
I dedicated a full post about this last year, but I have noticed that change, evolution is neither a straight line, as we tend to believe on good days, or an endless circle, as we tend to believe on bad days. It is rather, a sort of spiral upwards. During a year, we have up and downs, busy and quiet periods, motivation and fatigue, mindfulness and automatisms. But over the long run, we keep learning, little by little. As the circle go round, we spiral up rather than ending up where we were some years ago.
One of the Four Agreements is: "Always do your best". If you keep working toward a simple life, if you keep doing your best, then all of this is part of the journey. Buying from ecologic brands is a part of the journey. Discovering that a certain brand is really owned by a huge conglomerate and that we have been greenwashed is a part of the journey (cough Melvita cough). Building our identity and self esteem on the journey to simplicity by buying A.P.C. jeans and RMS beauty balms is a part of the journey. And wondering if you are a fake is a part of the journey.
Moving ForwardI guess I could have written this article in my private journal rather than the blog, if the only point was to wonder whether I, personally, am a fake or not. I am not looking for people to reassure me that I'm genuine. I'm rather sharing this part of the journey, so you have a read to go back to if you ever wonder the same about yourself one day.
Also, I have decided to write this on the public blog, because I have witnessed many friends, bloggers etc. stuck at the consumption part of the simplicity journey. This is an easy part to keep stuck in for all the reasons I mentioned above: we are formatted to believe our identity is shaped by what we buy, it is easier to buy things that make us feel the way we want to be, rather than do the hard work of actually becoming that person. And I'm writing this without judgement, as I believe to be stuck at this point myself at the moment.
The question is, how do we move forward? Once the capsule (or not capsule at all, as a matter of fact) wardrobe is constituted and balanced, what's next? Once we have found organic stores and local creators and ethical brands, what's next? Once we have started knowing ourselves and built a solid and balanced self esteem, what's next?
As a first set of clues to answer these question, I have worked on that list of things I have done toward a simple life, but removing the consumption and items part of it and tried to find other actions. And there are some: playing the violin again, finding my childhood minerals, writing fiction, spending more time with friends and family, practising sports and eating healthier meals, wondering what else I could do to be the change I want to see in the world...
What do you think about all this? Are you engaged in a simplicity journey, if so, what else is there, beyond rethinkig consumption habits? Have you ever felt like "a fake"?