Guest Post for That Minimal Life

Claudia Winkler, guest author

This guest post on becoming conscious consumers is written by the amazing Claudia Winkler. Claudia is a Professional Organizer, founder of Wow! Organized! LLC, and helps her clients to declutter, unpack, and/or get organized — taking her clients from Woe to Wow!

As a Professional Organizer for over five years, I have encountered all kinds of situations with clients and their “stuff” – what they have, how to sort it, how to organize it, how to store it, how to sell, donate or discard it, and more importantly, why they have all that “stuff” in the first place.

A lot of time and money is spent managing our stuff. Not to mention all the money and resources spent on advertising, manufacturing, shipping and finally disposing of all that stuff.   It’s become so easy to bring things into our homes that we really don’t give it a second thought, until something forces us to face the reality of our choices.

Maybe it’s when we are no longer able to find what we need when we need it.  Or our stuff begins to negatively impact our relationships with whom we live. Or we have way more than we or our loved ones need, or could ever use, and we’re still not content. Or we’re going into debt because of over-purchasing.  Or the neighbors start making comments about how often the Amazon and UPS trucks stop at your house and the recycling bins can’t hold all those delivered boxes. Or you find bags of purchases throughout your home that you never got around to putting away after you got home. Or, more importantly, maybe you’re not doing the things you’d rather be doing, because you have to deal with all your stuff.  

You may have gone from owning stuff, to discovering that your STUFF is owning YOU.

How did we go from a society that prided itself on making thoughtful purchases — when we were “conscious consumers,” careful about how we spent our money, when we bought high quality items that were built to last, and purchased items that had special meaning to us (thinking “quality vs quantity”), — to a society bent on chasing the newest and brightest object, like a cat chasing a laser light pointer, and leaving an ever-widening path of debris in our wake?  A society where we’ll never reach the finish line because there will always be a new product, a new design, a new use, a new color, a new version, a new accessory, a new “must have”, and/or a new trend to make us run faster on the treadmill of consumption… 

The Switch from Conscious Consumers to Habitual Shoppers

row of five paper shopping bags filled with various purchases

There are probably several factors at play that have changed the shopping experience for most of us.  Mass production and cheap labor make it easy to create an over-abundance of cheap options for us to choose from on a continual basis. Fast changing tastes make what was once appreciated, no longer valued.  The easy availability of buying on credit means we can buy to our heart’s content without a second thought, even if we don’t have the money budgeted for a purchase or the money to pay for it. 

Marketing experts have studied shoppers and are constantly coming up with clever ways to separate us from our hard-earned money. Whether it’s the constant bombardment of advertisements and overwhelming messaging everywhere we look, to limited time offers, incentives to “save money when you spend more money,” weekly catalogs, coupons that never expire and which we collect until they explode out of a kitchen drawer, social media influencers who swear by the latest product you just have to have, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the allure of the latest and greatest — the list goes on.  

The ease with which we can purchase things and have them delivered to our front door makes every day feel like Christmas, and who wouldn’t want that feeling every day?

The creation of bulk buying stores has led us to believe that if one is good, then ten must be better.  Believing that buying everything that our children want and then some is going to make them happy or make them love us more, but really, all they want is for us to spend more time with them creating memories.  

As I said in the eulogy for my dad,

“I couldn’t tell you what my dad bought me for Christmas when I was 12 or what he gave me for my eighth birthday.  But I’ll never forget the morning he woke me up, telling me to grab my robe and come outside Right Away!!!  He brought me into the middle of the back yard, where surrounding us was the most spectacular 360-degree sunrise I have ever had the fortune of experiencing in my entire life.  We just stood there, together, side by side, in complete silence, turning in slow circles, absorbing this once-in-a-lifetime gift, more impressive than any 3-D movie ever produced and it was free for the showing.”

The Consequences of Mindless Purchasing

woman moving boxes and shopping bags cluttering her room

Rather than creating a personal identity on who we are, what we do, what we have experienced, and how we contribute to our community, we’re using our stuff to define us.  Parents believe their children will want their stuff, but they often don’t, because that stuff is not their children’s identity.  

The damaging consequences of mindless purchasing impacts our society and our environment. With so much stuff, then nothing is special anymore. Because merchandise is becoming less and less expensive, it’s also becoming of cheaper and cheaper quality, so that much of what we buy is temporary and disposable. 

But where does it go when we discard it?  Space for landfills is not endless and that stuff doesn’t ever really decompose.  

Can we feel good donating the stuff?  Honestly, donation centers are becoming so overwhelmed with bags and bags of drop-offs that they are getting extremely selective about what they will accept, with much of the items being discarded because they are in poor shape. And if the items were so inexpensive in the first place, shoppers usually feel they can just pay a few more dollars to buy the same item for new rather than buy used.  

Can we sell our excess stuff?  Again, what was once valuable (such as solid oak furniture, china and silverware, or fancy doll collections) is considered worthless because no one wants these things anymore, even as a donation.

So, How Do We Become Conscious Consumers Once More?

woman trying to be a conscious consumer by comparing two shirts in her hands while debating purchase

So how can you break this cycle of  mindless and sometimes even addictive consumption? Begin asking yourself what motivates you whenever you make a purchase.

  • Is it a conscious decision or more of a momentary impulse? 
  • Is it the thrill of the deal or the excitement of the chase? 
  • Is it because you’re bored, anxious or depressed?
  • Is it pressure from your peers?
  • Is shopping a hobby or a form of entertainment? 
  • Is bringing that package, box or bag into your home filling some emotional need that’s not getting met elsewhere? 
  • Is it because it’s cheap and you can just toss it if you don’t use it?
  • Is it because you are coming from a place of scarcity and are compensating for an earlier lack? 
  • Are you an extreme couponer who has so much product and saved so much money, but now you’re spending that money to make space for your finds?
  • Are you buying to impress someone?

The questions above and the suggestions below are KEY to becoming conscious consumers once more.

  • Think about the life you really want to have and consider whether every purchase will contribute to making that happen. 
  • Think about where the item came from and consider finding another product whose source is closer to home. 
  • Think about how long you intend to hold on to that purchase, and explore whether buying used for a short term use item might make better sense than buying new. 
  • Think about how often you will realistically use something and explore whether setting up a sharing network in your neighborhood might be beneficial. 
  • Think about the negative consequences of overbuying: emotional, financial, social, relationship difficulties or even the impact on the environment– whether from creating the product on the front end or from disposing of the product on the back end.

To avoid the temptation of over-buying in the first place, there are a number of things you can do to limit exposure to those messages that we “need” all these items. 

If you do have to shop, bring a list, stick to it, limit the number of stores you visit and the amount of time you spend shopping. Cancel catalogs and throw out the ones that appear, unread, and unopened.  Avoid shopping channels. Skip the magazines, which are becoming nothing but advertisements, even the editorial articles. Be alert to envy and anxiety–  You can’t buy the feelings that advertising promises. Unsubscribe from sites that entice you to shop.  When a store requires you to submit an email address, create one that is only for shopping sites and one you don’t look at throughout the day, so you eliminate the temptation to see the latest deals. 

And if you really feel the need to buy something, then commit to getting rid of something you already own to make room for the new item.  This action makes us stop and think about what we really want in our home. Replace the shopping experience with another experience that will have a lower impact, on your budget, your home, and the environment.  Use that time to build memories which never get old, worn out or out-dated. Consider when you sit around with your friends, do you talk about the stuff you own or do you tell stories about your life, your experiences, or your shared memories?  

As April Lee Benson, Ph.D. stated,

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”

Your Journey as a Conscious Consumer Begins Here

another woman trying to be a conscious consumer, holding her credit card while looking at her computer

As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so increasing your awareness of what’s motivating you before you make a purchase and being more thoughtful about how you spend your money, could save you money, space, time, grief, and even the environment.  Consider the questions posed in this article before pulling out your wallet (credit card) and you might be surprised how your shopping habits and your life might change, for the better. 

About the Author

featured author, Claudia Winkler

Claudia Winkler is a Professional Organizer and Owner of WOW! Organized! LLC since 2016. She helps her clients, who are often overwhelmed, to declutter, unpack, get organized, and get from Woe to WOW! Claudia is a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and the Colorado Chapter of NAPO for which she serves on their Board and is the Director of Technology and Communication.  For more information about her services, visit www.WowOrganized.com or contact her at Claudia@WowOrganized.com. To receive an exclusive discount from Claudia (and many more community partners here with TML), and to take your sustainable living journey to the next level, sign up for coaching with me!