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Shopping Minimalism: How To Be Happier With Less

by Suzana Rose

Apr 8, 2021

It's no secret that the society we live in is fueled by consumption. As we become more aware of the negative impact of our consumption, we're faced with a dilemma. Shopping is fun. "Things" make us happy. So should we stop buying these things, and deprive ourselves? How much should we buy? What should we buy? How do we strike the balance between our own personal happiness, and being mindful towards other people and our planet?

Spread the word.

Wanting things is not selfish

First of all, I think many of us who try to consume more ethically are beating ourselves up for being tempted by "things" -- or at least I am. Maybe I'm buying more than I think I should, or maybe I'm tempted by something made from plastic that I know I should avoid.

We're not selfish for wanting things. We're human, and it's naturally built into us. Companies also use psychological tricks that we've been exposed to since we were infants. Between the ads on our phone and the billboards everywhere we walk, we live in a world that pushes us to buy buy buy.

Does shopping truly make us happy?

Why do we buy things in the first place? The simple answer is because it makes us happy. And happiness is important.

But what if we tried to take a look inward, and really analyze the happiness that comes from shopping?

We might notice that this happiness is 1) quite mild and 2) fleeting. The happy feeling goes away shortly after I've purchased that limited edition palette, and I find yourself wanting and "coveting" that new foundation, and then that setting powder everyone recommends.

Finding a deeper, more meaningful happiness

Since buying new things doesn't provide as much happiness as we thought it did, and since that happiness only creates a vicious circle of consumption, why don't we try to find replacements? Is there something that could bring us a deeper sense of happiness? We might find that when we focus on what brings us true joy, we won't crave as much "stuff".

What brings true happiness varies for everyone, but these are some suggestions:

  • Spending quality time with loved ones, truly connecting and communicating
  • Spending time in nature (especially as an alternative to going shopping)
  • Creating, whether it's painting, making music, DIY projects
  • A daily spiritual practice such as yoga
  • Learning more about your interests (if you're passionate about psychology, listen to psychology videos and podcasts)
  • Start a "side hustle" around one of your interests

Facing our true feelings

Some of us use shopping as a way to distract ourselves from whatever isn't going right in our life or from emotional burden. One thing's for sure: we shouldn't shop only to fill a void. It's important to take a step back and determine if shopping acts as a band-aid for a deeper problem. We jokingly call it "retail therapy", but is it therapy? Or is it only suppressing our true feelings?

Needing vs wanting

I think we've been really good at blurring the lines between "want" and "need" when it comes to purchasing. Besides food and shelter, we probably don't "need" 90% of the stuff we buy.

A reasonable need: I need a new bronzer because I've ran out.

A false need: I need to try this new bronzer everyone is raving about.

One of the things that irks me is that shopping has become a hobby. Shopping should be about buying the things we need, when we need them. It shouldn't be something we do every time we're bored.

Quality over quantity: buying what brings us joy

Another way to reduce your consumption without decreasing your happiness is to buy less, but make it count. Buy things that you're truly in love with.

This is a big shift for a lot of us, because we're used to fast fashion and fast beauty, inexpensive thrills that give us a dopamine hit and we get bored of (the vicious cycle of consumerism). Everything is so cheap, so we can buy more of it. But what if we were stricter about everything we allow in our home and asked ourselves: Does this really make me happy?

Of course, we all have different passions. Not everything we buy needs to be expensive and high-quality. Only buy higher-end if it brings you joy. Are you into beauty? Instead of buying 20 drugstore lipsticks, buy 2 or 3 that are perhaps more pricy, but make you feel amazing.

Consumption YouTube is a trap

If you're trying to shop more mindfully, step away from "consumption YouTube". I mean it. Too many channels are focused on overconsumption, and I know from personal experience that this has an impact on my own consumption.

Granted, some YouTubers test and review products as part of their job. I do the same thing for my blog, and the guides I provide aim to help you pick the best products, not to purchase every new release.

However, some channels focus on shopping and consumption for the sake of creating content. I know that watching this type of content makes me want to go shopping. Even if you don't notice it consciously, it has an impact. See what happens when you stop watching it.

In Conclusion

Before we're able to shop mindfully, we need to look inward and understand the mechanisms behind our shopping habits. Once we're able to understand what drives our consumption (or overconsumption), we can make adjustments and find true happiness, both in shopping more mindful and outside of "things" entirely.

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  • Rita says:

    I just watched The Minimalists on Netflix and wow does this post fit in perfectly with that ethos. Thank you for addressing this. “Influencers” have major culpability in this massive over-consumption problem, as well.

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