NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
This blog focuses mostly on the issues of buying and having too many clothes and what to do to address these concerns. But from time to time, I receive a comment or email from a reader asking about other types of overshopping. So I decided to address today’s post to the topic of the various types of overbuying and excessive accumulation in which many of us engage.
I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a shopaholic. Some of you are just looking to better manage your closets and cultivate more workable wardrobes. While not all of us overbuy clothes or even have packed closets, I’d venture to guess that most of us have some areas in which we over-consume or over-accumulate items. In this post, I share my personal examples, of which there are more than a few, and offer some tips that have helped me to pare down.
As with all of my posts, I invite you to chime in with your thoughts, questions, and suggestions. If you haven’t looked at the comments sections of my posts recently, I highly recommend that you do so. I am continually impressed by the heartfelt, informative, and insightful comments made by readers, and the contributions to my last post (on ideal wardrobe size) were no exception!
Magazines, Books, and Music, Oh My!
I’ve previously mentioned that I subscribe to more magazines than I have time to read, but I have other things that I overbuy besides magazines and clothing. In the same vein as magazines, there are books. Oh, how I love books! For many years, I whiled away countless hours browsing in bookstores, but sadly such establishments are now a dying breed. If there’s a “silver lining” to this recent development, it’s that my book buying slowed down as the brick and mortar stores closed their doors. However, as Amazon.com made it easier and easier to purchase books with a mere click of a mouse, it didn’t take me long to fill in the gaps – and my bookshelves!
I have a bit of a confession to make… I am an “information junkie”! I love to read about all sorts of topics, and this love of learning only served to fuel my book buying habit. Before long, the number of books I owned overtook the space I had for storing them. So I ended up buying more bookcases, storing books in piles or boxes, and basically over-cluttering my home. But much like my overshopping for clothing, my space concerns did very little to curtail my buying. I would purge excess books once in a while out of necessity, but it was more to make space for the new than to consciously let go of what I wasn’t using.
Back in the era of cassette tapes and compact discs, I accumulated more than my fair share of music as well. If I found a group whose sound I liked, I didn’t hesitate to buy up their entire musical anthology. I thought, “Why not? The more the merrier…” Of course, we can now easily stock up on music via iTunes without cluttering up our homes, but there can still be too much of a good thing (see this excellent Ted Talk on “The Paradox of Choice”).
Personal Care Product Overload
Then there were the beauty care products: cosmetics, skin care, hair care, the lot. I was forever searching for the magic lotions and potions which would somehow cure my perpetual dissatisfaction with the way I looked. I often shopped for these items in tandem with my clothes shopping. I’d shop when I was sad, overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, or any number of other unpleasant emotions. In many cases, buying a new lipstick or shampoo would give me that temporary boost of “happy” that I so deeply craved.
Often times, I’d use my new potion once or twice, only to rapidly become disillusioned by its lack of special powers. Alas, my skin was still blotchy, my hair was still frizzy, and I didn’t magically look ten years younger like the manufacturers had promised. Instead of realizing the folly of my ways, however, I simply believed I hadn’t yet found the right product. So I ventured back into the stores to try still more cosmetics, hair care products, and lotions and potions to help me feel beautiful – or even just acceptable. Since this type of satisfaction can only come from within, no matter how many products I bought, it was never enough.
Courses, Programs, and Expert Advice
Another area in which I’ve over-consumed relates to self-help programs, online courses, and “expert” advice. I’m always looking for new ways to learn, grow, and be the best possible person I can be, but the sheer volume of what I consume overwhelms me. There is simply no way I can ingest and incorporate the vast wealth of knowledge to which I avail myself. It’s just too much!
Not all of these things cost money, either. For one thing, I love reading blogs, but my blog list often grows to the point at which I can’t possibly read all of them. When things are free or cheap, the danger of consuming too much increases. It’s like what I described about the magazines. It seems like a “no-brainer” to subscribe to a magazine for just $12 per year, but the monetary cost should only be one factor in the buy or no buy decision process. We also need to consider our time, attention, and physical and mental space. Something may be a “great deal” or even free, but that doesn’t mean it’s prudent for our lives.
Lessons from “The Minimalists”
Which brings me to the advice I wish to offer on the topics of over-consumption and clutter… Actually, this advice does not originate from me. Some of you may be familiar with the blog, “The Minimalists.” Well, the writers of that blog, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, are currently on a cross-country book tour, and last week they stopped at my hometown of San Diego, California. My husband and I joined a packed crowd in one of the few remaining local bookstores to hear words of wisdom from two pioneers of the minimalism and simplicity movement.
Joshua and Ryan shared their story and how they came to embrace minimalism and start their blog, and they also read excerpts from their latest book and answered questions from the audience. Many of these questions related to the decision process for what to keep and what to let go of as one moves toward a simpler lifestyle. The Minimalists offered one key question we should ask ourselves as we consider the various items we own:
Does this add value to my life?”
This question is simple yet profound. Since the average American family has over 300,000 possessions (per The Minimalists in their talk), I can’t help but wonder how many of these things are really adding measurable value to their lives. Are they holding on to all of this “stuff” out of habit or obligation or because it’s truly useful and/or makes their hearts sing?
The “Minimalism Game” and Project 333
One method The Minimalists offer to help readers jettison excess possessions is something they term the “minimalism game.” In this game, you get rid of one item on the first of the month, two on the second day, three on the third day, and so on until you reach the end of the month. Now this may sound relatively easy, but it gets tougher as the month progresses. However, if you stick with it, by the end of a thirty day month, you’ll have released 465 unwanted and unneeded items from your home and your life.
Feeling energized and motivated after hearing The Minimalists’ inspiring talk, my husband and I decided to take on the minimalism game. Yet, rather than waiting until April 1st to begin, we started the very next day (March 26th). Even though we had to release 26 plus pieces each day this past week, we had little trouble making it happen. It’s surprising how much stuff we still own even though we’ve made a concerted effort to pare down in recent years.
If you feel overwhelmed and overloaded with stuff in your home, I highly recommend doing the “minimalism game.” It’s a simple and fun way to pare down your excess possessions and it’s already made a big difference for my husband and me. Since tomorrow marks the beginning of a new month, what better time to start?
Coincidentally, tomorrow is also the start of the next term of Project 333, the minimalist wardrobe challenge I’ve done twice and chronicled here on the blog. I’ve reduced the size of my wardrobe by half over the past year and Project 333 was instrumental in helping me make this change. If you’d like to learn more about Project 333, check out the rules for getting started or purchase the “Dress with Less” microcourse for additional information and support.
How I’ve Changed and Changes to Come
I’m happy to report that in addition to reducing the size of my wardrobe and the number of clothes I purchase, I’ve also made excellent progress in terms of the other things I’ve been known to overbuy. In recent months, I’ve made the following changes:
- Cancelled or neglected to renew a number of my magazine subscriptions
- Cut way back on the number of books I buy and shifted more toward buying Kindle books instead of hard copies
- Donated the majority of my excess beauty supplies to a local charity that accepts partially used products
- Cancelled many of my blog subscriptions, in particular those style blogs that often led me to feel “less than” and propelled me to shop more
That’s the good news, but the bad news is that I’m still suffering from “information overload.” Clearly, I need to scale back a lot more if I want to experience the inner peace and calm I so desperately crave. I need to let go of my FOMO (fear of missing out) and trust that I can always find the information I need when I actually need it.
The Bottom Line
I think that the underlying feelings which fuel our overshopping for clothes can also underlie our other types of over-consumption. Whether it’s trying to escape negative feelings or striving to be good enough, there will always be products out there that we can buy to numb the pain or quell the anxiety. But we have to ask ourselves what our behavior is costing us. The Minimalists said that every one of our possessions costs us a little bit of our freedom, and I think they’re right.
I know that my overstuffed closet and cluttered bookshelves didn’t make me feel better about my life. Many of my possessions were not adding value to my life; rather, they were costing me my peace and freedom, one bit at a time. As I take the time to evaluate what is contributing to my life and what is either taking away from it or merely taking up space, I regain more and more of my power. I am feeling freer and more in control of my life as I buy less and release what’s not bringing me joy.
None of us can control all aspects of our lives. As for me, I still suffer from debilitating health issues, I still feel lonely and disconnected much of the time, and I continue to struggle with deep philosophical questions about my place in this world and my path in life. I don’t know how to turn all of these things around. In some cases, I have little clue as to what to do next. But as I simplify my life, I feel calmer, more centered, and increasingly hopeful about the future. I can’t guarantee that the same thing will happen for you, but I urge you to give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised at how it works out for you!
This post got much deeper and more philosophical than I originally intended, but I never know where my creative muse will lead me. I hope you received some value from my thoughts – and those of The Minimalist – on these topics. If you have anything you’d like to share on the topics of over-consumption, minimalism, and simplification, please add your thoughts in the comments section of this post.