5 Tips for Shopping as a Minimalist

We love a good minimalist makeover. We thrive on shows from Tidying Up to Hoarders, seeing people’s places transform from cluttered and messy to well-lit and organized. Tap to organize Instagram stories provide something so perfectly satisfying, as in a moment we get to see everything put away and cleaned up. It’s an adventure to declutter, to remove, to organize, so everything fits in its place. Maintaining minimalism, on the other hand, is a little less exciting. We don’t get the instant gratification of a newly cleared space or the weight off our backs with a donation drop-off. The goal slowly shifts from getting rid of the unnecessary, to being mindful and not letting more in.

Consumption, in and of itself, is not the enemy of minimalism. It’s mindless consumption that we want to move away from. The mindless scrolling through social media, mindlessly throwing things into the cart, bringing things in because they were cheap or free or cute without much thought to whether we really need or enjoy them.

Although the amount of time people spend shopping seems to be on the decline, there are still a lot of problematic attitudes and numbers surrounding our shopping habits. We shop for fun, we shop when we’re bored, we shop to celebrate, we shop to cheer ourselves up… Even with the declining numbers, Americans on average spend at least 1 hour every day on shopping, and it’s so easy we don’t have to wonder how. Swing by the store on our way home from work, tap an image on Instagram to shop its contents, browse Amazon deals, all these little things add up. Shopping in and of itself is not a problem, but the frequency and mindlessness of it is. Here are five tips for shopping as a minimalist, so you can bring things into your home and life in a mindful, sustainable way.

1. Keep a running list of things you want or need

This one may seem counterintuitive, but it’s been a game-changer for me. Most people have probably heard the advice to never grocery shop without a list, because it helps prevent spending excess money on impulse buys and getting ingredients you have no plan for. Why don’t we extend this to all the other things we shop for? The same way you add things to your grocery list as you run out, keep a list of things that you use up or wear out and want to replace. If you notice something that feels missing that you’d like to add, put that on the list too. If you give it a week or two and still really want a cute candle or oil diffuser for that shelf, go for it. If you really miss having this or that particular item of clothing, replace it with one you’ll love equally well. I love going thrifting, and enjoy doing it with friends, but I try to avoid going without a plan in mind for exactly what my closet needs. This fall, I had several sweaters and tee shirts that had worn out and needed to be replaced. So, when I went thrifting, I avoided sections of things I don’t need (like shoes or jeans), and focused on going through the tee shirts and sweaters that I missed and would use.

2. Know your consumables and their shelf life

Consumables are a great way to treat yourself without bringing in clutter that will stick around forever. Things like special food or drink, a nice lotion, or a room spray can be a fun way to enjoy the shopping process and bring something home without having to worry about it sitting there, unused and essentially unnoticed. These consumables, though, often have a shelf life and are only good for so long. Most people know that food goes bad quickly, but it happens with other consumables faster than you’d think! One of my favorite moisturizers expires only 3 months after opening. While using one of these a few days past its best-by date will probably not wreak havoc, it’s still important to be aware of, especially if you’re shopping for things that would be instead of or in addition to those items. Be aware of what you have and how quickly it goes bad, and try to avoid buying anything that will prevent you from using that up.

3. Keep your stashes at the front of your mind

Chances are, you’re already aware of the things you tend to purchase in excess and then stash away in large quantities. For me, those things are coffee, tea, and bath and body products. I keep what I have of all these items in places that I view every day to keep myself aware of just how much I have. This helps prevent me from falling for “just one more…” when I’m out and about. When I see the several (possibly dozens of) different types of tea I have every time I make myself a mug, I am kept aware of just how much I have and how little it would benefit me to add to the collection. When I have a whole drawer dedicated to bath and body products that I still have to use up, I am less likely to fall for that one that smells really good at LUSH when I really just need a new shampoo. Try to make your stashes something you interact with regularly, so you don’t forget and fall for a new item that will just end up being added to the pile.

4. Develop social hobbies other than shopping

I love a good thrifting adventure as much as the next frugal girl, but it’s important to have other social hobbies to suggest if your goal is to avoid mindless consumption. Some great options include meeting someone for coffee (bonus points if you bring a reusable mug/cup), going for a walk, visiting a library, hiking, and with people you know well, inviting them over for a meal or an activity. Customize them to your interests, but try to come up with 2-3 ways to meet and engage with people that do not involve any shopping. This will help reduce the mindless shopping, and make the times you do go that much easier to be intentional, because you won’t be throwing things into the cart out of habit. You may even find that shopping for fun loses some of its appeal when you have steady alternatives!

5. Shop with a budget

There is obvious financial benefit from shopping with a budget, but it can also help prevent mindless consumption! When shopping with a budget, you are limiting the amount of things or the kind of things that you can say yes to, thus reducing the amount of things that you bring home. Although I could afford to spend more on groceries, I keep the budget for our family of 3 (2 humans & a dog on a whole food diet) to $50 a week at most. This is still plenty for our favorite luxury foods, like orange juice and avocados, but not enough that I can buy to excess. I know that if I spend more than that it usually leads to food waste, so I stick to it. In the same way, I know that buying a lot of new clothes in one outing usually leads to pieces that don’t get worn, so before I go I create a reasonable budget for whatever I need. Usually, that means $10-$20 for thrifting or accessories, and a bit more when I’m replacing big staples like jeans or shoes. That way, I end up bringing home just a few pieces that I am excited to wear and can incorporate into my already-existing wardrobe quickly. Before your next trip, set a budget ahead of time that you can comfortably stay within based on what you need, but that will keep you from buying too much.

It’s not foolproof, and there’s no “one size fits all” to shopping mindfully, but these are a few tips to start shopping like a minimalist.

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