On Mindfulness and Contented Consumerism

I eagerly read a recent opinion piece on Design Sponge by contributor Maxwell Tielman: “Practicing Mindfulness at Home: The Want + Need Equation.” From the first line, I could tell this editorial was going to resonate deeply with the way I want to live now. Everything that’s been in my mind and heart had been verbalized meaningfully on the page.

In the piece, Tielman advocates for consumerism at the intersection of NEED + WANT or, as he also puts it, NEED + LOVE. When you have a need, buy something you will love. Do you love something enough to want to buy it? Ask yourself first if it’s something you truly need.

My approach to adult life didn’t start that way and I don’t quite know where started my lifestyle of conspicuous consumerism began. Perhaps it was the having of too many hobbies that I put down even more quickly than I picked them up, but not before I’d bought every tool and piece of equipment necessary to practice my passion du jour.  As I found myself moving from new home to new home every few years, I’d pack up all of my things, belaboring that I had too much–as I put it–crap, unpack all of those items in a new location, and then buy even more. Wash, rinse, repeat.

When I finally decided to quit my job last year and move to Seattle, it was an opportunity for me to start from scratch. My plan was to sell what I could, donate the rest, and trash what I could. For almost three months, I went through each room of my house, sorting my belongings into the things I could keep that would fit into my small four-door sedan on the road trip west. I realized fairly quickly that I could only keep what I truly loved.

When the keepers had been identified, I was astonished and ashamed by everything that was left. On the morning of my first yard sale when I carted boxes and boxes and items onto the front lawn, it was as though the house had heaved and vomited. I was mortified by the waste on display. So many things I’d purchased but didn’t love and/or didn’t use. My heart broke as I thought of the money I’d used to buy it all and the time and energy I’d spent moving it from place to place. The realization of a disposable, unsustainable life sent me into a true shame spiral but ultimately toward change.

I get mindfulness now. I really do get it. It’s why I’ve been searching for just the right red enamel kettle for almost three months because I haven’t yet found the one I want and love. It’s why I refuse to purchase a chest of drawers from IKEA because I know it will only last so long and will then need to be replaced. It’s why I bought a shadeless bedroom lamp from Goodwill, and it’s why I plan to thrift almost everything that I’m buying for my new apartment and my new life here in Seattle.

I’ve grown tired of buying only for today. And purchasing placeholders instead of holding out for the items I want + love that I’ll care for and keep forever. These days I long for permanence; permanence, however, comes with a price tag and requires patience. Saving my pennies and waiting until I get what I want + love will be worth it. I will learn to be a content consumer.

Sure, I currently don’t have a dining room table or a sofa and my clothes are in duffel bags, but I’m confident that if I  consume and conserve in ways that are mindful, I’ll be more content and comfortable in my space..and in my life.

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