In the age of materialism, a great awakening is upon us. Especially as costs of living rise, wealth gaps increase, the climate changes, and people redefine what it means to live a fulfilling life. Lifestyle movements are cropping up all over the world, opposing overconsumption. You may have heard the terms “less is more” and “minimalism”. While cute social media hashtags, the idea behind these movements is to encourage us to become aware and intentional of what, how, and why we consume. The idea is more than getting rid of clutter and owning less stuff. It’s a way of life that places value on purpose and function.
Let’s be honest: if you are reading this, chances are you are part of a faction of the world’s population that has way more than they need. More food than we can eat, more clothes than we can wear, more toys than our kiddos can remember to play with, and more gadgets than we have time to use. We have stuff everywhere, filling every corner of our ever-growing homes and even rented storage spaces for the excessive excess.
This truth, while partially a product of capitalism and mastermind advertising, is also the result of our tendency to over-consume. And while it would be easy to place blame solely at the individual level for this tendency to over-consume, it’s only fair to acknowledge that we are innately predisposed (given our ancestors understood that more resources improved chances of survival) and overly conditioned to equate stuff with happiness, status, and success.
This consumeristic mindset often propels most of us into an endless cycle. Because we are conditioned to believe that we need bigger houses, swankier cars, and more advanced smartphones, we work more to buy more. We take the emptiness and dissatisfaction created in our lives (often the result of labor) and fill it with products and material items. We look up and find ourselves running faster and faster on the hamster wheel that is the work-consumption cycle. Buying junk to fill the gaps, only to get bored, toss it out, work more hours at a miserable job in order to purchase new junk, only to repeat the process over.
Now, let’s be clear, SaltaLama does recommend taking to your home with a box of trash bags until you’re left with a single spoon, a cup, and a patched pair of coveralls. We do though recommend taking survey of your lifestyle and identifying overindulgences that occur for the sake of having, well, stuff. Fired up? Ready to get introspective about what you buy and why? Okay, let’s go! Here are some ways to become more aware of and ultimately begin to reduce your consumption.
1. Decide What Really Matters
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed gave many of us time to assess aspirations and redefine success. Is it to have a stable career? Is it to live a healthy life? Is it to connect to some bigger purpose? These ideas of success and accomplishment impact how we live, work and ultimately how we consume. In fact, for much of the 20th century, success was characterized by materialism and ownership. But plateauing productivity and a cultural shift toward our inner selves began to redefine our aspirations. With time to sit and think during the early pandemic lockdowns, many began to take stock of what was important to them. And rather than material possessions, we saw people shift their values to personal satisfaction, creative endeavors, a sense of belonging to a community, and similar intangible values that went beyond simply acquiring more stuff. As a first step, think about when you are most fulfilled and happiest. Chances are, these times occur when you’re creating something, adding value to society, and spending time with the people you love most– not buying stuff.
2. Start Small
For gods sake, please don’t sit all your things out on the curb. SaltyLama is not responsible for any littering fines or hauling fees. But seriously, a great next step is simply becoming aware of your consumption habits. Do you often find yourself mindlessly scrolling through the Amazon app when bored? Maybe delete the app. Or if you’re feeling extra sassy, cancel that Prime membership that only perpetuates excess spending and consumption. Maybe take a couple hours and comb through your closet, taking account of how much you own that you either didn’t need, have yet to wear, or simply forgot you even owned. These mindfulness exercises will help you reveal just how much we own that you really don’t need. Adding to the clutter and excess spending. Whatever you do, make sure that this step is small enough to limit the risk of relapsing back into overconsumption, but impactful enough to encourage the continued journey.
3. Think Experiences over Excess
Ask yourself this question: If you were no longer purchasing, pursuing, and caring for excess possessions, what would you do with the extra money, time, and energy? We would like to offer a suggested answer: “whatever the hell you want to do!” According to research, experiences result in longer-lasting happiness than material possessions. This is because the happiness provided by new material possessions is short-lived. Over time, our satisfaction with things decreases, whereas our satisfaction with experiences increases over time. Most physical possessions eventually become a burden on our lives. They take up financial resources, physical space, and mental space in our minds. Things require care, attention, maintenance, organization, and ultimately more time working to be able to buy more things. Experiences, on the other hand, are accompanied with little to no physical baggage. As you begin to change your consumption habits, you’ll probably notice that you have more resources, space, and time. Reject the tendency to fill this newfound capacity with more things and instead think of how you can fill that capacity with experiences that will make lasting memories.
4. Play Hard to Get
Many Minimalists and followers of the less-is-more lifestyle use what is known as the 30/30 Rule to stave off impulse consumption and avoid unnecessary purchases. The 30/30 rule says that if something you want costs more than $30, stop and ask yourself whether you can get by without it for the next 30 hours. Hence, the 30/30 Rule. Some go even further and say if it costs $100 or more, they will wait 30 days. The rule is not meant to deny yourself the pleasure of life, it’s simply an exercise to test the legitimacy of desire. This extra time helps you assess whether this new thing will add value to your life. Many report that, often after following the 30/30 Rule, they recognize their lives will be the same or even better without the new thing and forgo the purchase. Others reported that when they did decide to acquire the new item, they felt better about the acquisition because they brought it into their lives with intention and not impulse. Now, we are not saying that you should stop buying any and everything. We’re simply suggesting you ensure what you spend your hard-earned resources, precious time, and limit energy on adds true value to your life. So, give the 30/30 Rule a try. Make that thing wait. Make it prove that it really deserves a place in your life.
5. Celebrate How Far You’ve Come
Remember that it took years to condition us to over-consume and equate possessions with happiness. So, undoing and deconstructing these habits will not happen overnight. As you begin your journey, it’s important to celebrate milestones and progress. Did you clean out the junk drawer in your kitchen? Is it still clutter free a month later? That calls for celebration! Did you take a vacation with friends and family instead of buying a new 1,000-inch TV? Celebrate yourself. Were you able to pack for said vacation in a single carry-on bag instead of packing and checking 2-large suitcases? Celebrate! Admit it– it’s not easy to reject overconsumption in a material-centric world. So, it’s important to take account of how much time, money, and space you save as you begin to undo these hard-wired habits. Give yourself a pat on the back for staying the course.
Remember that it will take time to build habits that make the less-is-more lifestyle stick. But remember that these changes not only save you money, time, and energy, but they also have major effects on our home - Mother Earth. As grandma would say “waste not, want not”. Take the time to be more thoughtful with purchases. And rather than purchasing things to fill space, focus on what you truly love and how the things you allow into your life add color to your story.