Note: This is a different type of blog from my normal how-to’s. I wanted to share some thoughts on consumerism, and would love your thoughts on how consumerism has impacted your life.

Memoirs of a Recovering Shopaholic

“We don’t need that pair of heels, sis, put it down.” This is a statement I did not hear myself say as a teenager – ever.

I came of age in the golden years of Forever 21 and fast fashion, fresh out of a toxic relationship with the clearance section at Hollister and Abercromie & Fitch (nothing could make a quirky 16 year old feel more inferior than the judgement of those teenage employees’ for buying last season’s clearance).

I remember when I first started earning a paycheck for my part time job, and I would eagerly cash it to spend on shiny new things at the mall. When I was stressed, when I felt bad, I could go to the three story promised land and spend an entire 2 weeks worth of cashier’s pay on a hot pink plastic bag full of poorly constructed dresses and shirts that would fall apart after three washes. It was pure glee.

I entered college in the years we collectively look back on now and say, let’s not let 2008 style happen again. Mercifully, my college town in Hawaii had a half heartbeat of a mall, and PacSun and American Eagle could never quite do it for me in the dressing room. I slowly stopped spending whole paychecks on clothing. This was partially because you just don’t need to when the normal Hawaii ensemble is shorts and a shirt, and partially because my paycheck went towards me not being homeless and on the streets. 

I did a great job filling the hole left by consumerism though! When I graduated college and started my first corporate job, my paychecks once again went towards my quietly desperate need for home goods and random clothing. I remember vividly how my very first paycheck went directly to a Victoria’s Secret / Brandy Melville bender on the Waikiki strip. I deserved it, I told myself. All of the shops’ marketing and advertisements reconfirmed this for me, I deserved to have new, and better things. I’d worked hard, I’d earned it.

Let’s fast forward this story so you will stop judging me. I watched The True Cost in 2015 and it rocked my world. The documentary is amazing, and I absolutely recommend it. The film covers all of the ways fast fashion hurts not only the planet and the innocent lives of those trapped in the industry, but also ourselves. With my marketing background and a penchant for wanting to understand why humans do what we do, the open handed palm of reality finally slapped me – I was addicted to quieting whatever lack I felt in my life by spending money. Consumerism had me by the hair and up to that point I’d never realized how my need to buy things was impacting my life.

Consumerism; a word we have all heard. Buying newer, shinier things is widely accepted, even applauded in our society, the word itself feels rather benign. I am not making a statement that buying things we need is bad. However, there is a strong difference between a need, and a want. And in that wide open chasm there is a world of marketing departments and advertisers singing each brand’s siren song to those of us not firmly held in our convictions about how we spend our hard earned money. Furthermore, there is an industry that profits from those of us who are unhappy. This fact is not hidden in the dark, it is simply sugar coated and then ignored.

There are industries that insure their financial successes by doing their part to throw up mirages in the desert, beckoning to buyers that one more purchase, one more subscription stands between us and personal fulfillment. Few things in our lives are strictly black and white, including how to avoid needless spending. I want to share what I have learned about our need to mindlessly consume the latest clothing, gadgets, Amazon products, you name it.

Perhaps something in your life feels off kilter, maybe unexplainably so. Is there a knot in the pit of your stomach when you buy yet another thing because you “deserve it”? Maybe you get rush when you hit “buy now”. But instead of relief, you feel that same emptiness when that item arrives in the mail. The newness wears off quickly and you are back at it again buying the next thing. You don’t need it sis, put it down.

I’ll say it again, purchasing things we need or even want is not wrong. I am speaking to the people who, like myself, could not get rid of the empty feeling after purchasing something that was supposed to make us happy, after buying 100 other things that were also supposed to make us happy.

If that sounds like you, please read on. Here are some things I did to straighten out my life, not only getting a hold of my purchasing habits, but also starting a journey to learn what really fulfills me in life. It is so interesting that often when we are unhappy, the hardest part is pulling at that first thread of understanding ourselves. Often, by being willing to get uncomfortable, ask questions of ourselves, search for answers, and pull that first thread, we discover a whole new level of who we are that we have been quietly ignoring for a long time.

These parts of ourselves that we ignore and push down can lead us to try and fill our lives with things and habits that are often destructive. Maybe it’s not the habit itself that is destructive, but rather the way we use it to quiet the actual dis-ease we are feeling. I’ve struggled with shopping habits, eating disorders and the like over the years. Not until I finally put down the distractions and honestly searched for answers to why I would often self-destruct rather than listening to my real needs, did I learn to love myself deeply and live a much more authentic life.

Below I share some things that helped me let go of my need to consume, and as an unintended but very happy consequence, begin living my life in an authentic manner.

Conscious Consumerism

Watch The True Cost if you feel that empty pit of the stomach feeling after you buy clothing. Or watch any other film on the fashion industry that does an honest job of sharing the darker sides of how clothing and leather goods are made. The idea is to understand anew how the bright lights of malls and smiling advertisements are a bit of a facade to how clothing is actually made. 

When you shop, try this little trick to begin discerning how your shopping habits make you feel. When you feel the need to buy something that is not on your “need” list, just ask yourself why. That’s it. This breaks the habit of reacting to an emotion by purchasing something to help you feel a bit better. If you can begin to ask yourself why you are buying something when you shop, you can begin to discern needs from wants. We need food, different supplies, and clothing. That is different from wanting something because we are stress shopping. So try this method every time you shop. Ask yourself why you want an item. This helped me put many many things back on the shelf.

My current favorite ways to buy clothing now

Capsule Wardrobes: This method of building your wardrobe works wonders for many people. I have more of a half capsule wardrobe. I am still not excellent at getting all my pieces to match, and right now I have a penchant towards buying everything in shades of black and grey, however I live with far less clothing than I did in my 20’s. I have 30-40 pieces in my wardrobe in my (first ever) walk-in closet, which to me is actually poetic hilarity as I use one-third of the space after dreaming of walk-in closets my entire life. Youtube is my favorite resource for capsule wardrobe videos. My first ever video on this topic was from Canna Campbell, Founder of SugarMammaTV. I love her style. Her video is over five years old, yet timeless in my opinion, which speaks to the power of the capsule wardrobe.

Second Hand Shopping: Not for everyone, I understand. After I watched TTC in 2015 I vowed to only buy used clothing for a year (yes I am dramatic, I am aware). I accomplished my goal and renewed it each year afterwards. I do not extend this vow to underwear and socks. My rules for myself have changed over the years and I buy roughly 70 percent of my clothing used. I use Poshmark and a variety of amazing second hand stores and Goodwill to find brand name clothing. Consignment stores are my current favorite, a lot of towns have at least one such store and I love supporting them. I’m helping not only the store but also the sellers who consign their clothing there, and I adore that level of local commerce.

Cruelty-free Makeup Brands: I buy makeup that is not tested on animals. This was one of the first changes I made in 2015 and it is really easy now given how brands are regulated. Look for labels that state the brand is not tested on animals. Be aware there is a difference between the final product not being tested versus the ingredients in the product not being tested. Confusing, I know. Often brands that are not truthful will hide behind empty words in the same manner brands manipulate us with “all natural”, “cage free”, etc. 100% Pure is my current favorite for makeup and skin care.

One thing that really helped me shop cruelty-free consistently was making the conscious decision before going into a store that I would only buy cruelty-free. For both clothing and makeup, I do not want to wear trauma on my body (yes yes I know I am dramatic). I don’t want to wear an animal’s trauma, I don’t want to wear a human’s trauma. Making a decision before you even begin shopping is significantly easier than trying to have willpower to overcome a desire to buy in the moment.

Sustainable Clothing Brands: I have really only bought second hand from these brands but I am curious to learn and shop more sustainable brands in 2022. I am already making a list of brands I would like to purchase from, because like I said above it is easier to make a conscious decision before you are caught up in the moment.

And there you have it, my thoughts on consumerism. Let me know what your opinion on consumerism is, and if anything I mentioned was interesting or helpful!

Published by janasoli

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