A helpful reframing of consumerism

Today is Black Friday, which means there’s even more messaging than usual reminding us of how much we “need” and pressuring us to buy. I’ve definitely seen a lot of ads on social media that put me into a scarcity mindset and make me feel stressed out!

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve been grappling a bit with consumerism and my place in the capitalist economy. One internal move that I’ve been trying to cultivate in response to these ads (this week and before) was to remind myself of how the products being advertised to me were just fixtures aimed at making me feel dependent on my job and thus trapping me in the loop of consumption and exploitation. However, on many levels, this wasn’t actually a helpful thought.

People have many reasons for wanting to do something. When it comes to consumption, there are external reasons (e.g., advertising, social pressures) and internal reasons. Often the external reasons will create/feed into the internal reasons, but I think the core of all the internal reasons is that: We are all suffering. And we think that buying that one thing will make our lives better and thus make us feel happier. A lot of marketing has to do with facilitating the construction of that narrative in your head for the given product, but I think there is some truth to those thoughts and no longer want to act as if materialism is a purely negative capitalist mindset.

For instance, I was talking to my friend Sofia-Jeanne about accessories and clothing when I visited New York a few weeks ago. She said something that really resonated with me, about how, for a long time, she tried to not care about her appearance, because how she looks shouldn’t matter. But she stopped resisting when she realized that, even if she wanted to believe that her external state shouldn’t affect her internal state, it did—and expressing herself through her dress contributed to her confidence and the way she carried herself.

With that in mind, I think that, while it’s true that there are many things that we don’t need that are marketed to us as though we do, there are also a lot of things that we want that we genuinely believe will make our lives better somehow. (How accurate that belief is is something that may be best learned through trial and error. Life is short! And most places offer free returns anyways.)

After identifying the internal reason(s) for why I want something, it’s been really helpful for me to think, “I’m doing this because I want to help myself.” This thought is a gentle reminder that the externally-induced scarcity mindset and anxiety are not(!!) helping me, and allows me to maintain a healthier outlook towards consumerism and my consumption.

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

 

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

Given that much of the KonMari method has already entered the public consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book. Although I had expected it to serve as a how-to or even self-help book, I found a lot of value in taking it as a philosophical text. Kondō makes insightful points on materialism and presents a novel (to me) perspective on the purpose of tidying/maintaining tidiness. It can be tempting to view some of the practices she advocates, like asking whether or not things spark joy or thanking your belongings, as silly—hence the memes—but taking them in the overall context of the book reveals a fresh philosophy on how we can relate to our environment.

What is the purpose of tidiness? And of the objects that we surround ourselves with? In 1927, Le Corbusier answered, “A house is a machine for living in.” Even before I first heard this quote, I had already subscribed to a similar philosophy: the environment should be designed/organized to serve you, implying a service relationship between a person and their objects.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up not only re-imagines the potential of that relationship (“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”) but also establishes a convincing strategy for actually changing your life through revisiting the nature of this relationship. First of all, by going through the process of determining which of your objects spark joy, you train the muscle of actually discerning how you feel about things in general. The former allows you to create an environment filled with joy, while the latter gives you a new lens through which to view your career/relationships/etc. And secondly, by going through this process, our objects regain a sense of preciousness, which I think is really important in our Amazon Prime, fast fashion society. (Side note: this kind of reflection was one of the reasons I also found Princeton’s spring 2019 musical, We Were Everywhere, so thought-provoking and moving.)

Although I didn’t actually do a full KonMari Method declutter, the ideas underlying the method have stuck with me and are very much informing how I’m approaching e.g., decorating my new apartment. Overall, I really appreciated how this book caused me to reflect on the way my internal state affects and is affected by my external environment, and I highly recommend this book to folks interested in organization (and thinking about organization), as well as anyone looking to make a change in their life.