Saturday, 16 December 2017

On Consumption

One of the things that people are most surprised to discover about me is that I have minimalist parents. I grew up in a house where minimalism was in before the internet started spreading the gospel and before everyone knew KonMari. I don't have an excessive number of possessions, generally speaking - since I've moved seven times in the last eight years, I'm good at cutting down - but I like shopping and I like knickknacks. My parents do not love shopping and have almost no knickknacks. I think part of this minimalism was out of necessity: I grew up in a small house with two brothers and whatever other family members and friends were drifting in and out at any given time, and my family was single income for most of my childhood. There was little money and no space for things. But as I grew up, my mother returned to the workforce, and there were fewer people kicking around the house, it became apparent that my parents just don't like stuff. My youngest brother's girlfriend remarked that she had never been in a house that somehow had so few items and managed to avoid feeling empty at the same time. She remains baffled at how regularly my parents cull their possessions, how they embrace buying for life when they can manage it, and how tidy the house is at all times. I told her it has always been this way: my parents acknowledge you need a certain number of things to live in Canadian society, and they have a few extraneous things that they enjoy, but otherwise they are not interested in things and they certainly don't want any evidence that there are things in their house. I'm positive that they breathed a sigh of relief when I moved out and took my stuff with me. 

I am not minimalist, though I know I'm below average in stuff collection, mostly because I have had a stable job for exactly one year, and therefore am only now starting to accumulate the stuff you think you're supposed to have as an adult. Growing up in the house I did, I still am fairly ruthless when it comes to keeping clutter out of my life. I go through all of the things in my apartment at least twice a year and donate what I can. We did this fairly often growing up, and I find it's really helpful, particularly when I'm still living in a state of transition, from graduate student to professional librarian. I've been moving the things that no longer fit in my life out. 

However, I know I'm not minimalist at all when it comes to beauty. This blog is pretty much the only evidence needed of that. I have lots of beauty products and while I've been trying to cut back, I still purchase more beauty products than the average person. I've mostly made my peace with that as an idea, but recognize that I have more than I can reasonably use before they expire. In the spirit of this recognition, I've embraced a loose lower buy for beauty (though I will freely admit here that I'm over my average budget for this quarter - thanks, Sephora sale! It should even out over the year) and I have some other vague guidelines that I haven't written down to account for my natural flakiness. All of this should allow me to focus on what I want to do this year, which is shrink my beauty collection by natural use. No one in, one out unless it's a vital product. Just one out and make due with what's left because I definitely have more.

I've documented my struggle with trying to back away from the capitalist god that is consumption. And based on the number of times I've tried and then abandoned a low-buy/no-buy/pan/declutter project, I'm not terribly good at it. And why should I be? Ads are everywhere. I don't have cable, which cuts down on the number of ads passing by my eyes every day, and I use an ad blocker on my home computer, but I also read magazines, use social media, and exist in a wealthy, developed western country. It's easy to chase that high from getting a shiny new thing, and it's pretty low effort. But it's not a great way to go about my life, and I've been trying to shift my focus. So of course, I set out the declarative post about a low-buy and sat down to declutter. And then...I stopped. Because I felt like I wasn't setting myself up for success. Because I wasn't really dealing with the problem of focus in a way that was going to set me up for success: I was replacing consumption with focusing on non-consumption. And yes, that's what needs to happen, but ultimately I do best when I fill my time with something new, something entirely different.

Talking about not buying things is another form of consumption, something I think that Makeup Rehab on Reddit doesn't acknowledge enough. I've never really jumped into the community there because it feels like a lot of users have replaced one obsession for another, rather than work on breaking the mindset of need. I get how hard it is. I struggle all the time. But I won't flagellate myself over it: that's not how I'm going to change my mindset. I like beauty, I'm still going to purchase beauty, but I don't need new things all the time and I have plenty to talk about that isn't pure reviews PLUS I have a backlog of things to review anyway. 

I don't have any great revelations about consumption and market forces and the creeping infiltration of advertisements into every. single. aspect. of our lives. I'm not going to give you a guide on how to mindfully purchase or how to declutter thoughtfully. I'm not going to give you organization tips, because while I'm formally educated in that art, it's really, really not my area of expertise (note: any organizational skills that I do make use of are learned, not natural. I am a natural slob). But I can say that like many things, no one can make you consume less. No one can make you do anything you don't want to do. 

And that is something I am very familiar with. But I am finally ready to be more mindful, think about the future, and be more creative with the things I already own.

4 comments:

  1. I've had similar revelations this year, especially about the paradox that "talking about not buying things is another form of consumption." I started the year recording every penny I spent on makeup and skincare, but realized that I was slipping into obsessive habits of thought and fetishizing products I hadn't yet bought. I think the strict guidelines advocated by Makeup Rehab can work for people who genuinely have problems with overspending. For me, though, they just seemed to backfire. I'm going to write a post on all this eventually, but tl;dr version: I stopped tracking and blogging about my expenses and ended up obsessing over makeup a lot less!

    That said, I'm with you in wanting to reduce my consumption (and the size of my makeup collection) next year. Best of luck to you!

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  2. This post resonated with me a lot. I have lived a very transient life since 2012 - I've moved ten times in the past five years. I do like to accumulate new things, but I also find it easy to get rid of my old things. When I move 80% of my items are clothes and makeup because it's not practical to own other items when I'm going to have to move in six months. I'm definitely getting to a point where I'm tired of moving and am hoping that when I'm done this degree I can settle somewhere long enough to, like, buy furniture - but I still don't see myself becoming a heavy consumer in general. When I see YouTubers doing homeware hauls constantly, or buying all new furniture every time they move, I just don't understand it. When I buy things I'm usually thinking longterm, which I think helps temper consumerist habits.

    I definitely agree about MUR. They have some helpful and interesting content, but it's not a subreddit that I enjoy browsing regularly. I have a bit of an obsessive personality when it comes to interests, so I get what's going on with a lot of them - they're transferring the intense attention they give to buying makeup to this online group. But at the end of the day, it's the obsession itself that's unhealthy, not where they're focusing it. And I do think that decluttering can sometimes just be new form of obsession, a ritual that when complete "allows" us to buy more. I've stopped looking at decluttering as something that will reduce the overall size of my collection longterm. I think my collection will probably hover around its current size, as it has done for the past few years, and decluttering is more of a maintenance thing for me. I know how many items in a specific category I can reasonably use enough to justify having them, and decluttering is about removing the excess and keeping my collection manageable and useable. I'll never reach a state of minimalist perfection, because I do like try new things - it's not about "Oh, I'll get rid of 75% of my lipsticks and be good forever." It's more about constantly looking at what I own and evaluating if it fits in my current lifestyle. It's okay if you loved something five years ago and never use it now! It fulfilled its purpose in your life at one point, and now it's time to let go of it. But I see people beating themselves up for not using certain products anymore, when it's like... that's just how life works. You probably aren't going to be wearing the same clothes and using the same placemats for the rest of your life, you know? It seems like it's difficult to find a balance between extreme conspicuous consumption and minimalism. You can consume moderately, and you don't have to feel guilty every time you buy something that's not strictly necessary.

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    Replies
    1. Ugh, moving. I know I'm not going to stay in my current job or my current apartment forever, and though I have no plans to move, I'm already dreading it. I've started to accumulate furniture and household goods, which will make it even more painful. But a lot of my furniture is still student stuff - my bedframe is one my parents bought at Ikea in 1986, and it followed them from Halifax to Yarmouth to Moncton and then went to Antigonish, Halifax, and Miramichi with me. I'm actively resisting getting too much or upgrading things when my life still feels so in flux.

      That is such a good point about your things changing with you. I'm not the same person as I was five years, and I don't have exactly the same tastes. And that's okay.

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