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Inside: Minimalism promises freedom from consumerism. But what should you do if instead of setting you free, minimalism makes it worse?
The kitchen displayed so perfectly in the photos was divine. The clutter-free marble countertops (granite, maybe?), called to me.
I couldn’t help but glance around my own kitchen with dismay.
The blogger mentioned the few items surrounding her sink, one of which was a Simple Human soap dispenser. The second I saw it and read what she loved about it, I knew.
I wanted that soap dispenser – two of them, actually: one for dish soap and one for hand soap. They looked both functional and beautiful, something I look for specifically in anything I buy for our home, new or second-hand.
I hopped over to Amazon right away and was SOOOO close to clicking “add to cart”…until I stopped to do the math.
I realized that together, they would cost $30.
Thirty dollars. Not that big a deal, you say.
Well, it is a big deal when that thirty dollars is about half the wiggle room you have in your budget every month.
Minimalism Sometimes Makes You Want More
Thirty dollars to dispense my soap from more beautiful containers.
My finger hovered over the “buy now” button…but still I hesitated.
The cheap, plastic Softsoap dispenser did dispense the soap. And yes, the dish soap did come out of the big ugly BJ’s container.
They both worked just fine, ugly though they were.
I didn’t really need a new soap dispenser, and we certainly needed that money for other things (any extra expenses that month, paying off debt, saving for a house – ya know, the usual adult stuff).
I reluctantly talked myself out of a $30 purchase.
But this isn’t the first time this has happened, and I don’t always make the same choice.
I sometimes buy the pretty, shiny thing, instead of talking myself out of it.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve struggled more with consumerism since becoming a minimalist than I did before.
How is that possible???
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Not Your Average Minimalist
Before I get much further, you need to know that I came to minimalism from different life circumstances than many other minimalists.
Minimalists do come from all ends of the income spectrum and all walks of life, but the general consensus seems to be that more minimalists come from circumstances of abundance and excess than they do from places of financial frustration.
I don’t know this for sure, and I wish I had data to confirm my suspicion. If you do, please share it with me. I’d love some solid numbers.
My husband and I have always been pretty frugal. We endured some pretty crappy home furnishings for a long time because we couldn’t afford anything new, and for the most part, I was thankful for what we had.
Because I am a stay at home mom and we are raising a growing family, we live on a modest income that pays the bills with a little extra.
Again, this isn’t a pity party. You just need to know where I’m coming from to understand my message.
Decluttering: A Blessing and a Curse
I was introduced to minimalism through Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, and minimalism forever changed my motherhood.
I didn’t think we had much to get rid of, but somehow, I filled bag after bag with things we didn’t use, love, or need. I dropped bags off at the local thrift store and gave things to friends who needed them.
And when all the clutter disappeared, what remained stood out like a sore thumb.
The things we kept, we truly needed, but when I looked around our home, I saw very little that I truly loved.
And isn’t that what so many minimalists said was the point?
Shouldn’t what remains after decluttering be what “sparks joy”, what you “truly love”?
Around this time, I spent more and more time following minimalist bloggers. I noticed the “minimalist home tours” tab on several sites.
I love the heart behind these tours: to help people see that minimalism can look different for everyone. There is no one right way to “do minimalism.”
People need to hear that message, and I don’t know of many other ways to communicate it.
Like Instagram, however, these minimalist home tours are a double-edged sword.
Seeing multiple homes that were carefully curated with unique, beautiful furnishings and carefully chosen décor inspired me on my best days, and discouraged me on my worst.
Consumerism After Minimalism
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up dealt a death blow to clutter, for which I am thankful, but it gave me something new to contend with, a different kind of consumerism.
It put a yearning in my heart for a home filled with quality things I loved, not just things that were functional.
Unfortunately, “quality” usually equals more dollars. Those whose incomes are larger than ours say it’s worth the investment: what you buy will last longer, waste less, be enjoyed more.
Theoretically, I agree.
Except we can’t afford “quality” just yet. We’re having to settle with “good enough for now.”
As I heard this rhetoric over and over, echoed by so many minimalists, my contentment vanished.
A surprisingly fierce longing quickly filled the void.
I wanted everything I owned to be just right, right now.
I wanted to be able to afford to buy those quality items, things that would last a long time.
Despite these struggles with consumerism, I didn’t let that longing affect my appreciation of minimalism or stop me from calling myself a minimalist.
6 Tips for Dealing with Consumerism After Minimalism
1) Expect it.
The human heart is actually pretty predictable.
Just because you start living with less doesn’t mean your desire for more goes away.
Minimalists hold out promises of forever freedom from the hold of consumerism. Well-known minimalist author Joshua Becker actually states,
Minimalism brings freedom from the all-consuming passion to possess. It steps off the treadmill of consumerism and dares to seek happiness elsewhere (source).
And as much as I love Joshua Becker, I respectfully disagree.
I believe its human nature to desire to possess. Minimalism combats that desire fiercely, it will never be completely satisfied. It cannot be mastered, and the second you think you’ve mastered it, beware: “Pride goes before a fall.”
I don’t think anyone can make that promise, and false promises often lead to disillusionment.
When we expect to be tempted by consumerism, no matter how minimalist our lifestyle, we are better prepared to fight it.
2) Stop it at the source.
Is Instagram feeding your desire for things you don’t need and/or cannot afford? Take an Instagram break.
Do minimalist home tours make you fill up your Amazon cart faster than a tired mom at Target? Stop reading them.
Does walking through Target make you want to buy everything (and you either do it on credit or leave frustrated that you can’t)? Get what you need at your local grocery store. Order specific items you need on Amazon.
Do commercials really get you? Cancel cable and get Netflix instead.
Figure out what your triggers are, and try to reduce the frequency with which you encounter them.
3) Choose a method to help you deal with delayed gratification.
Personally, I use my bullet journal to write down things I think I want.
I actually title the list “The Things I Think I Want” because with time, I often realize that I don’t want them after all. There is something about writing it down that helps ease the intense feeling of “I need this right NOW”.
Often, the impulse goes away after a week or two. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I really do still want and need the item. Then we find a way to fund that purchase.
Another blogger I know swears by snapping a photo of what she thinks she wants, and she finds that the urge to buy goes away in a day or two.
Others add items to an Amazon wishlist.
Whatever method you choose, make sure it helps you. If you’re still finding it difficult to resist the urge to buy right away, try something else.
4) Cultivate gratitude.
I’ve read comments on simple living articles shared on Facebook. A few of them scoffed that any American could claim to know anything about simple living.
And in a way, they are right.
We live in a country of abundance, and even the poorest American who comes to minimalism will probably find something to declutter, something to give away, something to get rid of.
We have SO MUCH to be thankful for, and yet, we are aren’t.
Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. It needs to be cultivated, made a habit.
Start a gratitude journal. Counter every complaint with one whisper of thankfulness.
Gratitude is one of the best weapons we have to fight consumerism.
5) Embrace the process.
A friend and I were discussing our generation (Millenials) – the beauty and the flaws. While I fiercely defend the strengths of my generation to pretty much anyone, expectation of instant gratification is one of our weaknesses.
We think we can have it all right away.
We can have the house with the perfect furnishings with the dream job with no debt with the…
It’s a long, long list, and we get frustrated when we can’t have it right now.
There’s an itch in us to have our home just right from the second we move in. It’s probably why we all love IKEA so much: this beloved store makes it sort of possible to achieve such a goal.
But what if we waited?
What if we accepted that building a home takes time? That affording and finding the “things we love” takes time?
We need to learn to appreciate the empty spaces – the room waiting to be furnished, the walls waiting for just the right things to hang on them.
We need to learn to enjoy the process.
6) Don’t give up on minimalism.
My favorite definition of minimalism is by Joshua Becker: “The Intentional promotion of the things you most value, and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”
While his definition is my favorite by far and I enjoy reading his blog, I don’t agree with everything he writes about minimalism.
You see? I can love one minimalist’s definition of minimalism and appreciate his writing, but I don’t agree with everything he has to say about the subject.
And that’s more than o.k. because at some point, we NEED to define minimalism for ourselves.
Trying to live someone else’s version just doesn’t work.
I’ve read more minimalist posts on Pinterest than I can say.
No one’s definition of minimalism is the same, and everyone comes to minimalism from a different place and for different reasons.
Therefore, what it means to them will be different.
Don’t Let the Downsides Stop You
Minimalism is what you make it. While it is helpful to read what minimalist “authorities” have to say, ultimately, you need to decide for yourself.
What has minimalism done for you? What do you want from minimalism?
Don’t let someone else’s definition of minimalism that doesn’t sit right with you make you give it up altogether or stop you from pursuing a life of less in the first place.
You’re robbing yourself of something that could really change your life.
- Because of minimalism, I have time to homeschool.
- Because of minimalism, I am not overwhelmed by a big family or my home (most of the time).
- Because of minimalism, I spend far less time organizing and reorganizing ALL THE STUFF (because there’s less of it).
- Because of minimalism, I have time to work from home.
What’s your “because of minimalism” story?
If you don’t have one yet, I encourage you to give it a try. See how it could change your life.
Everything has a downside.
Don’t let minimalism’s downsides keep you from experiencing its benefits.
Read Next: 8 Tips for Decluttering on a Low Income