Well-being: Sometimes less is more
Learn to embrace a more minimalist approach by examing the compulsion to overspend
We've all had moments when we've had to concede that we are perilously close to reaching Peak Stuff.
Maybe you've reached into the back of your wardrobe and discovered an item you forgot you had bought - or you realised you owned more than six heated hair appliances - or you became disproportionately excited about clever storage solutions.
Or perhaps you had a more profound epiphany. Maybe you surveyed all of the items that you bought on a whim and realised that they hadn't made you any happier. Or maybe you accepted that retail therapy only offers temporary relief - as one want is satisfied, another one arises.
There has been a recent, and welcome, shift in the way in which we examine our spending habits. Whereas authors of old used to focus on the financial benefits of curbing our spending (usually by pointing out the accrued cost of a daily takeaway coffee), today's authors are more likely to concentrate on the emotional and psychological advantages of living with less. It's not so much what we buy, but why.
Psychologist Olivier James got the ball rolling when he described the greed of modern capitalist society as a contagious, socially-transmitted disease in Affluenza.
James Wallman, writing in Stuffocation, asked why, "when the goods we buy fail to match up to [our] deep desires, instead of giving up on material goods, we just keep banging our heads against the wall and buying more?" Miss Minimalist author Francine Jay pointed out that, "Advertisers, marketers and corporations will do everything in their power to make you want more. But to be richer, happier, and freer, all you need to do is want less."
The campaigns that encourage us to free up space - both literally and figuratively - have also changed considerably. In the past, the advice was practical and predictable. 'If you haven't worn it in six months, bin it' or 'a place for everything and everything in its place'.
While we have all long accepted that a tidy home correlates with a tidy mind, the current crop of writers has delved deeper into our connection with clutter.
"When your home and world are in disarray, you can't relax," writes Brooks Palmer in Clutter Busting. "It takes more energy to be in chaos because you have to keep track of all the junk. Eventually exhaustion sets in. When you honestly look at clutter and ask if it's necessary in your life, buried emotions come to the surface..."
Other authors, including Tammy Strobel, have examined how we sometimes derive our identities from our clutter. "I held on to stuff I didn't need or use because I wanted to hold on to that part of my identity, or my perceived identity," she admits in You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap).
"I am writer, a knitter, a doodler, a skier, a hiker, and more. Cool belongings, like fancy skis, seem to represent my personality. But in truth, I hardly ski anymore, so why keep skis?"
Elsewhere, many authors have picked apart the senseless attachments we have to our items, whether it's sentimental (it was a gift) or financial (it was expensive); guilt-based (I shouldn't have bought it) or fear-based (I may need it).
The Minimalist lifestyle, which is fast gaining ground, is a convergence of all these ideas. People are becoming more mindful of why they spend and what they choose to hold on to. As Joshua Becker puts in it in Clutterfree with Kids, "minimalism is the promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts from it".
Here are five ways to introduce the philosophy to your lifestyle.
● BUY LESS, BUT BETTER
As Juliet Schor points out in the documentary Minimalism, "We are too materialistic in the everyday sense of the word and we are not materialistic enough in the true sense of the word. We need to be true materialists - and really care about the materiality of goods." When you buy an item, ask yourself, 'Could I give this away or sell it on in five years' time?'
● TIME IS MONEY
Instead of thinking about an item in terms of how much money it costs, think about it in terms of much time it costs. How many hours did you have to work in order to be able to afford it? Is a cocktail worth an hour of your time? Is a luxury handbag worth two weeks of work?
● AVOID EMOTIONAL SHOPPING
Most of us know our emotional eating triggers by now, yet we tend to forget that our emotions can precipitate over-spending too. Diet experts often advise weight-watchers to avoid food shopping when they're hungry. Likewise, we should avoid shopping for consumer goods when we're bored, lonely or discontent. A self-imposed 'cooling-off period' will curb impulse buying.
● ONE IN, ONE OUT
Rather than thinking in terms of spring cleans and huge clear-outs, take an incremental, continual approach - cleaning out one drawer at a time rather than the entire wardrobe at once. A one in/one out system is also helpful. Try to get into the habit of dispensing with one item that you no longer need whenever you bring a new item into your home.
● SPLASH OUT ON EXPERIENCES
Research proves that experiential purchases - think holidays and concerts make us happier than major material purchases - think gadgets and clothing. If you're deliberating over a major material purchase, it can be helpful to remember that there is a proven way to spend it in a way that is more beneficial to your state of mind.
Health & Living