Maybe you believe that we’re all sucked in by consumerism and you think adverts brainwash us into being purchasing puppets, or maybe you’ve never really given it much thought. Either way, most of us have that feeling inside that we buy a lot of unnecessary stuff, and that shopping is ultimately unfulfilling.
Unless you’re a bit of a hoarder, you can probably look around your home and see pointless possessions that you’ve bought or been given. If you can’t see them, then I’d bet money the last time you moved home, you were amazed at how much tat came out of the cupboards. It probably filled up boxes and boxes and some of them were so full of crap you haven’t bothered to unpack them since.
You are what you buy
I recently heard that we’re exposed to at least 3000 advertising messages a day! We’re constantly being influenced to believe that we’ll be more desirable or interesting or happy if we buy things. We’re definitely told to think that what we buy defines who we are. I’ve given this a bit of thought and I have to say that I kind of agree, only not in the way the adverts suggest.
Is buying Tampax tampons going to make you want to go rollerblading in white hot pants? F*ck no!
Is spraying some Lynx on your pits going to make a hundred semi-naked girls run at you? Obviously not.
We all know this, but thousands of adverts chipping away at our brain every single day takes its toll. We end up actually believing that wearing a French Connection top makes us a little bit cooler, all because they put some slick adverts on TV and in glossy magazines and charge you enough to have you thinking it’s actually worth more. They’ve seriously managed to convince us that wearing a label with a four letter swear word spelt wrongly makes us a more worthwhile person. It’s fairly obvious that we’re all being conned.
Higher or lower
Once you consider this; it’s easy to see that buying things is just another addiction with meaningless short lived highs. And as many people use shopping as a main pastime outside of an unfulfilling career, unfortunately it can also give us an underlying, soul sucking, perpetual low.
I’m certainly not the first one to say this stuff but hopefully reading this will add to what you already know and feel, and give you an extra bit of encouragement to think a bit differently about how and why you buy things.
What I’m now realising is that our buying choices can define who we are. But rather than in a spoon-fed superficial way – you can make conscious choices to buy what you actually need and buy things that represent the impact you want to have on the world.
Between 60-80 % of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption, so changing our consumption habits would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint. (Science Daily). Not only that but we just can’t carry on as we are because we’re living beyond the means of this planet.
In fact, in 2017 human consumption had used as much from nature as Earth can renew in the entire year by August 2nd. (Global Footprint Network) BTW I recommend taking their footprint calculator survey to see your personal impact and see how you can adjust your lifestyle accordingly: https://www.footprintnetwork.org/resources/footprint-calculator.
So where can you start?
You’re not going to change all your buying habits overnight but you can just ask yourself each time you go shopping – do I really need this? This simple question alone will save you a fortune on impulse purchases.
I’ve found myself doing it more and more now, I’ll be walking round a shop looking at things and thinking hmmm – that might be nice in my living room, or – that would be handy to keep things in. In the past I’ve filled up my trolley with stuff doing this and spent a load of money each time. Now I’ll find myself having those thoughts, but remembering to ask myself before I get to the counter – do I really need this? Only a moment more thought makes me realise I don’t and I’m just getting sucked in.
Think outside the gift box
This Christmas just gone my friend sent a message to everyone that might buy her a present saying she’s giving the stress and expense of buying gifts for the sake of buying gifts for Christmas a miss. She explained she was ditching that approach in favour of buying gifts for people when she’s sees something meaningful that they would really like. She encouraged everyone to do the same or donate money to a charity on her behalf instead of getting her a gift.
A few of us on a group WhatsApp got on board straight away and I adopted a similar approach with people I know. I ended up just doing a Secret Santa with immediately family and only buying presents for the kids. The result – no stressful rush around the shops spending ages trying to find something the person will like but ending up with a bottle of wine and a cat calendar, no being completely bankrupt for the first 3 months of the year, and I’m fairly hopeful that no one likes me any less than before.
In a word – liberating. Not to mention how amazing it feels to have money going to charity compared to having another ornament on the shelf.
I get that money being spent on this stuff goes into the economy and gives people an income. However, continuing to spend spend spend on meaningless stuff seriously damages our wallets, our mental state and the planet, so it’s clearly not the answer.
Vote with your feet
I’ve heard a few thought leaders suggest that choosing what you buy is like voting for something because you’re backing it, and I agree. However, you’re not just voting for something, you are financially supporting it, which means it will continue to be produced and consumed.
You are an inadvertent financial supporter of the companies you buy from
With this in mind we need to ask ourselves;
Do we want our hard earned cash going into the pockets of shareholders of companies that add no real value to our lives and in many cases exploit their workers and natural resources?
Do we want to give our cash to organisations that demonstrate in how they operate that they share our core values and care about our wellbeing, and the well-being of the natural world?
It isn’t called purchasing power for nothing. If you ‘vote’ for and financially support companies that do care; you’re moving the culture of society towards a more sustainable one because more companies will follow suit. This means that your investment isn’t just financial but also an investment in our habitat.
What I’ve found since I’ve started being more conscious of my buying choices is that there’s a more eco/ethically-friendly option for everything. All you need to do is type in ‘Environmentally friendly [insert product here]’ into your search engine and viola.
If changing the things you normally buy seems like it’ll be difficult then in true ‘continuous improvement’ style, as with the rest of my posts – start with just one thing and watch your awareness snowball. Every time you swap out an everyday purchase for something that’s more thoughtful towards the world around you, you’ll also swap a bit of the meaningless feeling we (at least sometimes) get. This is replaced with a feeling that you’re living in line with a higher purpose that energises you instead.
Choose (experiencing) life
A really practical way of doing this is by swapping manufactured goods for an experience instead. If the average EU consumer switched away from spending money on manufactured products to paying for services, this would cut close to 12% of the household carbon footprint (Science Daily.) As the average UK household budget is £27,500 a year (2017 Living Costs from the Office of National Statistics) and EU consumers spend 13% of their total household budget on manufactured products (The Independent online), that gives you £3575 a year to literally play with, rather than just piling up more stuff.
So when you’re tempted to buy something for yourself or someone else, think whether it’s really necessary and if so consider whether you could get a ticket to a show or go out for dinner or go bungee jumping instead! As the average person in the UK has a carbon footprint of 10 tonnes (Carboncalculator.co.uk), these changes in your household could add up to saving several tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This is huge! And the difference we can collectively make shouldn’t be underestimated.
In his fascinating TED talk titled ‘The Earth is full’, Paul Gilding puts it like this:
“I know the free market fundamentalists will tell you that more growth, more stuff and 9 billion people going shopping is the best we can do. They’re wrong, we can be more, we can be much more…We’ve built a powerful foundation of knowledge, science and technology, more than enough to build a society where 9 billion people can lead decent, meaningful and satisfying lives. The Earth can support that if we choose the right path…But it will take every entrepreneur, every artist, every scientist, every communicator, every mother, every father, every child, every one of us. This could be our finest hour.”
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