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A Whistle-stop Tour of Minimalism: The Antidote to Consumerism

A person holds several shopping bags on one arm

More is Not Better

Many of us know that familiar pull to the shops, it preys on us when we’re feeling a little fragile and gloomy. It’s easy to open up Amazon and scroll through pages of products, hoarding endless lists of things we wish we had. Online shopping has made the pursuit of retail therapy more convenient than ever. It takes less than ten minutes to hand over your card details for the promise of something in the mail. The numbers you see getting smaller in your bank account seem meaningless, akin to a child spending their gems on more hearts, or buying Leicester Square. After all, you'll pass Go soon enough.

When we make purchases to cheer ourselves up our impulse control is at its weakest. We think we want that dress, phone, face cream, yoga mat or games console because we like it (and maybe we do), but most of the time we’re buying into the possibility of changing ourselves for the better or improving our quality of life. It’s so easy to think ‘if I had that suit maybe she'd notice me’ or ‘if I had that camera I would learn photography’, and when these dreams aren’t realised we become fixated on the next thing to obtain. Somehow we fail to recognise that we’re reaching for unrealistic goals, a victim of marketing.

The uplift from comfort shopping is exceedingly short-lived and the temporary high is accompanied by a comedown. People may become full of regret and feel more unhappy than before their spending. This pattern can lead to debt or living in an overcrowded space, which lowers mood even more. While spending money can increase happiness if done in a mindful way, emotional spending will never fulfil us.

A modest way of life

Minimalism is about living simply, without excess. It’s believed that the space around us impacts and reflects our emotional state. Instead of seeking validation from material objects, minimalism celebrates the things you have to be thankful for, and the purpose of physical objects.

Minimalism comes in many forms

Aesthetic Minimalism: When you think of minimalism you are probably thinking of aesthetic minimalism. This form of minimalism optimises design, organisation and layout for visual effect as well as function. You may have seen stark, beautiful homes like this on Pinterest boasting endless pristine white. Everything is neatly put away and any decoration is simple. It's usual to forgo bright colours and stick to simple colour schemes such as black and white, or white and gold. The home runs efficiently, surfaces and floors are clear and there is no sign of clutter anywhere.

Eco Minimalism: The philosophy behind eco minimalism is to cause the least possible harm, cruelty and waste. This could include buying cruelty free and avoiding harmful chemicals in cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products. Local markets offer a solution for buying groceries without unnecessary packaging which is damaging to the environment. In weigh shops, things such as pasta, flour and rice can be bought by weight plastic free! Big purchases (such as furniture) may be chosen based on how long the item will last. Substitutes for common disposable goods may be used, such as reusable face cleansing pads, bamboo toothbrushes or razors with replaceable and recyclable blades.

Mindful Minimalism: Fans of Marie Kondo will be familiar with mindful minimalism. To practice mindful minimalism it is first identified which belongings bring you joy and these items are prioritised in your space. What has been leftover is then reviewed and everything else is let go of unless it serves a necessary function.

Digital Minimalism: This is minimalism for your digital world, striving for well organised devices with few things visible on the screen. This might include keeping your social media in order, limiting the number of social media sites used and restricting time spent on them. Additionally, superfluous files, photos and apps are deleted.

Essential Minimalism (Essentialism): Essentialists live on the bare minimum and often focus on needs rather than wants. They may experiment with what they need to survive to understand how much they can eliminate whilst still being healthy. Fanatics may be able to fit their belongings in one bag and list everything they own.

Frugal Minimalism: This involves making decisions based on spending the least amount of money and only having the necessities.

Nomad Minimalism: Nomad minimalists want to move around and experience different places without committing to one community for an extended length of time. This necessitates having few things to allow for free movement, though nomad minimalists likely enjoy this aspect too.

You don't need to throw everything out

Minimalism can seem intimidating, luckily it’s not necessary to go to extreme lengths. A declutter may be in order to help clear your head, but there’s no need to be able to recount everything you own down to how many teaspoons you have. If you do decide to part with some things, try not to contribute to landfill and give anything still useful to people in need. Some clothes at the end of their life can be recycled or you can turn them into cleaning rags. Local animal shelters are often asking for old bedding which is an ideal way to get rid of duvets and blankets substantially past their best. If they're in better condition many homeless hostels accept donations.

With purchases going forward try to avoid fast fashion or anything with a rapid lifespan. It will add to harmful waste and it's not a good investment. If you must spend money to perk up, spend it on an experience such as a meal out with friends or a trip to the cinema. You may find that more space and decluttered surfaces bring the peace you were seeking all along. Things are easier to find when needed and the things you love the most will be more accessible.

It's a cliché, but happiness truly comes from within. Only when we silence the hoarding dragon inside us can we go on a journey to find it.

Intrigued but don't know where to start? You can learn about minimalising your wardrobe here, and here are some tips on decluttering.

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