The first week of January and adverts and social media posts are awash with new planners, fancy home organisational products, gym / diet plans and shiny new workout clothes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the fresh energy of a new year – reflecting and organising and thinking of what we have learnt and how we want to move forward in our lives – but it’s also made me think a lot about how we are sold so much ‘stuff’ with the idea of improving our lives – and how in continually accumulating things, we can actually do the opposite.
A few years ago, we’d have been the people battling the crowds in IKEA, desperate for more storage to make the stuff we’d accumulated that Christmas, and in the many years before, more manageable. We’d be the people buying sports clothes and workout gear in Decathlon thinking of our newer fitter, sportier selves. Planning expensive outings thinking they’d be the things that would give us more quality time with the kids. Stocking up on fancy new planners and thinking that this year would be the year I’d keep on top of shit better – and of course, the ‘stuff’ is what would help to make these things happen.
A disclaimer first, that if you truly need /use those things, or they will bring you joy or help towards your lasting change then of course indulge as much as you choose to! But the problem is, for a lot of us, I’m not sure they do and the cumulative effect of years of these patterns then ends up being a huge case of overwhelm.
In starting to understand my own relationship with buying stuff, I began to unpick the want for change and self improvement with marketers promises that their ‘things’ would make this possible. I realised that, if I truly wanted change in any area of my life, it would be as a result of taking tiny steps, making small changes and building habits, not buying a magical solution.
I began to acknowledge that there is also the financial burden of spending on things we don’t need or won’t use after a few weeks, the stuff burden of adding more things / clutter to our homes to deal with, the emotional burden of feeling obligated to keep doing something even if you no longer have an interest or desire to do it, or feeling like you have failed if you don’t manage to stick to something.
I started to ask myself before purchasing, when I felt myself getting pulled in: Do I want the stuff, or do I want an idea behind the stuff? (I.e if you are looking at extensive new storage for your kids already large toy collection, you likely want the idea of living in a more organised, easier to tidy up home – but in examining this further you might see that adding extra storage may actually add to the fact that you perhaps already have more stuff than you can handle and reasonably tidy up on a day to day basis, and more storage often means you can continue to add more and more without addressing the underlying issue – read here how less toys can improve quality of play).
The second thing I will ask myself is if the idea I want is based on a true move towards the life I want for myself, or on a passing feeling of stress / unhappiness / unworthiness / low mood. One of my own biggest triggers with shopping in the past were hard, long days on my own with the girls as babies and toddlers, where I’d see a new toy / product as a temporary fix to feeling burnt out and unsupported. Or I might find myself lusting after a new set of makeup (when I generally hardly wear any), or a new look / item of clothing, on a day I’m just feeling a bit low. My remedy in these cases in the years since realising this, is to recognise the fleeting nature of these feelings and to engage in some true self care, like a bath, a cup of my favourite tea, a Whatsapp natter with a friend, some quality time with husband, or my most effective cure – an early night in bed with a book and catching up on some sleeeep, knowing 99% of the time my feelings and associated wanting will have completely passed in the morning. Where issues are perhaps more deeply ingrained, I’ve also remedied this with some deeper healing work – maybe you need to ask for support, another example for me is deeper work around body image and diet culture – and reading through some of my favourite writers on the subject usually sorts me right out if I need a reminder to love and accept myself just as I am.
If I do have a change I truly want to make in my life, and I feel myself wanting a ‘thing’ to help me get there, I will consider if is there a free alternative so I can try to create this new idea, these new habits, without spending money and taking on extra stuff. A good example of this might be using Google Tasks or an online spreadsheet / tool instead of buying a specific budgeting or meal planning notebook, or trying out a free yoga channel on YouTube at home and seeing if you can and want to build the habit into your life before signing up to a block of classes and buying yourself a new drawer of yoga clothes. If I do need to buy something, I’ll also always try to buy secondhand so I know if it doesn’t serve me in a few weeks or months time I can pass it on and I haven’t lost much money or wasted resources in buying a new, packaged ‘thing’.
I also try to cultivate self compassion in realising that some habits take time, teeny tiny steps (more writing on this soon!) and multiple fails, learning, trying and trying again to establish true change. I also acknowledge and affirm to myself that quitting / changing your mind or your priorities or interests at any point is fine, and allow myself to let go of ideas, without guilt, if I feel they no longer serve me. You don’t need to hold onto your running trainers for another 5 years if running really isn’t your bag- let someone else make use of them and make space in your life for something that better serves you to come along.