In this 24/7 world where consumption of information, experiences and objects often feels as if it is consuming us, Natacha Cole offers us a mindful consumption practice to untangle ourselves from this compulsive consumptive system with a “less is more” ethos.
Natcha Cole is a freelance writer, former professional makeup artist, and an advocate of cruelty-free cosmetics.
We are continuously being marketed to from the time we wake up in the morning and glimpse at our glowing screens to the time we fall asleep after we’ve conquered the day. Overt and subliminal marketing techniques have been perfected over thousands of years and when combined with the rise of influencer marketing, it’s sometimes difficult to not acquiesce and purchase the latest pretty new thing.
Whether it’s seasonal fashion trends, limited edition beauty products, or the latest technology innovations to grace the market, we might think we’re in control of our shopping impulses and justifications of why we need this or that, but more often than not—are we simply confusing need with want? By definition, need, can be “circumstances in which something is necessary” and want, can be “a desire for something”.
I think this possible confusion is an indication that a slowed down approach towards our purchasing habits is required. We are now able to do a great amount of research in order to be the most informed consumer, but perhaps it’s time to take our research savvy skills to the next level and delve a little deeper within ourselves.
Mindfulness is important because it is a state of awareness which permits the opportunity to observe and understand the reasons behind our purchases. Those reasons can vary and sometimes include, but are not limited to, being overly susceptible to marketing, external motivations, and the simple basic need for the item.
With the instant and constant connection we have through our devices, marketing tactics (from the frequency and mediums used) have reached a hyper level. This constant connection combined with the prospering and extraordinary rise of the influencer marketing industry, are among many reasons we are constantly being showed new products and tempted to purchase more than ever.
The influencer marketing industry (which is increasingly overtaking its traditional counterpart) is creating an amazing space for itself and—as the name suggests—has the objective to influence. Whether it’s a self-imposed mandate by the influencer or one given by a brand for a collaboration—the majority of the time, selling is the goal.
In some cases, influencers have become an invaluable source of information prior to making a purchase decision and their entrepreneurial spirit and hard work should be rewarded. When you are in the market for something, I encourage you to show your support by using influencer affiliate links, referral codes, etc. However, if you’re only tempted to purchase a new handbag because it was in your favourite Instagrammer’s post and do not necessarily need one—then perhaps take a moment to examine that temptation.
It is up to those who are the readers, viewers, and followers, to understand what influencers do. Just like traditional marketing (television commercials, magazine ads, etc.), influencers are another way brands are reaching their target audience and as a consumer it is important to be aware of that.
Some people try to project a certain lifestyle, which may or may not always be accurate, and now we are able to bare witness to that online. An external motivation (also known as an extrinsic motivation) is when a person looks for a reward or satisfaction from a source outside of themselves and conspicuous consumption can be considered an example of that. In order for a person to generate envy or praise from others, they will purchase expensive items and by definition, conspicuous consumption means “consumption of luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance one's prestige”. For those who suspect they might have an issue with conspicuous consumption, it might be beneficial to take some time to analyze why it is important to project a certain image and impress others, especially if you are purchasing outside of your means.
Another example of an external motivation is to satisfy an emotional state with a temporary solution. If someone is sad, a new pair of sunglasses might temporarily pacify that sadness, but afterwards the core issue of that feeling will still be there and will manifest again until it is resolved.
When it is time to shop, mindful consumerism also gives us the opportunity to purchase thoughtfully and reduce the negative environmental impact that is associated with overconsumption. Depending on what item you need and the reason for the purchase, before looking for a brand new option, there are a two things I hope you will consider. First, verify if the item can be repaired; and secondly, consider buying a second hand version because it can be just as a good or better than a new one.
Furthermore, consider the price of an item—if the price is too good to be true, then it probably is. Fast fashion is notorious for offering a high turnover of disposable clothing at extremely low prices. It’s important to think beyond these low prices and question how that is possible. From human rights issues for garment workers to the rapidly increasing levels of textile waste, water pollution, and use of toxic chemicals—these are more reasons why a change is needed towards our purchasing habits.
There are many impressive sustainable brands available now and even though the higher price point can be a reason for shoppers to hesitate, it is important to support brands that are making a difference in the fashion industry. An ethically made t-shirt might cost more than its fast fashion version, but perhaps buying a few high-quality items instead of a dozen inferior ones can work just as well for your wardrobe and wallet—as the saying goes: quality is better than quantity.
I highly recommend watching Andrew Morgan’s documentary, The True Cost, which provides insight into the fast fashion industry; from the people and places involved to the impact on the environment. In the interest of learning new tips on how I can continue to make a difference, I’m looking forward to reading the debut book by eco-style expert, Ashlee Piper: Give A Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save The Planet.
The fast pace of fashion is not unique; we now have fast beauty. Some cosmetic brands are releasing limited edition products at an accelerated rate where at times the product quality is lacking, packaging is undesirable, and the products appear to be a recycled variant of itself. There is also a lack of downtime for consumers to build up the desire for something new. It seems like once the latest overhyped beauty product is purchased, the newer one is being stocked on the shelves before there is time to unwrap the one recently bought.
Over time I’ve become more mindful and less mindless with my purchases. Although I am not perfect and sometimes still fall for the hype surrounding the latest pretty new thing, I have learned to pause and reflect before making the majority of my purchases. I have not regretted this slowed down version of shopping and more often than not, I’m grateful that I didn’t give in to a “want” masquerading as an artificial “need”.
Even before I worked as a makeup artist, I would lust over and purchase the latest eyeshadow palettes. Now when new palettes are released, I look fondly at them—but do not purchase. Since I do not work as a professional makeup artist any longer, I can realistically only use a certain amount of cosmetics by myself.
I also used to feel exhilarated when I would find sublime vintage items while treasure hunting at thrift stores, but I slowly started to appreciate and enjoy the clothing I already have and started to bring less and less items into my closet. Do I buy brand new things? I do, but not as often as I used to. One of the latest new items I bought was a pair of running shoes because I needed them—my old running shoes desperately needed to retire.
One final anecdote, I have been coveting a black nail polish for a while now (I ran out a few years ago and haven’t replaced it), but the other day, I nearly bought a pretty grey polish because it was on sale. As hard as it was, I was able to stop myself. I placed the pretty grey polish back on the shelf and when I returned home, I was happy I did when I saw the two similar grey polishes that I already own. Did I need another grey polish? No. Do I need a black polish? No, but I want one and since I’m in the market for a new black polish—I’ll give myself permission to purchase it.
The solution is to not stop buying, but rather to slow down and be mindful before you do.
Slow down. Be mindful.
Here are some questions that I find useful before making a purchase and I hope you will also:
Do I need or want this item? Why am I buying this item? Am I really going to use this item? Do I already own something similar? Who am I actually buying this item for?
 Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “need,” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/need.
 Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “want,” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/want.
 Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “conspicuous consumption,” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/conspicuous_consumption