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Breaking away from Consumer Culture: The Wait Period

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Breaking away from Consumer Culture: The Wait Period

Sometimes the battle with our consumer culture at large can feel overwhelming and downright defeating. Everyday, we are presented with images of a better life, marketing that plays on our emotions and insecurities, and solutions that are presented that are supposed to bring us happiness and joy. Marketing is a whole aspect of business school and degrees that people can acquire and a field to become an expert in. Research on different demographics in mined by marketing and advertising departments to figure out what is going to work on who, and algorithms in our favourite apps and data collection about our preferences takes place (unseen) as we go about our day to day online and in our daily habits. We live in the age of the influencer as a whole career: the presentation of a life and desirable lifestyle in order to make us spend in our quest to have what they have. The amount of money being spent and hours of research to make sure that we spend our money is intimidating, and it is no wonder that we are no longer in control of it, even though it is our money, our time, our lives that are being studied so that things can be exactly tailored to keeping this giant machine running.

And really, it is on us as individuals alone to be able to have the power against all of this to be able to sidestep it all. It is incredibly freeing to be able to do that, but how

Firstly, I want to strongly point out that this is a huge system that is in place. This affects everyone. So many people struggle with this. Even when we want to do better, it can feel impossible. I have felt that. And I'm writing this blog post and trying to encourage you, while also having been crushed under it so, so many times. You do not have to do all of this in this moment. This is a long term thing, and it will get easier with time. It is very similar to setting boundaries - a very difficult thing to do at first, but then easier and easier over time until a place of feeling more in control of your life and more calm in your nervous system becomes a reality. You will get there! 

The best thing to do is to not expect perfection, but to aim for long term progress. Learning more about things behind the scenes of this capitalist system greatly helps, because it can give you the motivation to understand why choosing differently matters. Another excellent avenue that you can dive into is in reflection. Decluttering and minimalism is one thing - and it's a great thing, because it is not only more sustainable and freedom from so many other aspects of modern life - but, it is not really achievable long term if you're not doing the inner work behind it. The cycle of getting rid of things from your life will continue if the cycle of bringing new things into your life constantly does not change. So, understanding why we are bringing these things in that we do not need is essential. When decluttering, I have found that reflecting on the source of the items and the patterns and habits that are behind those purchases and those 'stuffs' helped me to realize what patterns and habits had to change. It wasn't until I did some addressing (and I really get into this in some of our other blog posts) of the hard stuff of the emotional aspects around repeated shopping and the insecurities that always got me to spend that any of it really changed.

But, there's another tool that I want to talk about and illustrate today that can help you start changing this now without having to have completed all of that inner work and reflecting.

The wait period!

If you've been around this space for a little while, you've heard me talk about and write about this. I found that even in doing some work on my own consumer patterns and the roots of why I was spending some of my money without really thinking were still tough to challenge in the moment. When it came to the "newly considered really awesome thing" I had a bit of anxiety whenever I made a purchase of not really being sure because I didn't really know for sure until later, when I would be trying to get rid of that thing. I wanted to slow the whole thing down and be sure. I realized over time that a wait period helped me make some of these decisions better.

What is a wait period?

A wait period is something that you set in place for yourself of whatever amount of time it takes to fully consider a new purchase. I find that in using a wait period, I avoid about 85% of the purchases I want to make in the moment when I first see or imagine something in my own life that seems incredible and perfect, and I am so happy for it. I have less entering my life, less to declutter, less to spend on, and a lessened environmental impact. When I do make a purchase, I feel like it is truly my decision, something that I actually need, follows what is authentic to me, follows my values, and a real treasure.

It feels empowering after such a long time feeling like things were out of my control, that I was just a cog going nowhere. 

Originally, this was something that had helped me declutter and let go of things. For example, I may have made a bag of clothing I no longer wore but felt hesitant to let go of all of these things I had paid for in case I needed them. I would put them in my basement and give myself a date (usually about six months away, but you can make your own date). When that date came, anything I actually needed would have been removed from the bag (which almost never happened). I didn't open the bag, I would just donate it, because I would start to second guess myself and then just repeat the pattern over and over again until I eventually finally got rid of the thing.

Over time, I grew to realize that I didn't need things I hadn't touched in "x" amount of time, as my relationship to material things started to change and feel less intense. I was able to sell things, give things to specific people I knew could use it, and make sure my decluttered items were taken to the very best place (meaning I could sort that bag out six months later and not try to keep all of it). Once we had our home for ten years (again, another number that meant something specific to me, but you can choose your periods), I had a fresh view on things we hadn't touched in over a decade, and was able to let go of those things as well. I found that there was something to this - time eases our attachment to things, and makes the decision to let something go easier. I wondered if it could work for purchases, too.

So, I began doing just that. I would put things in a cart, but not immediately check out. I would wait a week, or two weeks, or a month, depending on the item. In that period of time, more often than not, solutions that didn't involve consuming new things came into clarity. I would realize I had something else that could work (for example, a very similar piece of clothing that might be in that decluttered bag). If it wasn't something I needed long term, I thought of a person that I could just borrow it from (for example, a waffle iron for a Father's Day brunch). I would realize it might be something I could find for a fraction of the price second hand (like a backpack for my boys for school, or sleds and Lego sets on Marketplace). I would realize I knew someone in my own circle or community that I could get it from in a more sustainable, kinder way (like a holiday wreath from Crate and Barrel - this shifted to buying from my friend's mom who creates with things she upcycles and forages). Purchasing decisions, outside of everyday essentials and consumables, were slowed way down, and the initial excitement of something immediately would wane and I wouldn't really need most of what I had initially wanted. 

Over time and years, I realized that this helped me save a ton of money. Suddenly, I could afford the more sustainable and ethical options when it did come to purchasing an item, because my consumption had really slowed down. While I don't feel I am a perfect consumer by any means, I do feel that this has led to a much more intentional life and home and that feeling of peace has been worth it!

An Example: a Dog Bed Purchase

We didn't anticipate getting a puppy when we did, she sort of quickly entered our lives. While we were able to grab leashes, a crate, a smaller pillow, blankets, a few toys, and even dog bowls for Daisy from family members that offered them up, we didn't have a dog bed for her when she'd reached her full size.

Initial Buyer's Excitement: the Zara Bed

I hopped on my phone and looked up canvas dog beds and linen dog beds, aiming to start with some more sustainable fabrics. Of course, a beautiful option popped up right at the top in the shopping thread from Zara. A linen dog bed, for $170. That was expensive, and more than I wanted to pay, but it was large and linen, and I could remove and wash this cover. I even started to rationalize the price by telling myself I had gotten all these other dog items for free. The photos were perfect. I almost bought it right away, even with having not purchased anything from a fast fashion brand in a long time and feeling like I have my consumption under control. The initial excitement of the perfect thing and the chance to have the home in the photos is *that* intense. But I set my wait period.

The problems that I couldn't ignore didn't go away: the plastic fill. The new resources needed to make it: virgin plastics and linen and non-transparent sourcing that probably cut a bunch of corners and didn't pay the maker very well. The fast fashion brand I'd be supporting with my cash. None of this supported the future vision of the world I am hopeful for; but that didn't mean I could close that tab for what felt like a couple months. She stuck in my mind, and that's what happens to us - it's an intense thing.


The Next Idea: the Pet Shops in my Community

So, in trying to avoid fast fashion and big box shops, generally the answer is to look in your own community for an option and hopefully buy from an independent business. So, I tried looking locally. The dog beds were cheaper - closer to $100. But they still were plastic filled, not meant to last forever, bound for landfill, and these ones weren't even canvas or linen covers, but plastic fleeces. The brands weren't made in Canada, but in China, so I really wasn't solving the whole local sourcing problem with this option, either.

The Next Next Idea: Make One?

My next idea was to thrift a blanket and sew it into a big bean bag pillow situation and fill it was textiles that we didn't use any longer for whatever reason. We had some old towels and a pillow and some individual socks without partners and random rags and bits of fabric. This would solve my plastic fill problem, but finding a good canvas or thrifted blanket would be a challenge. I also had some major doubts that I would be able to make this is a way that would last long term, and I don't really have the skills to sew in a zipper to a thicker fabric. Plus, I would likely procrastinate and not do that with my time any time soon, and she needed a bigger bed. 

The Final Realization: the Etsy Linen Cover

The mulling over this led me to realize that there had to be someone that could make me a cover. I wanted to be able to wash it. I wanted it to be removable, and I wanted it to be able to be made of a fabric that was sustainable and would degrade someday. I realized I could just look this up on Etsy. And this is what happened; I got a linen dog bed cover with a heavy metal zipper of the exact size I needed. I stuffed it with out discarded textiles that I had been keeping around, not wanting to toss them (another great option being a few pillows from a thrift shop). And it cost me $64, and I paid the maker directly.

The wait period was about two weeks on this one, but the solution came to me slowly. I find that this is generally how it goes; with every realization that I didn't have to just buy the initial thing, my trust in the reality that we can slow things down and be more in control builds and builds.

When it gets tricky

Wait periods can get tricky when it involves "one of a kind" pieces and sales. I find that vintage can be this way: hard to pass up, because it might be the only one and that rare find that vintage lovers can come to regret leaving behind. Sales have the same energy - the decision needs to be made right now, and you might not have as much time to think and consider whether you really need it. These aspects of the purchasing process make you feel like you have to immediately decide, and a wait period may not be realistic. It can feel like it all falls apart. Here are some of my other tips to keep in mind when trying to shop more mindfully when there's some added pressure to decide:

- it might sound hokey, but if it's meant for you, it will be meant for you. If you have to buy anything with nervous anxious energy like a caffeine jitter, that's not the energy you want in your life to have control over your purchases. Every time I have lost out and waited, something better has come my way. Trust yourself.

- if you wouldn't pay the full price for something, you don't need it on sale. If waiting seems scary because you might not save enough money, really do some reflecting. Can you still return it? That way, you can still set the item aside and give yourself a bit of time to decide. If not, and the sale is huge, it usually is jittery energy that is bringing this decision forward to you - if you wouldn't pay that full price, leave it. Buying on sale can be great, but to really be in control, you'd want it before it went on sale and just waited for it to come on sale. 

- curate a list. If I find that I do need something replaced, or find a 'hole' in my closet (say I don't feel I have much to wear for a certain type of function), I create a small list on my phone. I know that I don't have to replace it immediately, but it can help me make decisions based on what I actually need, rather than another scarf or maxi dress or pair of earrings that I don't and won't actually wear in real life. If something is on your list and you find it, you can feel more confident that it has been a thoughtful venture and not another mindless purchase.

- try the 'one in, one out' consideration. If you're looking at a parka that you've just come upon in a shop, and it seems incredible, ask yourself if you would trade your current parka for this. If you'd rather have what you already own, you don't need this. You can only wear one parka at a time. They would serve the exact same function or purpose. You're not winning here if you buy this. This is a great way to consider if you're just buying something on sale, or if it is truly something that is special/truly needed and worth spending your money on.

- ask the salesperson to set it aside. So many small businesses will do this, the good ones aren't trying to steal ya cash. Sometimes they can't, but it is worth a try. Set it aside and go out for a short walk and get your mind clear on it. Sometimes when we are in a setting with a salesperson or friend pushing the sale or it's a new item that seems really amazing off the bat, things can get confusing. Walk away for ten minutes and come back and see the item with fresh, calmer eyes. Get rid of the consumer glaze that can happen to all of us and get clear on whether it is something that exists in the life you're trying to create.


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