A blog about health, wellness and well-being, with advice on how to achieve it... from your inner depth to your outer surface.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 48 - Consumer self-defense

Kanko, Flickr

Minimalist or not, all of us do have to go shopping at least once in a while, even if it was just for groceries.

This time of the year, most of us will multiply their purchases in preparation for the end of year holidays.

It might not feel like it, especially for those of us who spend a good amount of time in stores and have become pro shoppers, but as a consumer, and despite our illusion of choice, we are rather vulnerable. The smartest of us are at the mercy of numerous marketing tactics, each one more cunning than the last.

How do we fight back and avoid wasting our precious money on less than precious items? Let's be prepared.

Location, location, location: Know that you are more likely to buy items located at eye level, at the end of aisles, and by the checkout. Especially if they are colorful and/or sparkly. Do you need those items, or are you having the exact impulse that marketers are looking for? Did you come to the store with that item in mind? You might be better off leaving it there, and if it is still haunting you a month or two later, then go back and buy it. My strategy for those situations is that I usually shop equipped with a list, whether it's for food, clothes, presents, or anything else.

How much will you appreciate it once it's in your home? Objects have a lot of appeal when positioned strategically in a store, in their new, bright and shiny glow. They lose a lot of that appeal once in the house and after a couple uses.

Quantity: Bigger is not always better. What's the best value? If you're going to use a lot of something, bigger packages are often worth it. But not always. To compare accurately between the small, the medium and the big packages, you'll have to be good at mental math. Plus, sometimes, it's better to just go for the amount you can actually consume, instead of buying more just because it's a good deal... and ending up wasting half. (Or feeling like you have to finish it - this is particularly insidious when food is involved.)

Quality: Are brand names better than store brands? In some cases, yet. In some cases it makes no difference whatsoever. When it comes to clothes and outdoor gear, it's usually a good idea to go for quality... but that does not mean you have to buy new. Second hand, high quality items can last quite a while, and often look nicer than new, but low quality, items.

Is the price fair? Studies show that minorities pay more for the same products. For example, equivalent health/beauty products are significantly more expensive when they target women buyers. Women (and ethnic minorities) also end up paying more for the same car, among other things. Are you okay with that? What can you do to vote against this unfair practice?

Preparation: Processed foods come with a higher price tag than foods you will prepare and cook yourself. Would you pay someone $30 an hour to shred your cheese? Because that's the cost it comes to when you calculate the price difference.

How much of your effort is this worth? How many hours do you have to work in order to acquire this item? (Calculate using your net income, not your gross income). I know someone who uses that strategy whenever he sees something he likes: Is this something that's worth an hour, a day, or even a full week of my work?

Do you really want to spend that much? Marilyn Monroe might have sung Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, I suspect that, as a group, diamond jewelry retailers embrace the saying more than women. Don't feel you have to spend an awful amount on the people you love. Or if you really can and want to spend, pick activities over objects, so that you can create memories together.

Does this item you are about to purchase agree with your ethical standards? Is it fair-trade or was it produced in a sweat shop by underpaid (and possibly underage) people? Does it contribute to intensive deforestation or pollution? Is it good for you? (if it contains added sugar, perfumes, dyes, or simply a lot of plastic, you might want to reconsider).

Remember that a good deal is only a good deal if you need the item, and that although sales are tempting, you will save 100% on any item if you don't buy it.

If you are lucky enough to have leftover money and aren't sure what to do with it, please consider donating it to a charity!


All my holiday shopping is done - mostly a few presents for the kids. It was completed before Black Friday (I don't buy a thing on that specific day). I like to shop early because I know I make better choices when I have time ahead of me, as opposed to feeling rushed to buy something, anything. I also find it less stressful to shop when the stores aren't full (and the clerks aren't overwhelmed and tired). 

Speaking of stress, getting the house ready for the holidays also feels less stressful now that I have been decluttering for so long. Everything has a reason to be in the house, and everything is in its place. Cleaning around that is quick and easy.

Project 2016 is in the making! In the next few weeks, we will report on how 2015 went: struggles, successes, and lessons learned. We will then be ready for a new challenge! Stay tuned, and to make sure you don't miss anything...

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 47 - Home stretch

Steven Depolo, Flickr

One month until Christmas, and less than six weeks to the New Year. The American Thanksgiving and Black Friday constitute "shopping season kickoff": retailers typically earn a generous portion of their yearly income right before and during the holidays. Meanwhile, simple consumers like you and I dish out an equally generous amount of money from their pockets - or, more precisely, from lending entities (credit card debt, anyone?).

On top of the expenses incurred, many factors contribute to our heightened levels of stress in times when we should either be celebrating, reflecting on the year that's ending, or preparing the one to come.

We are stressed because we want the house to feel, look, smell and sound warm and welcoming for family and friends. But who has time to clean and decorate? 

We are stressed because we want to put special foods and drinks on the table. But what if we don't enjoy cooking and baking? 

We are stressed because we want to find the perfect present for that someone special (or those "someones specials", in many cases). But why are some people so hard to please? (And what about those who "already have everything"?)

We are stressed because we want to look good for the holidays. But shopping for clothes is exhausting, and good hairstylists aren't cheap. 

We are stressed because of all the other season-specific obligations, be they work or family related.

Wasn't this supposed to be the season to be jolly? 

Or was this intended to mean a "jolly ole bag of nerves"? Because if so, we are being remarkable at it.

It doesn't have to be that way. This year, I am delighted to have been invited to contribute to Bethany Rosselit's initiative, the Simplify the Season calendar. Along with other, bigger names such as Adyashanti, Seth Godin, and Tara Brach, I wrote a piece on how to "Simplify the Season". 

To receive the calendar (which will entitle you to all the Simplify the Season articles), you simply have to subscribe via this link, after which you will receive one post per day during the holiday season (beginning this Friday). Bethany has set the price at the pocket change amount of $2. If you were to chose to donate more, the entirety (100%) of the proceeds will be forwarded to an entrepreneur in a third-world country (more details to come on onlinelifecoaching.info). Because 'tis the season for sharing, isn't it?

Bethany Rosselit, onlinelifecoaching.info


I set foot in a shopping mall! Christmas is coming, and the children will receive presents this year as any other year. To simplify the shopping, we asked them to make a list, and to review the first draft to come up with the items they really, really want. 

Then we put said list through the "four gift rule", and decided to get them: 

  1. Something they want (a toy/game of their choice - right now they are obsessed with Lego)
  2. Something they need (new, good quality mitts for the harsh Canadian winter to come, for example)
  3. Something to wear (they grow so fast that it won't be a luxury)
  4. Something to read (easy, since they both put specific books on their lists)

And then some chocolate, because Christmas is not Christmas without chocolate.

Whereas between us adults, instead of gifts we will offer each other some quality time: going out to a restaurant or to see a play, for example (but hush! the details are a secret!)

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, November 16, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 46 - What it keeps you away from

Mike Licht, Flickr

"All over the place from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and consume." (Noam Chomsky)

Watched a Noam Chomsky documentary. 

First reaction: isn't it surprising that he would be considered a dissident, since a lot of what he says is just plain common sense? This must be another manifestation of "the truth hurts" phenomenon. 

Second reaction: Chomsky's take on consumerism underlines the fact that consuming takes our attention away from the truly important matters. While we focus on things we own or want to own, we are not focusing on issues that deserve our time and energy.

On Sunday I was giving a talk about "Children and the new technologies". I approached it from a similar angle. Demonizing screens in general and the new technologies in particular is bound for failure, as people usually become defensive rather quickly when they feel their addiction is under attack (not mincing my words here). So I started by acknowledging the benefits of being able to carry a phone + a camera + a computer in one unique portable device, as well as the wonders of having access to any and all information at the tip of our fingers, anywhere, anytime (plus the ease with which we can communicate with each other). The problem, I said, is not limited to what happens while we are using the new technologies; it also involves what does not happen. Regarding children in particular, one thing they definitely are not doing while staring at screen, big or small, is move. And movement is vital. Especially for children.

Children present at the talk commented on how hard it is to get their parents' attention when the latter are looking at their phones or tablets. Could the devices that were supposed to bring us closer literally constitute a screen between us and our family members, preventing us from truly interacting?

What do you think is taken away from you while you focus on money and stuff, be it fashionable items or electronics?


For an obscure reason, many of this week's conversations with friends and family members revolved around their struggle with debt: student loans, credit card debt, and various monthly payments that are putting a damper on their well-being. What struck me is that most of the individuals I talked with are far from living in poverty. 

Why do you think well-off people struggle with debt?

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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