As a teen of the 80s, I grew up under the mistaken impression that status was defined by material possessions – an odd assumption considering my parents weren’t overly materialistic (although, now that I think about it, every closet, cupboard, and cabinet seemed to be stuffed with rarely-used items).
There were no school uniforms where I grew up, so picking out clothes in the morning could be a minefield. I might avoid the shame of ‘didn’t you wear that last week?’ judginess if I was careful, but I didn’t have the ‘right’ shoes, handbag, or jeans. Of course, I can see now that it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had. I would have been the average girl with an expensive bag had I been able to afford one. But the longing to fit in with elite group started me down a very silly path.
Once I had a job, a spouse who didn’t try to control my wages, and a bit of disposable income, I became a ravenous consumer. At first it was housewares because I could easily justify that I was buying those for everyone in the house, and it wasn’t until the kitchen became badly cluttered that I realised I’d run out of rope with this particular method of spending. I moved on to clothes, and later found myself with an overstuffed wardrobe and bags of clothes under my bed. Once it became too much, I ended up culling my clothes and giving literally thousands of pounds worth to charity. I felt ashamed that I’d wasted so much money. I took a hard look at my buying habits and changed them for the better.
Once I was aware of my crazy spending, I began looking for other areas where I’d possibly over-consumed. I had an abundance of skincare and makeup I wasn’t using, so I bagged up what was salvageable to give away and chucked out the rest. When I think of the money I spent chasing a perfect version of myself, I cringe.
My most recent battle with becoming more aware of my crazy consumption was with food. I was out of control and it showed. I was terribly overweight and miserable, so I took steps to reset my eating habits and become more healthy. This particular battle is still ongoing, but at the moment I’m winning. I’m still a chub, but I’m a stone-and-a-half-lighter chub and I’m pretty happy about that.
My next project is to reduce the amount of social media I consume. I tried to fool myself a couple of years ago by giving up Facebook, but I eventually sunk the time I’d been saving into Twitter and I think I might have become addicted. After the Brexit vote, I was distraught, and Twitter was a great place to go and commiserate with likeminded people. But it was also a place to be bombarded with hot takes, bleak assumptions about the future, and the politics of division. I believe it caused my brain to atrophy and I found it impossible to concentrate on anything. I’d even stopped reading books which is crazy because I love reading and used to get through many books a year. I took a complete week off from social media over Christmas, and I’d like to do this every month over the next year.
In the meantime, my war on my own consumption goes on – and brings many benefits along the way. With a hard, damaging Brexit on the horizon, it feels wise to save as much money as possible, and learn to focus on the things that bring true joy.