I have a reoccurring nightmare when you die that you are confronted by everything you ever bought as a massive pile in a stinking landfill. A whole towering pile of plastic shoes, stringy vests and fancy dresses…I often wake up at night imagine being trapped under it unable to breathe.
It started October 2016, not a conscious act of rebellion but a small change of economic means, a way of saving money by not shopping. Not overnight and not completely, we all need to live, eat and function. But stop buying and accumulating the stuff that isn’t a necessity and having less by choice is something I have been working on since then. Progress has been made. My wardrobe is smaller despite getting out those clothes that were packed away in storage. But I have been again confronted by my self-created nightmare. I still have way more than I need.
I am a hoarder with emotional ties to objects and yet I am not one of those women who loves to shop. I love the feel of a newly purchased top, sparkly shoe, statement coat as much as anyone. I hold such good memories with clothes and see them as a way of decoding ones past through dubious fashion choices. Fortunately, (*checks privilege) I live in freedom enough to decide this for myself and not fall for the constant bombardment of images women and men face. A UK woman spends on average £70,294 on their appearance in their lifetime…yes, £70K. That’s £1,352 a year or £112.65 a month. £70K could buy a plot of land somewhere and make that self-sufficient dream come true.
I don’t think I ever fell into that category of spending, but when I was in my early 20s on my first (meagre) wage, I did spend a lot of money on clothes, and shoes, and handbags. (I can’t be alone in the phenomena of earning so little but not living in London meant I had loads of disposable income. It frightens me, where did all my money go?) The thrill of spending it on high-fashion, low-cost goods from Primark or H&M, where quality was an afterthought and all those mini-skirts, bo-ho noughties fashion, and party dresses have trailed around many parties and now long been recycled off or charity shopped. Sadly, these clothes are just fast-fashion-fads, made in dubious sweat shops, producing high pollutants in the atmosphere and most never get recycled. In more recent years I moved towards higher quality clothes in an effort to get my wear out of them. Zara, M&S for staples and second hand clothes for more interesting purchases that last longer, repurposing hand me downs and charity shop finds. I still get excited about my £100 second-hand wedding dress that made me look and feel like a millionaire. The landfill image as a thought alone has been enough to keep me away from the shops on my lunch hour, away from shops on the weekend, and from shifting through online browsers and click-bait shoes.
I think many of us are using purchasing things as an emotional prop, a browse online when feeling low grants an immediate hit, a sugar rush as you check out in 2 clicks to secure that delicious fabric print and high heel. Then another glow when the purchase turns up and you twirl around in it. Social media means we wear more outfits, but repeat them less frequently for fear of being shamed. That makes me sad.
My problem was that high always faded so quickly. I ran through a shopping centre a few weeks ago to go to the chemist and I saw whole families treating shopping as it is was a genuine joyful pursuit of their hard-earned leisure time. Maybe it is. The endless accumulation of material goods is something people aspire too. But when is enough, enough?
I don’t feel my changes are a revelation, more a slow evolution. A quiet adult acceptance of money and spending what I work for. I went completely without buying clothes or make up for 6 months and only bought 5 items of clothing in 2017 (jeans, replacement trainers as I’d ran them out, leathers sandals and 2 shirts). Note: I am really hoping Santa delivers me some new underwear! My trick has been to think about buying something for long enough the moment passes, like anticipation is often better than the event itself. Which is a bit like my desire to write…I mull over it so long the argument against is lost. I take out my battles here on the page. Down-sizing, shedding, getting rid of the extraneous word and thought. I don’t want you to think of me as a puritan nor shameless hippie. Just someone who thinks economically! It is hard to define necessity but that definition helps set boundaries– I do need a travel card to get to work. I need to feed myself but I don’t need to spend £7 on lunch or a £3 coffee. I have ‘finally’ trained my master-of-all-skills-husband to cut my hair instantly saving £45, incidentally I stopped colouring my hair a year ago now – I have cultivated a natural ‘ombre’ look. This isn’t all about appearances either.
In the year we finally spent 6 months living simply in Greece, we earned significantly less and yet lived more – swapping urban life for experiences and simplicity. Which is such a funny thing to admit isn’t – actively scaling back your earning potential marries quite well with stopping spending it on stuff you don’t need. Now we are back in London, the TV lies unplugged, books need to be read (library books encouraged) we make packed lunches, eat seasonal cheap food, shop sensibly and reduce wastage. All tiny little incremental steps.
Standing here almost at the dawn of 2018, with a pervasive global environmental and human crisis at our heels, so much of our consumption is in the endless pursuit of fulfillment and happiness – whole industries thrive on this need. I too seek happiness, but realise I won’t find that on the high street or in ‘self-help’ book or green juice diet.
For me, voluntary minimalism feels right in the season of excess and consumption. Clearing out, letting go and treasuring what we have. Because it is more always more than enough.