19 December 2015

Still A Consumer


Tis the season for wrap-ups, and I'd like to start with purchasing habits. One year after the end of the Levelled up shopping fast and almost five years after I started simplifying my life, what kind of consumer has simplicity lead me to be, and what is there to learn from my ongoing journey?


Still a consumer

As the title of the post suggests, the first lesson remains the fact that I'm still a consumer. I remember this discussion with a running buddy who was telling me that one of his friends is "not a consumer" because he doesn't care about brands and only buys the cheapest stuff. He is still a consumer though, I answered, the one looking for bargains.

Ditto for simplicity and minimalism, it isn't about stopping any and all purchases. Unless you are a self sufficient farmer living in a family house and capable to grow, mine, transform and manufacture every single item you use, you need to buy stuff.

Believing that any purchase is a "misstep" of simpliciy can only lead to insatisfaction, impossible standards, and perhaps giving up on it all. It's like wanting to eat healthy and considering any meal at all is a misstep. One can't survive very long without eating.

I guess my point is that even when leading a simple life, you are still a consumer. The question is to know how your consumption habits have changed and what sort of consumer you can become.

A change in consumption habits

The second lesson from this year of "levelled up simplicity", is this: I am a different consumer. Many things changed, including how I make purchases, where, from whom, and (first and foremost) why.

I don't think there are "good" and "bad" purchases in itself. Like Epicurus said, it is about priorities, and a few "natural but unessential" needs can be met with a few adequate items, even if it's a little luxury here and there, even if it's a nice brand or a bit more expensive than usual.

I guess my point here is that there are no "forbidden items" within simplicity, it is only a matter of why buy these items. For example, I have mostly given up on fast fashion for ethical reasons, but it doesn't mean, in my opinion, that any and all fast fashion items should be banned from a simple life. Same for "masstige" (mass prestige) luxury items which are much more expensive than their quality is worth.

In the end, it is about choosing your own rules, depending on your budget, lifestyle, values and priorities. For me, the change in consumption habits is simple: I now purchase according to my own criteria, and not according to society's trends and must-haves.

Of course, I am influenced by the aesethtics I'm surrounded with, and I do take various inspirations around me, this is not about being 100% original or avoiding trends on purpose. It is about finding out what is adequate for you, what are your ethics and values, your taste and preferences, what you can find locally where you live.

In other words, simplicity has changed my purchasing habits by turning my criteria from external ones — you should buy this and that to be X (a proper woman, from a certain social class, elegant...) — to internal ones (I want to make ethical purchases, this is the style that I like, this is the kind of shop or craftsman I want to give my money to, etc.)

In my own experience, simplicity made me leave the Joneses where they are with their fancy it-bags and Rolex watches, and do things the way I really like them myself.

A means to an end

Finally, the third most important lesson simplicity taught me about acquiring new items, is that it's a mean to an end, and not a goal in itself.

If I want to purchase a knit, it's for the purpose to feel warm while retaining the elegance I'd like to maintain for myself. If I get a souvenir from holidays, it is to get some memories of past experiences in my home to cherish and share (and not to show off the cool places I've been to for example). Sometimes, it's just for the pleasure of the moment, like the scented candle I light when I take a bath.

What I mean here, is that buying things isn't the point, using them, and the moments I will be able to enjoy thanks to them, is. Items are no more than what they are: items. They are not a surrogate for my identity or belonging to a certain social class, they are not a way to feel accepted by a group or loved.

And when you realize that, you also realize there are way more interesting things to do in life than making wishlists, browsing e-shops and going shopping. In 2015, I have continued violin and started the piano again, written a sci-fi novel and a few short stories, met some new friends, joined a book reviewer's club and many more things that are so much more fun than buying things.

Find your own rules

I guess the keyword here is moderation. As it is for many things in my own life. Simplicity is not about living in a single room with no possessions at all. Nor it is about listening to the sweet marketing of minimalism and using this as a justification to buy items you don't really need.

It is a middle ground. It is about knowing yourself really: what are your needs, values, constraints and priorities? What do you really want to purchase for yourself? Is that urge hiding something deeper? In that case, perhaps buying things isn't an answer.

This is a long way, and I admit I am still journeying with you guys, but I feel like this simplicity path has made me more critical about items, brands, communication stunts and all, and made me more focused about what I want for myself.

Among my shopping rules: making sure that I really want an item and not something else (comfort, love...) ; favoring small creators, crasftsmen and shops whenever possible ; never spend too much time looking for stuff and wait for the good occasion to show up, and many more.

What are your shopping rules? Do you have any? How did simplicity change you as a consumer?


  1. Hi,

    For ean asier reading and flawness words, i am gong to write in french.But for the sake of your readers, I could translate in english baring my (unfortunately) mistakes or laking of proper vocabulary).
    Pour info, je ne parviens pas à commenter via Firefox. Et dommage qu'il faille aussi laisser un url pour commenter, cela empêche de laisser un commentaire sous son nom ou bien je ne sais bien comment faire ?
    Je ne pratique pas la simplicité : mais alors que fais je sur un tel blog avec un commentaire de surcroit ? Parce que, néanmoins, la démarche m’intéresse et surtout, le traitement. Surtout ici, parce que je n'y trouve pas le côté moralisateur et triste (oui j'assume, triste) que hélas, je lis partout, surtout sur les blogs - essentiellement US- qui se sont érigés comme porte étendard de cette tendance. Car pour moi, tel que cela est majoritairement traité et expliqué, cela tiens davantage d'une tendance de mode, certes un peu plus "simple" qu'autre chose. La simplicité vient du mouvement de la simplicité volontaire appliqué à l'ensemble de la vie quotidienne, courant né à la fin des années 70 - début 80 au Canada. Non pas le mouvement hippie, juste un retour aux sources, parfois un peu "limite" et excessif dans sa théorie et application, comme tout mouvement d'ailleurs.
    Quand j'ai commencé le bio, en...2001 (et oui), s'est greffé avec le concept de simplicité volontaire ( à l"poque pas de simplicité dans la mode, pas de blogs) avec, en France, des sites participatifs comme "On peut le faire" (je ne sais pas si cela existe encore, je conseille la lecture, pour son édification personnelle... et y glaner moult informations et trucs fort utiles).
    Pour moi, cela correspondait peu ou prou à un retour vers le ... bon sens, voire un bon sens paysan de personnes qui n'ont pas les moyens du sur con sommmer. Comme nous le faisions, faisons et ferons. Mes parents m'ont inculqué certains principes qui correspondent à de la"simplicité volontaire" mais qui n'était dictés que par du bon sens et la vie, tout simplement. Ah voilà que je montre mon âge, zut, ne suis donc pas une jolie et jeune vingtenaire urbaine ??!!

    1. Bonjour! Quel commentaire intéressant, c'est tout un débat en effet! Pour commenter avec un nom sans url je crois qu'il suffit de laisser le champ "url" vide et il me semble que ça fonctionne :) (je réponds sur le reste sous le commentaire suivant)

  2. Puis la simplicité dans la mode est arrivée, avec le fait de consommer moins mais mieux, de donc jeter ce qu'on avait avant pour se focaliser sur certaines marques (APC...), très chères, presque unicolores, tristes et .. ennuyeuses à mon sens. Mais toujours de la consommation, du gâchis, du cher, du branché, du soi disant marques de niches. Non je ne suis pas navrée pour mes remarques un peu acerbes et sarcastiques.
    Ces mouvements traduisent plutôt pour moi le manque total de repères qui gangrène nos sociétés "avancées" depuis plus de 40 ans maintenant.
    Si je ne suis pas (ni ne suis...) la simplicité, en revanche, il est vrai aussi que j'essaie de moins consommer, plus intelligemment, selon mes réels besoins, local quand je peux ou veux. En théorie bien sur, je suis un être humain même si plus sage dû à mon "grand" âge (ahem.... non je n'ai pas vécu la première guerre mondiale !!). J'achète moins de vêtements en suivant mes besoins (pas toujours), moins de choses de tous ordres, essayes de moins gâcher. Par exemple je viens de m'acheter une montre, après des années d'utilisation du smartphone pour avoir l'heure. J'ai économisé des années pour cela (oui, sans mentir) pour investir dans une vraie belle montre d'horloger qui me durera le reste de ma vie. Chère certes. Mais atemporelle (je me rends que, en ce cas, je réalise juste le comportement que je viens de flétrir plus haut). J'avais reçu dans le cadre de mon travail l'année dernière, des chèques cadeaux, à utiliser avec fin novembre 2015 : je les ai donnée à une amie, car je n'avais besoin de rien et n'aies pu me pousser à acheter pour acheter.
    Je n'achète plus quasiment que des fruits et légumes qui viennent de France : cela réduit donc mon choix car je suis les saisons, c'est plus cher mais cela correspond à mon éthique. Car je ne comprends pas comment l'on peut allier simplicité et acheter n'importe quoi, du made in China (entre autre) si l'on se targue de réfléchir à ses achats. Bon allez j'arrête, c'est déjà bien long, en français. Je serais ravie d'en discuter davantage avec vous, si toutefois cela peut vous sembler adéquat (non non je ne suis pas une vieille dame !).

    1. Je suis d'accord sur l'idée que le "mouvement simplicité" c'est un retour au bon sens finalement. Je n'ai pas la sensation d'avoir découvert quoi que ce soit quand j'écris sur le sujet, j'ai plus l'impression d'un retour au sources. Je me souviens d'avoir lu un article qui parlait de "locavore" en se moquant gentiment - c'est bien de manger local mais n'est-ce pas ce que nous faisons tous il y a 100 ans? Pour le mouvement simplicité, minimalisme et autres (même le bio finalement), c'est vrai que le marketing s'en est emparé ces dernières années, et remplacer une garde-robe qui est encore valable par une farandole de APC, Comme des Garçons et autres n'est pas forcément dans la "simplicité" si le but est uniquement de coller à une certaine image ou d'acheter de nouvelles choses au final. En même temps je me dis: est-ce que ce mouvement n'existe pas parce qu'on est allé trop loin dans le consumérisme, on perd ses repères et on a besoin de revenir au bon sens justement? C'est normal qu'il y ait des ratés, chacun fait de son mieux, et son mieux est parfois peu quand on a été élevé dans une société consumériste. J'ai écrit un article sur le sujet il y a quelques années si ça vous intéresse: http://www.lanifeenlair.com/post/minimalisme-mode-eveil À dispo pour en discuter davantage, avec plaisir :)

  3. Great post! I think I've come to the same conclusions after living by the 5 piece wardrobe rules for several years now. I've been doing quite okay, I guess, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. But to be honest, lately I've been thinking about making up my own rules as I find the 5PW also brings out the consumer in me at times. There's simply no need to create a list of 5 must have pieces each season (which results in lots of unneccessary online 'window-shopping'). Also, my wardrobe is only getting bigger because I'm buying 10 quality pieces per year while previously bought items are still in excellent wearable condition. Anyhow, I should probably stop here before it becomes a ramble with no end. Conclusion: I need to rethink the rules I'm currently living by :)

    1. Thanks Jessica, happy you liked it! The question of rules is a good one too. There are a lot of methods, the 5 piece wardrobe is one, there are experiments like project 333 and others... Let me know what you think,as you have used one, but I feel like these rules are great to get a head start, kickstart a change that might be too difficult without clear rules. But after a while, once we move on into the simplicity journey and know ourselves better, I feel we no longer need the rules set by someone else, and we can set up our own, made for our lifestyle and constraints. I agree with you about the 5 piece wardrobe, if you buy 5 good quality pieces each season, after a few seasons it's logical that you wouldn't need to buy so many, right? In my personal experience, it is a balance to reach the right number. Too many and it feels like a bit of a waste, but too few and they wear out too quickly. I have experienced it with shoes this summer, I have only 3 pairs of sandals, more than enough with the Paris weather, but two of them wore out this year, and one of the new pairs broke this very summer. It probably wouldn't have happened if I had maybe a fourth pair to rotate with? I could ramble about the quality of items these days but that's not the point :)

  4. wow you so beautifully and elegantly put into words what I've been thinking the past few months. thank you.

    1. Thanks to the both of you :) I'm happy to hear I'm not the only one who feels that way.

  5. I have had pretty strict shopping rules (budget, style, origins) in place for the past year - in summer I even did a shopping fast. I think they were great for building up self-discipline and for 'un-learning' some automatic shopping behavior (e.g.: trying to cure social awkwardness by 'arming' oneself with the 'perfect' outfit (always something that's not already in your closet, of course)). Now I'm starting to feel like a different person. This December has been the first month in years when I've been able to let left-over shopping budget just sit there. I think I've reached a tipping point where I'm fed up with the whole cycle of shopping for self-validation while ruining the planet. Also, from a more pragmatic point of view, I now own a versatile wardrobe of basics for any occasion so there really is no need for something new.
    Knowing that I'll always need to do some shopping, like when things wear out, I'll probably need to formulate new shopping rules. These are some I think I would keep from last year: don't buy anything I don't love, buy decent quality (depending on the purpose of the item, no need to always look for perfection), preferably second-hand or from a sustainable brand. Knit something myself on occasion, to re-appreciate the time and effort that goes into one clothing item.

    1. That's an interesting testimony, thanks Lisbeth! I guess rules change over the years, as we move forward in the simplicity journey. I can imagine needing rules about the budget, style, what to buy to complete the wardrobe when it is still in progress, I had those too. Shoppins fasts too as you know, I guess that's more about taming shopping habits in this case.
      What's interesting, is that I feel you are changing the "why" you are buying things, which feels, to me, like the real change thanks to simplicity. Indeed, no need to have a perfect outfit to feel more confident or for self-validation as you say. That's a great progress, you must be proud :) I'd love to hear how your shopping rules are going to evolve in 2016!

  6. I especially liked your comment about how buying things is not a failure of simplicity since we are all consumers... I know that my buying habits have changed substantially since I started this journey several years ago. My choices are more conscious and restrained, less wasteful. As another poster mentioned, I really appreciate this blog and its down to earth approach, not preaching ascetism. It's okay to have things as long as they are useful on a practical and/or esthetic level. Life is to be lived and enjoyed.

    1. Thank you Tara! It is true that simplicity movements are sometimes a bit extreme to my taste, an I fear that sometimes it leads people to feel guilty about buying anything at all. I do think there is a middle ground, why torture ourselves about the purchases we make? I think the point is to be a conscious consumer, select what to buy, when and why, but we shouldn't stop ourselves from enjoying what we decide to buy in the end. That's a part of life's little pleasures that simplicity teaches us to notice and enjoy :)