Stop buying stuff, you crazy kid!

Monday, July 31, 2017

You can buy the exact right combination of things – the perfect pair of jeans, a brand new phone, that very specific eyelash plumping mascara that costs $72 because it’s got that name in nice font on the side – and you will be complete. You will be sure of yourself. You will be beautiful. You will fit in.

You have been very effectively programmed. Thank you, advertising. Sometimes, you’re more effective than religion.

I don’t have these thoughts consciously anymore. I did when I was twelve, though. I genuinely believed black skinny jeans and high-tops would make me into some sort of tough, cool, emo teenager. They did not. Even once you’re aware that buying things will not change you, there’s still this sort of urge – this sense that you need to buy things – for the status! To be better-looking! To keep up with your peers! That weird pull; the feeling that you are just one purchase away from perfection. (But we all know the truth is that no matter how much clothing you have, it never seems like enough, and it can’t really instil any confidence in the cripplingly awkward.)

More is not better. There’s a certain point at which some specific thing you longed to buy stops being desirable, and it’s very shortly after you buy it. The sheen wears off. A new possession does not change you in any way, apart from making you a little bit poorer. And this specific thing is lumped in with all your other clothes in the corner of your room, or tucked away in the bathroom cupboard alongside all the other things you wanted so very badly, or shoved to the back of the closet to gather dust.

And it becomes stuff. Stuff is different to things. You don’t buy stuff. Stuff hangs around and gets in the way. It gets cobwebby, or becomes musty, or just goes out-of-date. Stuff eventually gets given away, or thrown out. Eventually it ends up on a rubbish tip somewhere. By this stage you’re focused on the next thing that will complete you, and you don’t think about that old stuff and where it ends up anymore.

I am not suggesting that you immediately cease purchasing things altogether and convert to freeganism (won’t someone think of the economy?!) but I think we can all benefit from thinking a bit more critically about what motivates our purchases. Mindlessly buying into consumer culture is probably not the greatest idea – the immediate gratification is an addictive thrill, but the joy of a new purchase is not a lasting one.

The more you get caught up in this cycle, the more your life is dedicated to the acquisition of money to spend on all of these things, and if that’s the sort of life you’d like, that’s fine! I’d much rather try to tackle these things head on – think critically about how advertising influences me, cut back on the things I buy to things I truly need – and have more freedom, and time. Be less distracted from the things that actually matter, like, for instance, other humans I like? Following my dreams? Which, you know, generally don’t involve the purchase of skinny jeans.

Whenever you want to buy something, think realistically about how much you’ll use it (maybe work out cost per wear, if you’re keen on maths), whether something else you own can serve its role, where it’ll eventually end up. Don’t default to shopping when you feel sad or bored. Remind yourself that acquiring things doesn’t change you, only you can do that – and you’re pretty alright at the moment anyway. Think about what experiences that money could pay for instead.

Challenge yourself not to buy anything new for a week. Luxuriate in your radicalness! You’re practically destablising capitalism, you crazy kid.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.
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