If you acquire less stuff, you have less to Marie Kondo out of your life later!
If I was going to give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be this. You know what’s better than having loads of shit? Not having loads of shit. Seriously. I used to acquire things – mainly inexpensive, bad quality clothes – indiscriminately. There was no sale I was immune to the powers of. No freebie I didn’t want. Maybe it’s Getting Old, maybe it was realising that I was surrounded by clothes I never wore and things I had zero connection to, but something changed. Fact is, we just don’t need all the stuff we tell ourselves we do – and hey, if you buy less, you’ll have less to get rid of when you ‘get your things in order’ a la Marie Kondo! So, to celebrate the new year, here’s my guide on how to buy less – and hopefully better – in 2019.
HAVE A GOAL, OPEN A SAVINGS ACCOUNT
Maybe you want to go on holiday. Maybe you want to quit your job and go freelance. Maybe you want to start saving with the hopes that when you’re 45 you might be able to get a mortgage on a studio flat in Zone 5. Having something to save towards will focus you on your journey to buying less shit. Trust me, once you have a goal in mind, even if it’s ‘to not be entirely skint at the end of the month’, it becomes a lot easier to realise what you want versus what you actually need. Use your goal to measure up purchases: yes you want a new dress, but do you want it enough to be £50 further away from your holiday?
AND WORK OUT WHAT YOU CAN REALISTICALLY PUT IN IT
If you are, like me, both an overachiever and a fucking loser who clearly has nothing better to do, go through a few months of bank statements to see what your average spend is on food, travel, etc. This is a deeply boring task, but from understanding your outgoings, you can work out where you can cut back – and how much you can afford to put away as a result. If you pick a random, overly ambitious number to save each month, you probably won’t be able to stick to it, and having to transfer money back from your savings account is not fun. Set a big goal, and smaller, realistic goals to help you get there.
IDENTIFY WHAT YOU THROW AWAY
Coffee cups! Plastic bottles! Those cotton pads you take your mascara off with! Looking at what you buy just to throw away is a good way to identify where you could be consuming less (and also feel like you’re doing something for our doomed, miserable planet). For example: I drink a lot of sparkling water because I like to feel like a bougie European rather than someone who lives in a council block where someone regularly sets the bins on fire, so instead of buying it by the litre daily I got a soda maker. Looking back at what you spent money on that didn’t really bring you value or happiness can also help – was it that disgracefully overpriced hot chocolate? The dress you panic-bought and wore once? The gram of coke at that weird house party? What’s done is done – don’t beat yourself up over money spent on this stuff, just bear it in mind for the future.
ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS
We’re all guilty of turning negative emotions into bad financial decisions. When I was writing my dissertation, I literally got so many packages sent to the library my bank thought my card had been frauded. The last time I got dumped I bought a load of (thankfully, already reduced and fully refundable) Margiela I absolutely did not need in an attempt to make myself feel better. In news that will surprise no one, it didn’t work! To help avoid these situations, I turn to this list of questions I got from Gaby Dunn’s extremely excellent Bad With Money podcast (now a book!). These simple Qs are so good at helping to stop you in your tracks before buying something for all the wrong reasons:
I got this list of questions to ask yourself before compulsively buying shit from @gabydunn's great podcast MAYBE THEY WILL BE HELPFUL FOR YOU TOO: 1. Why am I here? 2. How do I feel? 3. Do I need this? 4. What if I wait? 5. How will I pay for it? 6. Where will I put it?— Emma Hope Allwood (@emmahopeall) October 31, 2018
Remember, pressure never leads to good purchases. It’s like going to the supermarket hungry – if you’re spending because you’re stressed, or heartbroken, or think this new thing will magically take away your insecurities, try your hardest to make yourself wait until the emotion has passed.
PICTURE THE PERSON YOU WANT TO BE
This article isn’t about buying nothing at all – it’s about buying less. The thing that’s helped me the most with this is simple: I have one question I ask before I make pretty much any kind of purchase. “Is this the woman you want to be?” Yes, I know it sounds like a bad line from a B-grade film about a 45-year-old who embarks on a journey to Find Herself, but pausing to picture the future #goals version of myself that I’m working towards – and whether or not this new item I’m about to hand over cash for figures into that vision – helps me to build a life surrounded by things I actually want and love. A projector to watch movies at home that will bring me many hours of joy? Well worth it. A cheap dress that looked good on someone else on Instagram? “Put it down,” says future Emma, reclining sagely in her zone 5 studio flat which doesn’t come with a local arsonist.
IF YOU WANT IT, YOU CAN WAIT FOR IT
There are certain things The Woman I Want To Be owns: a great dining table. A custom made Lewis Leathers biker jacket which I will wear until long after my hair has a Susan Sontag-esque grey streak and such garb is generally considered inappropriate for a woman of my age. These things are trendless – in other words, they can wait. Thinking of ‘stuff’ as permanent – or at least, long-term – additions to a life I’m slowly building means I don’t get distracted by sales or buy anything that I don’t actually want, I save for the things I do. If you buy cheap, you probably buy twice – and think about it: why spend any money on something you’d be embarrassed to wear or own in six months time? Or that you wouldn’t want to take with you if you moved house?
“Thinking of ‘stuff’ as permanent – or at least, long-term – additions to a life I’m slowly building means I don’t get distracted by sales or buy anything that I don’t actually want, I save for the things I do”
REMOVE THE TEMPTATION
I basically grew up in Milton Keynes, a giant failed late modernist experiment in the form of a shopping centre disguised as a city. Buying shit was a leisure activity there. I’ve since learned of the perils of fast fashion, and decided that wherever possible, I won’t buy it. A big part of that was forcing myself to remove the temptation – I walk past a store, and I don’t go in. I unsubscribe from the daily emails offering me 20% off. I unfollow (and block) brands on Instagram, as well as influencers who are aggressively posting sponcon. It’s not just about cheap clothes – if I get invited to a sample sale, place of many of my bad buys, I generally try and force myself to stay home. My brain says: “What harm is there in looking?” but if you don’t know what you’re missing out on, you won’t be tempted into impulse-spending on a still overpriced, entirely impractical thing you don’t need.
DON’T LET SAVING MONEY RUIN YOUR LIFE
You might conclude from the above that I am a deeply boring person who sits at home washing her laundry with an Eco Egg, and you’d be right. But no one wants to be that person who is so crazy about not spending any money that they make themselves suffer. Having a social life, going to exhibitions, seeing movies, paying for a gym membership (assuming you can afford to) are all very worthy uses of cash (and don’t involve acquiring more stuff!). Also, don’t think you’ve failed if you do buy yourself a bougie hot chocolate one day. After all, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Happy 2019!