conscious consumer sustainability sustainable lifestyle

What Is Your Relationship With Stuff?

I still keep clothes from my crazy 20’s only because they remind me of some fun and important adventures. I’m attached to those items because I loved these experiences so much that just thinking about having to let go of those things is too painful. Emotional attachment to stuff is real and can be very powerful, especially if it replaces our connection with others or begins to control our decisions, affecting our everyday life.

I’m a firm believer in moderation in life; there is nothing wrong with collecting a little bit of stuff that has emotional significance. However, emotional buying can only recreate the temporary happiness and peace of mind. If purchasing gets out of hand, clutter creeps in, introducing brain fog, confusion and inability to think creatively.

For example, for years I had my son’s kindergarten art displayed in our living room. A few weeks ago I decided to put it away because it was becoming too dusty, at least that was my excuse to deal with that. The moment I tidied up that part of the living room, it “magically” became brighter and somehow lighter. Now, when I look at that spot, I see clarity, while before it was just unnecessarily busy, adding to my brain clutter.

Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash

As much as I wanted to hold on to my growing son’s early childhood, I needed to make room for growing and changing teenage M. That physical de-cluttering gave me the clarity of mind I needed to accommodate and hold space for his growing needs.

Every time I go to my mum’s house for the summer, I obsessively and systematically try to de-clutter her home. However, only recently, I noticed her strong emotional attachment to all that stuff. I realized that holding on to all those items had nothing to do with the material possessions but with feelings and emotions those objects evoked in her.

When I asked my mum, whether I could dispose of old beauty products, some of which was when my sister and I were in high school, I saw a sadness in her eyes for a brief moment. In her eyes/mind, I was disposing of her memories, trumpeting all over her emotions attached to those beauty products from the past. She had a lot of herself invested in all those things without even realizing that.

In the world of clever marketers and advertising executives, whose only objective is to sell more and more crap, the human need for happiness and connection is highly exploited. The forever evolving adverts scream at us: You Need That, You Are Not Enough Without… To Be Part of the Club, You Need…

So, people easily get attached to what they buy, hoping that miraculously their lives will turn around and suddenly they will belong, find their tribe and their people. People invest a lot of financial and emotional resources during the process of buying. But owning objects hardly ever bring happiness.

As a society, we have known for years that buying more isn’t the way to solve our emotional needs. But we still do it and are easily manipulated into thinking that our belongings represent the class we aspire to belong to or the level of happiness we experience.

Objects should never replace memories and daily human connection, regardless of how much the marketers try to convince us they would or could.

Stuff is just stuff; it cannot make us happy or enough. Useful and practical things can make our lives easier but not happier. They can also make our lives cluttered, which leads to unhappiness and incapability of taking charge of our lives.

Since 2021 is the year of de-cluttering and the year of sustainable change, I decided that from now on, until the rest of my life I buy everything long-lasting. Before every major purchase, I’ll ask myself the following questions:

How long do I intend to use it for? — If the answer is “just once” I won’t buy it.

Do I really need it? — Giving myself a day or a week to decide will allow me to see if this new thing will make my life easier or positively contribute to my life.

How does the price reflect the quality? — From my experience, if something is too cheap, the quality is not high. There is a reason something costs £1 instead of £10. The positive side of being a consumer, spotting differences in quality become like second nature over time.

Is it recyclable and sustainable? — Will I be able to recycle the packages or dispose of the item if it breaks down or somehow falls apart? Or possibly will I be able to fix it?

I hate buying anything that lasts a season or less. Once I dispose of it, I know that it will end up in a dumpster somewhere around the world. Hence I know that my shopping decisions need to be very conscious and triggered only by need and necessity.

However, as long as people will attach strong emotions to items, such as happiness, feeling wanted/needed, searching for social approval, they will keep on buying, while the marketers will keep on finding even more sophisticated ways of making people feel inadequate. Social media and celebrity throw-away culture is indeed setting unhealthy and destructive trends. You cannot fight global pollution while promoting cheaply mass-produced products, insisting that your followers need them.

Rejecting that type of marketing message is vital in the process of creating a sustainable life. Owning stuff doesn’t make us wealthier in the emotional or financial sense. For me, spending time with my family and friends, having a job I love, and truly relaxing and unwinding without feeling the social and financial pressure is what happiness is all about.

Saying “no” to fast fashion, gadgets and status buys will free not only our minds but also our wallets won’t have to stretch too far. Instead of obsessively buying new stuff and upgrading the “old” one, we should strive to empower ourselves to build up our stash and investment portfolio. Those deliberate, conscious actions can create long-lasting real freedom.

I realize that human relationship with things is unusually complex and shift of consciousness takes time. That is why 2021 is a perfect year to start a global movement towards sustainable social change.

After stressful and emotionally draining 2020, we all need to stand up for the environment, the Rainforest and all the amazing species that live on our wonderful planet. If we don’t stop destroying this planet by buying our way into happiness (to accommodate consumers needs, corporations need to eradicate more of our planets natural resources), you can bet that more deadly and vicious pandemics will come our way.

Suppose we don’t shift our relationship with stuff and start genuinely connecting with people and the environment surrounding us. In that case, the marketers will keep on making the 0.1% even wealthier, while knowingly destroying Earth’s limited recourses.

Collectively we need to stop associating having stuff with happiness, success and lovability.

In my 20’s I had lots of stuff, but that were the times I was the most miserable. It’s not going to be easy to question every single thing I want to purchase. I would need to think ahead and wonder about its purpose, what I would do with it, and how long I could use it for. But I would rather question my decisions than have an influencer or celebrity tell me that to be enough or accepted in the group I need to buy, spend and own more than I’ll ever need.

We are all enough without all the extra clutter that only weighs us down, limits our possibilities and deprives us of fantastic opportunities we could have had if it wasn’t for the constant need to spend.