There are certain stereotypes that I find particularly irksome – the bimbo blonde, the ‘out of touch’ baby boomer, and in particular, the young woman who loves shopping. Far too many chain stores sell shirts and mugs with SHOPAHOLIC emblazoned in cheap, glittery print, most likely made in unethical conditions and given to teen girls as Christmas presents by well-intended relatives.
The young woman who is addicted to shopping is a narrative that we can’t seem to shake. Frustratingly, I often find myself becoming this stereotype, despite it not aligning with my anti-capitalist values or my bank account. If I’m feeling glum I’ll often find myself scouring online shops and have been known to make questionable shopping choices during emotional times: please refer to the enormous stuffed pink unicorn that now lives in my shed (I couldn’t afford the stables).
I remember feeling shocked when an ex-partner’s parents would often give me accessories with ‘I LOVE SHOES’ written on them for Christmases and birthdays. Was that really my identity to people? A chain store fashion addict? The connotation did not sit well with me, and the aforementioned accessories have since been donated to a local Vinnies.
The impulse buy always seems like a good idea at the time. And we are told that more stuff = happiness. I know I’m getting manipulated by advertising executives who almost definitely do not look like Don Draper. And yet, I found myself with a wardrobe bursting with clothes and even bigger guilt (and I was raised Catholic, so I am already feeling guilty most of the time).
Like many young adults, I have found myself moving several times over the course of about five years, from share house to share house. Each time, I am reminded that the majority of my things just don’t matter to me. Inevitably, bags of clothes, books and assorted trinkets (is ‘bric a brac’ Latin for ‘crap’?) end up being donated. A significant proportion of the clothing still with tags on, a reminder that the purchase was more important than the item itself.
Each time I unpack into a new bedroom, I’m reminded that the things that remain each time are either useful (like a camera, or a sleeping bag) or sentimental, like photographs and university degrees or assignments. These essentials do not actually take up much space, and my current allotment of stuff is now smaller than ever.
This will come as a surprise to nobody, but consumerism doesn’t make us happy. Shock horror. Studies show that people will spend up to – or beyond – their means regardless of income*, which is why full-time middle-class employees often feel just as broke as uni students on limited welfare payments.
After my most recent house move earlier this year, I made an active choice to buy less new stuff. It’s worth noting that even though my income is below the average wage, I’m still in a position of privilege to be able to do this; I don’t have young children to look after, and I do have the time to scour op shops instead of purchasing a new shirt for $5 from Kmart. Women often get judged either way in terms of purchasing clothing – either they are obscenely wealthy for being able to afford the ethically-made, locally-designed outfit, or they are contributing to slave labour by shopping at cheaper chain stores. As the famous saying goes, “Judge not, lest ye be a twat.”
Minimalist lifestyles are gaining more attention in the media, particularly among twee middle-class folk who can afford to make the change and then blog about it tirelessly. For those of us wanting to simply reduce our consumerism, there are a few steps we can make without having to completely revamp our lifestyles.
Here’s what you can do:
- Make an inventory of all your possessions: what is really necessary? Do you really need seven spatulas or that huge box of empty photo frames? Be a bit ruthless.
- I’m a firm believer in the ‘buy one, throw one’ policy. If you obtain something new, then get rid of/donate something else. This keeps the total number of things in your house down.
- Sentimentality is fine but not if it’s crowding your cupboards. Sure, keep a small gift your relative gave you if it holds emotional value, but not if it’s a huge cumbersome kitchen appliance you have never opened (I’m looking at you, Breville Juicer with your seventeen attachments)
- Op shops and gumtree are great for sourcing secondhand furniture and clothing
- Donate household essentials, blankets and clothing to women’s refuges and homelessness services
- Get to know non-profit services in your area. In Melbourne, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre frequently needs seasonal donations such as winter coats and jackets
- Join your local library to borrow books as opposed to purchasing
- Consider investing in a car share service such as Go Get if you only drive occasionally
- Long-term idea: invest in a tiny house! Owning a house is an impossible dream for a lot of our generation, and downsizing to a small packet home is a trend gaining in popularity. Check out The Tiny House.
Have I adopted a ‘minimalist’ lifestyle? Absolutely not, but I’m on my way and far more mindful of the environmental impacts of impulse buys. I now shop mainly at op shops, vintage markets or second hand shopping groups online. It’s recycling, I’m saving money, and often helping out a fellow woman or charity group. Cue musical montage of people trying on clothes and whimsical hats to the tune of ‘Everyone’s a Winner’.
Take some action
Try a cool new app that makes it easy to buy and sell with people in your networkGet Bountye-d