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Friday, April 15, 2016

Mindfulness - Consumerism

Adriano Makoto Suzuki, Flickr

Throughout my minimalist (Less is More) project in 2015, I gradually increased my awareness of my relationship with "stuff". At first the project was simply about not acquiring new things (other than the necessities, such as food, gas, new shoes for the kids, etc.) Instead of bringing new objects into the house, I focused on getting "old" objects out of the house, in an effort to declutter and share with those in need.

I wasn't sure of how easy or difficult this would be, and I had no way to predict the outcome. After a year, reflecting on it, I could say without hesitation that minimalism had completely changed my outlook on "stuff", and on life in general.

Simplicity made me mindful.

1) Mindful of the way I use my time, my money, and my space

When shopping (a common pastime in a consumerist society) is not an option, you find yourself with an extra amount of free time, as well as an extra amount of money. After decluttering, you also find yourself with an extra amount of space. What to do with all this time, money and space? 

Space: In that case, the answer was easy: I did nothing at all. I was certainly not going to refill the space I had freed. I simply enjoyed it, and its effect on my mental states; less physical clutter often means less mental clutter. I also got rid of some bins and shelves that were no longer needed. I started wondering if the house wasn't too big (a reflection that's still in progress). What would you do with extra space?

Money: I have been rather reasonable, investing most savings toward mortgage and retirement. However, enjoying life is still in the cards, and I have been treating myself and my loved ones also. The difference is that instead of buying things, I buy experiences, which are shown to create more happiness than any material belonging. In general, I find that I don't have to spend as much money as I used to in order to achieve the same level of contentment. What would you do with extra money?

Time: Minimalism is a time savior in at least three different ways: First, eliminating shopping as a pastime frees time for other pursuits. Second, by owning less, you spend less time looking after your stuff, less time choosing your outfit, etc. Third, you regain some time, indirectly, by needing less money: Once you significantly reduce your consumption, it becomes possible to actually work less - since you don't need all the money anymore. For me, reducing my workload means more time for creative endeavours (such as writing), for sharing my talents and resources, for social interactions with friends and family, for health-related activities (exercise, cooking, gardening, etc.), and - let's be honest - for rest. What would you do with extra time? 

2) Mindful of how brainwashed we are by advertising

I cannot even begin to explain how brainwashed we are. Our whole lives revolve around consuming. We consume houses, vehicles, clothes, accessories, personal products, home products, decorative items, electronics, toys and games, processed food and drinks, books, music, ... the list is endless. We are brainwashed enough that we are willing to slave away at jobs we don't particularly enjoy (to afford all the stuff) AND to slave away at home (to tend to our belongings). Our system of values is completely skewed by consumerism - do we even know what was truly important to us in the first place? We are so brainwashed that we rarely question any aspect of that system. Avoiding exposure to advertising is virtually impossible, but I look at it with new eyes. Advertising will not succeed at convincing me I have needs that can be fulfilled with such and such product, and that I have to make as much money as I possibly can to afford it all. 

3) Mindful of my true needs

Acquiring new things, being surrounded by clutter, working long hours doing something you don't enjoy, and generally chasing your tail does not fulfill your deepest needs. What does, then? For me, I am happiest in a simple environment, with a slower pace of life, making a living doing something meaningful, enjoying healthy food, physical activity, nature, music, and sharing and connecting with others.

4) Mindful of my health - and that of the planet

Apart from generalized over-consumption (which can be fought by buying less, and/or buying secondhand, and/or bartering), a lot of the "stuff" we consume has the potential to harm our health and our planet: personal products, home products, food and drink items, etc. I was already using a lot of the simpler, "cleaner" versions. I gradually got rid of many remaining "mainstream products": things that contain bleach (not only in cleaners, but also in feminine hygiene products), paraben, fragrance, coloring, refined sugar, etc. In general, anything that comes with a long list of ingredients elicits my suspicion. In my bathroom nowadays, you will find baking soda, vinegar (white and apple cider), coconut oil and its derivatives, Epsom salt, etc. In my kitchen, you will find less packaged products and more of the fresh stuff (looking the same way it did when found in nature). Of course, this is a work in progress, but every step is worth it.

5) Mindful of my relationships

My - wise - father-in-law once pointed out that some people talk about "stuff" almost exclusively, and that he was veering away from those relationships, focusing instead of those were one discusses ideas and values. "Impressing others" with possessions has an appeal, otherwise no one would do it, but there are better ways to feel good about oneself. I choose my friends based not on the way they (or their house, or their car) looks, but on how much fun we have together!

Mindfulness this Week

What are you willing to do to regain your space, time, money, and freedom?

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  1. I think I need an intervention!

  2. Very well said! We need a paradigm change with society because it seems to me that our economies depend on consumerism!

  3. Certainly in this case, I'm already there. With regard to Dr.J's comment and your entire column (yes, column), in his very important book, Among Empires, Charlies S. Maier fixes the tipping point (for the US anyway) to the Johnson administration. That's when we went from being an empire of production to an empire of consumption. Ronald Reagan's zeal for consumer growth took it to a whole new level. The tide may be turning, but it's a slow turning.

    A tiny house, in my opinion, does not need granite counter tops....

    1. I thought it was odd the first time I saw granite tables and counter tops in a fast food joint...

  4. This is why i belong to a forum that concentrates on getting the excess out. And i don't believe there are coincidences, if you were stopped from painting, there was a good reason. We never know what might have happened if.

    1. Getting the excess out sounds like a great plan. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I've felt a similar shift in myself over the last few years too. I didn't take on an intentional mindfulness project, but found myself naturally wanting less when I swapped out TV for Netflix (no ads!).

    One thing I'm consciously being mindful of now is time I spend in front of a computer screen. I've got so many more hours each day when my husband and I decide to have screen-free weekends! :) Life is so much more stressful when not bogged down by trying to keep up on social media, email, etc.

    1. No ads definitely helps "lower" our needs!

      Screen-free time is still a challenge for me. No hand held devices or TV, but my computer still calls me too much! Thanks for reminding me that I need to spend less time in front of it. :-)

  6. Such an important subject! We are all so obsessed with 'stuff'. My family has been on a minimalist mission this spring and it feels so good! Less stuff means more space to breathe.