When you’re advocating a cause for a long time, you better put your money where your mouth is. If the thing you’re advocating happens to be non-consumerism, you better put your money anywhere – just not into another purchase!
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but I always felt I wasn’t ‘prepared’ enough. I needed guidelines and make sure that the list of things I can buy really includes anything I could really need. But as I know notice, that’s entirely besides the point! Anyway, I’m doing it now, from Ash Wednesday (what a fitting date) to 3rd April: a 60-day shopping ban!
Let’s clear up the terminology for everyone: A shopping-ban is literally what is says on the tin: you refuse yourself to buy anything for a certain amount of time (1 week, 1 month, or even a year). Some people call it a ‘Buy Nothing New’-Challenge, in which case you’re allowed to purchase only things that are used/second-hand. A full-on shopping ban is the extremer version, and just what I need at this point in time.
Of course, there is no such thing as buying ‘nothing’. There is a bunch of things excluded, depending on the rules of the person doing it. Food, for example. Cleaning products, personal care products, et cetera.
So why is consumerism such a ‘bad’ word? It’s not that we cannot NOT consume. We’re designed biologically to eat food, wear clothes, and so on. It’s just that in our current society, it doesn’t stop at food to eat and clothes to buy. During the years, the bar on the amount of things considered “enough” has been raised higher and higher. By now, it doesn’t even exist anymore. We’ve fully transformed into a consumer culture, in which “more” is always the desired norm.
At the same time, it’s shameful to see how many people are actually unhappy, despite their wealth and possessions. People keep on telling themselves: If I just had a new pair of jeans, I’d be so happy. Truth is, material happiness only lasts for a blink of an eye. There. It’s already over. Let’s go buy a matching top to those jeans.
My boyfriend is reading a very interesting and intriguing book at the moment. It’s called “The Art of Happiness” and features a psychiatrist conversing with the Dalai Lama about what makes people truly happy. I’ve had a glimpse at it, and the first point raised in the whole book is basically the following: Happiness is not a thing you can achieve, it’s a state of mind that you need to enter, and you will be happy regardless of your external circumstances.
From personal experience, I can say that he’s totally right. Once you are confronted with a situation that is truly unfortunate and about which you cannot change anything, you have the option to choose. You can choose to be unhappy, or you can choose to be happy. Of course, this is overly simplified, and I acknowledge that there is a lot of people out there who suffer from serious mental health issues and cannot simply ‘choose’ happiness.
The message remains the same, and it’s a powerful one which a lot of you already know, but would rather like to suppress (me included), because it’s not as simple as spending a few quid in trade-off for happiness: You cannot buy it.
I’ll stop here and leave you with this Buddhist wisdom. In the meantime, let’s return to my shopping ban and look at the things I’ve included in my list of things I’m allowed to buy:
- Hygiene products, personal care & cleaning stuff – especially considering I hardly ever buy any since going zero waste, this will probably be very little to begin with
- Any item of clothing that breaks – I will first try to mend, but not shy away from buying a replacement if it’s beyond repair
- Stationary – only if necessary for my studies
- Batteries, light bulbs, and other little bits and bobs that frequently break in a household
- Medicine – goes without saying
- Eating out – I hardly ever do, that’s why I don’t perceive it as a real problem. Same goes for takeaway coffee, which a lot of people restrict. I don’t drink coffee, so that’s irrelevant
- A pocket knife – I wanted one since well before my birthday, and the fact that I haven’t bought one probably means I don’t need one after all. But it was initially intended as a gift from my boyfriend’s parents, so if I do see one, I won’t hold back regardless of shopping ban
- Bike stuff – my bike might need some maintenance after a rough, wet winter, so if something arises, I will consider it excluded
- Things that are intended as gifts – if I don’t keep it, it’s okay
Do expect much to change? I don’t really think so. Do I think I will find eternal happiness? Probably not. I really don’t think that I’m a shoppaholic. On the contrary, the more I dived into minimalism, the more I’ve grown to dislike any type of shopping. The search, the trying-on, the ordering, the money spending, the returning, it all surfaces the question whether I really need this certain thing. If I answer no to myself, I just leave it. I do sometimes feel blessed that I have the natural ability to resist most impulse purchases.
But then there are the unconscious ones. The ones that call your name and go: You’ve wanted me for months! No here’s your chance. Super uncomplicated. Cheap. Fast. Buy me. Before I realise, I have another thing. Where did this thing come from!?
That’s why I am doing a shopping ban. It’s not about denying yourself anything in preparation for a life as a hermit in the woods (or a monk in Tibet). It’s about awareness. Being conscious about your behaviour in order to evaluate it, and maybe change it. It’s the same with doing Project 333, or being vegetarian. When you have all the things at your disposal, you take them for granted, forget they’re there and fail to appreciate it. Whereas when you choose to deny yourself one thing for a specific time, it raises awareness of what you have, what you truly need, and equally, what you thought you’d need but end up not needing after all.
Oh, and did I mention that you don’t spend money, which in turn you can spend on good things, like chocolate?
If that’s not a good reason, I don’t know what is!