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How I Divorced Consumer Culture

In January I accepted a challenge to be a conscious consumer. No purchasing of clothing, shoes, handbags, jewellery or hats allowed! At first blush, I took this challenge on as a sneaky way to prove something – that I am not a shopaholic. I don’t need to buy clothes. I can do without. But I couldn’t help but wonder, can I really?

The stakes were increased when my boyfriend and I added a penalty to our agreement. If either of us breaks the fast and buys something prohibited, the other is permitted to randomly select something from the closet and toss it. Yikes! That could result in a favourite item being forever lost. It put real fear in me. Still, I was willing to participate because when it comes down to it, my closet overfloweth. I already have much more than I truly need.

And here I am, nearly through a full year of no shopping and I feel good. There have been some important insights for me.

First, I can’t believe the amount of time I wasted browsing for clothes online. It was such a mindless distraction that I easily filled entire couch-bound evenings with shopping while watching Netflix. Now I’m reading again. And a lot. I remember that I can, in fact, read a book in a week (or less!) if I use my time wisely. My brain cells are reactivating as a result. I’ve spent more time working on leisure activities that I enjoy, that stretch me, and that result in something tangible. Knitting! It’s a much more satisfying way to end up with clothing, by crafting it yourself.

As I distanced myself from the trends in shop windows, I stopped comparing what I (and others) were wearing to see if they measured up to those displays or the latest magazine spread. The majority of us will never find our fashion choices being rated in a “top 10 looks” feature in a glossy magazine. No one remembers what the heck I wore yesterday, last week, or last month. No one cares!

And I still get to flex my creativity and personal style by mixing and matching existing items in my closet rather than buying a ready-made outfit that ten other people at the restaurant are also wearing. My priorities rebalanced and I started tuning in more to what people said and did, rather than making snap judgments based on their clothes.

I can’t deny that I still get itchy to shop. But these cravings hit when I’m feeling anxious, angry, lonely or bored. Savvy marketers and our consumer culture had me thoughtlessly shopping to alleviate some uncomfortable feeling. Temporarily. By removing shopping from the equation, I discovered healthier solutions to these emotions — visiting a friend, walking in nature, getting to work rather than procrastinating. Now I’m saving money or spending it on experiences and the opportunity to connect with people.

If I had been shopping as retail therapy, that meant I was no longer buying things because I loved them. I didn’t desire their beauty or applaud the craftsmanship. My closet was filled with disposable fashion simply because it was “a bargain” or I could afford it. I didn’t like that image of myself— knowing that there are people who survive on less money per day than the value of my latest closet cast-off. I have the privilege of affording items that may cost a few dollars more and don’t contain hidden pleas of help stitched into the seams by the women who made them in a factory on the other side of the world.

I’m more mindful of how I can contribute to social change by actively choosing where I spend my money and time. It’s worth asking some key questions before mindlessly passing over my credit card: Do I truly need this? Is it built to last, made ethically or sustainably? Is there something I am willing to give up or go without to compensate for this purchase?

This new minimalism is good for me. When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, I’ll be thankful for going without in 2017. I like myself much more as a shopping divorcée.

Lisa Rostoks is a seasoned business communicator and public relations generalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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