This American Consumer Just Discovered Minimalism

Photo by Mithul Varshan from Pexels

8 months have come and gone and yet we still are. Ah quarantine, you ol’ bastard.

How I’ve (Unfortunately) Become More Materialistic

I’m frugal. Not stingy, but let’s just say I’m careful with how I spend my hard-earned money.

I use my cash for experiences: Eating and drinking with friends. Day trips. Traveling.

But now, none of that can happen. And I’m stuck at home, bored and wanting some form — any form, really — of novelty.

Confined in my own home I feel a sense of compulsion to buy, buy, buy. American consumerism has reared its ugly head in the form of virtual shopping. And now I’m spending more time scrolling through my phone for material goods. I’m looking at new shoes, new shorts, new jewelry — all of which I don’t need. But it looks pretty and it’s new and shiny and I want it!

I’ve become a slave to my every need or want. I click buy because I want something to look forward to and to have something to do. I eagerly track the package number until it arrives on my doorstep. The moment I hear “FEDEX!” I rush to the door and gleefully unwrap my latest obsession.

I’ve flipped a 180 on my buying habits — I used to hold off as long as I could for material goods to save for trips and experiences. But now I feel more tempted to give in to my every materialistic desire. I’ve become the type of person I despise: an all too glorified American consumerist.

I feel torn — I want to support local businesses, yet am I endangering frontline workers to get my “Ew, David” shirt? (Schitt’s Creek, anyone?)

How do we balance this problem? I mean I’m legit asking. How do we?

As Americans, we are taught to buy, buy, buy. Consume. Bigger, better, more. And throughout history, Americans were taught to purchase to help stimulate the economy. But as this article details, online shopping isn’t always safe for the frontline workers involved in creating and delivering our goods.

Minimalism: What’s It All About, Anyway?

It wasn’t until I read this blog post during quarantine (aka my can’t-stop-won’t-stop-shopping spree) that I started thinking seriously about what minimalism actually means. Martina, the author, convinced me in under 7 minutes to read Everything That Remains

And now, after reading that book, I see owning goods differently — and this wisdom comes during a time I truly need to hear it.

The book dives deep into deconstructing the so-called “American Dream” and how it can be an empty, unfulfilling, lonely ideal you never attain. There’s lots of talk of climbing the corporate ladder, career paths devoid of any real meaning, your things “owning you.” Summed up, the book addresses this conundrum: We work to get promoted to get more money to buy more things. But why do we need more things? 

Noticing Friends’ Purchasing Habits (The Conundrum in Practice)

Something I noticed immediately when I started working at my first advertising job: People love to buy shit and then talk to you about it. And since reading Everything That Remains, I’ve noticed a lot of friends and coworkers complain to me about all the clutter they have accumulated in their apartments. But yet they continue to buy more things! It’s a vicious circle that baffles me to watch.

The 20/20 Rule

Although the idea of having something you own “sparking joy” was popularized by Marie Kondo, it isn’t a new concept. And there’s truth to it. Even I, a more conservative shopper, find random crap in my closet that I haven’t worn in years — yet I still hold on to it for that “well I might need it later!” reason.

Joshua Fields Millburn, the author of Everything That Remains, has a great solution for that problem: the 20/20 rule. A tried and true method, it states that more often than not you won’t need that “maybe later” item. If there is that rare chance you do need it, replacing it (often) requires less than $20 and can be easily purchased from a store less than 20 minutes away from your current location.

Intentional Buying

Now I haven’t tried the 20/20 rule yet, I have become more intentional with what I’ve been buying.

I ask myself “Do I need this?” or “Will this increase my happiness?” or “Can I live without this?”

One habit my mom taught me a while ago, was if you want something, wait 24 hours before you buy it. If you still want it after a day, then you truly want it. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it.

When I ask these questions to myself and use the “mom habit”, I find that the things I do own provide more value and are things I actually like, feel excited to own and get used.

At the end of the day, things are just things. Rarely are they extraordinary.

Saving More of the Guacamole

“The quickest way to give yourself a pay raise is to spend less money.”

– Joshua Fields Millburn

I wanted to end with this simple and sticky quote. I’ve found, through practice, that spending less is a form of self-control. It becomes easier the more you do it. And your bank account will thank you in the long run.

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