Here we are in a new year, and please tell me where the last two months have gone!! I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who relish in the new year. I have met a lot of people who say they don’t make New Years resolutions; they don’t need a marked time of new beginnings. If they want to make changes they will simply do so, regardless of the year, month, or which zodiac sign is currently dominating the gravity pull of the crescent moon tide (I obviously have no idea how that works.) But I absolutely love the New Year. I think it’s because I indulge in self reflection and goal making. I’m pretty big on personal growth and I find the New Year to be the greatest excuse to reflect back upon a marked and socially agreed upon period of time. I like that cultures have New Years celebrations. I like that people get together to celebrate with other humans a certain amount of time they all acknowledge as having happened and now coming to an end. If we all just propelled perpetually into the future without marking any milestones, I think my chronic existential crises would be even more hyperactive than it already is.
There is nothing wrong about wanting to be surrounded by beautiful things. It gives us a sense of belonging and can be a physical manifestation of our personal aesthetic.
A couple of months ago, we in much of the Western World celebrated the Gregorian New Year. The socially agreed upon end of what we called the year 2018, and the socially agreed upon start of what we call 2019. So resolution-maker or not, we can all agree that something changed. And I like that. Agreeing is nice. Don’t you agree?
2018 was a pretty exciting and fulfilling year. I traveled around on three different continents, lived three months in my van with my husband, had some dreamy adventures, and also worked hard on taking care of myself. Something that became increasingly clear to me throughout the year, and most especially after three months in a van, is how I need so much less than our fast-paced society would lead me to believe. Our society is in great danger of soothing our emotional needs with things. It’s not that I think having material possessions is suddenly more desirable than in years past. We humans have always relied on material possessions for a wide range of reasons; valid reasons, too! Objects give us feelings of comfort, beauty, status, nostalgia, convenience, sentiment, identity, etc, etc, the list goes on! I think it is both deep within our nature, and perfectly acceptable, that we like things. However, our means of acquiring the things we want has become frightfully easy and often to our detriment. These days, we can potentially have whatever we want, even if we can’t afford it. Put it on the credit card. Look for a cheaper knock-off version. Look for a knock-off of the knock-off. Spend money that should go towards bills or rent. Steal it! Ok no, I took it one too far…..
Very little in our society prevents us or discourages us from having an excess of things. This is evidenced by the massive success of Marie Kondo’s ‘’Tidying Up’’ on Netflix. There is SO MUCH STUFF out there, and we’re conditioned to want to hoard all the metaphorical milk cartons. And also all the literal milk cartons. It is stressful!
Of course, there are upsides and downsides to stuff. There is nothing wrong about wanting to be surrounded by beautiful things, wear trendy clothes, buy trinkets, cosmetics, etc. It gives us a sense of belonging and can be a physical manifestation of our personal aesthetic. I wrote about the primal human need for beauty last year. (Fostering That Human Need For Beauty). I believe we are hard-wired to crave beauty, and our species will be obsessed with beautiful things until the end of time. But the downside I want to examine is the practice of self-soothing by habitually making many small impulse buys and that happy high we get as a result. (You might know it by its street name, Retail Therapy) This high is not an abnormal reaction to making purchases. Of course we get excited when we buy. It wasn’t ours, and now it IS! Mind. Blown.
Choosing to own things we really love and enhance our lives brings joy and purpose to our belongings.
They live through so much with us, and become our friends over time.
However, retail therapy should not be a replacement for self-care. We should be taking a deeper look at what void we are trying to fill when we buy a product we either don’t need, are only planning on using a couple times, or already have various versions of. Unfortunately, mental health is a taboo in our society and retail therapy is not, therefore making our need for consuming things a vicious circle as we are encouraged to buy shit instead of deal with our shit.
Habitually buying unnecessary things for fleeting comfort is not a sustainable way to become the best version of ourselves. It is replacing mental health and self care with retail therapy or distractions. It is also part of a global problem of mass consumption which is overwhelming landfills, killing our oceans, and exploiting human labor. Everything we own has cost somebody something. We need to be mindful of what we buy, not only for the sake of our world, but for our mental health! Stuff can become overwhelming, and I am easily overwhelmed in general (hello, chronic anxiety!). So before I buy something, I like to ask myself these two questions:
ONE: Will I utilize this product to the end of its lifecycle, honoring the materials, resources, and human labor that went into making it? Do I believe that having this item will solve a problem related to the function of the item? For example, I have dry skin and I would like a bottle of delicious smelling lotion because my last bottle ran out. This product will solve my problem of dry skin that smells like skin and give me moist skin that smells like anything other than skin.
TWO: Am I buying this item to self-soothe, or as a bandaid for a current emotional or mental state of being? Do I believe that having this item will solve a problem unrelated to the function of the item? For example, I have 31 bottles of delicious smelling lotion at home, but have been dealing with feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and lack of self-care. I am counting on this lotion to finally be the bottle that will make me feel secure, lovable, and solve the deeper state of current issues in my life. My skin has not smelled like skin in a very long time.
We can all agree that buying something we like and want feels good. (Remember how much I said I love agreeing?) But as our surroundings become more inundated with easily accessible stuff, available at a price range it’s hard to say no to, we should be mindful of the effect this stuff has on our health, our environment, and our future.
I am looking forward to this year of 2019 on the Gregorian Calendar as I continue my resolution to pursue mental health and a less-is-more lifestyle. Let us unapologetically fill our lives with things that hold sentiment, value, and purpose, while saying no to the habits and preoccupations that fill our lives with stuff.
Won’t you join me?
See you soon