Careful Consumption – My thoughts on Wasteful Buying

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

A while ago I was watching a Theresa is Dead video on YouTube and I remember her mentioning that she once prioritized make up purchases over food. I can’t remember which video it was, but I was shocked. Now this is not a criticism of Theresa because many people have made that choice in their lives. And I wondered why. Why are we willing to prioritize make up over food? I mulled over it, not unlike Frasier Crane, over a scintillating Riesling.

I first asked myself “why do I shop”? When I ask myself that question, I’m referring to excess spending – buying beyond what I need. And I realized that:

  • I get a retail high from completing a purchase. It’s like I’ve achieved something in life. And I have – I’ve put a dent in my savings. I also get a sense of pride when I’ve purchased something with beautiful packaging. Not unlike purchasing art or securing a precious heirloom
  • I have enough disposable income to purchase 2 – 3 pieces of make up a month. I’m single, I don’t own a car or a home, and no kids. I do not have the financial commitments a person with a family would have. Also, my purchasing power is fairly high – I’m part of the middle class. It doesn’t mean I can afford a home but I can certainly afford small luxuries. This incongruity can be best explained by this video I came across on how the African American community in the US have enough disposable income to purchase expensive shoes but not a home. While I haven’t faced the type of discrimination explained in the video, as an immigrant and a person of color we are paid much lesser than what we deserve
  • I, like most of my generation, am a hoarder. We call it “collecting” but we are hoarding. And I get it – the 2008 crash killed many of my dreams. It made us fear for our future and we truly haven’t recovered from that shake up. If we don’t buy now, we may never get a chance to in the future
  • My childhood has defined how I shop. I’m from a middle class family in Asia. But that didn’t mean we were afforded all the privelege. There were many things I wanted, that I couldn’t have. And now that I have disposable income, I buy all the “cute” things I didn’t get when I was a child. As Dolores sings in Ode to my Family, “Cause we were raised to see life as fun/ and take it if we can take it if we can”. [Sidebar: Derry Girls is my childhood but without as much violence and way less idyllic]
  • More Make up, more beautiful. The thought process of “If I have that mattifying powder/blush/bronzer/highlighter, it will make me beautiful”. So I buy all the products that I think can make me beautiful. This also plays into our FOMO. Like missing out on that great foundation might somehow lead to me not achieving beauty
  • I have too many options. because of all the points I mentioned before, I want to try and buy all the options
  • Gamification of marketing. I’m a marketer, I know the tricks we employ to move our customer through the funnel. In marketing, we’re taught consumer behavior and how to hijack it. We read research papers on the next big thing and how to sell it. Trust me, marketing has got us addicted to shopping.

Hacking my shopping habits

Lately, my thought process for shopping during such sale seasons (BF, Boxing Day, Christmas, Summer, etc) has been to buy stuff that I know I definitely need. I don’t buy backups; I’ve learnt the hard way that my preferences in products change almost every season. If there’s an unexpected need I pay full retail. The more we start purchasing as per need, the lesser we purchase. For example, the other day, I realized that I had run out of my eyeliner. I didn’t wait for a sale and went and purchased one. But, I know that I’ll need a foundation in a few months and for that I’ll wait for the next sale and buy it.

I follow the rule “if it ain’t broken don’t buy another one; and if it’s broken, fix it”. I’ve been using the same iPhone 8+ for the past two years. After that model, at least three more models of the iPhone has been launched but I’ve been good about using my phone till it gives up on me.

I also took the following steps:

  1. Unsubscribed from all my social media and brand notifications. I realized that e-mails that I received were motivating me to purchase things (makeup, home decor, etc) I didn’t need. Once I unsubscribed I had a better handle on my impulse to shop
  2. Make a list of makeup and add up how much you’ve spent. This was such a shocker. I have 23 lipsticks! But this dampened my impulse to shop. I recently saw that Estee Lauder was releasing new lipsticks and I was tempted to purchase more lipsticks, when I remembered the list. It instantly smothered my impulse to buy
  3. Look for dupes. Everything is dupable! nothing is unique anymore. Want to purchase something? First check your list to see if you already have something in that category, then go to Temptalia’s site and check for dupes
  4. Don’t buy back ups. My skin changes almost every season and without reason. I’ve also realized that newer products have better formula. It just doesn’t make sense to buy back ups
Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash

Impact of indiscriminate consumption

I’m worried about how much we produce, consume, and waste. Multiple factors need to change for us to control this unnecessary consumption. Two I can think of are: 1. Reducing the amount of production 2. Unlink production from GDP or include the calculation of waste while calculating GDP. Unless governments and businesses rethink excess production and production of fast fashion, we as a race are in trouble.

The good news hereis that people and societies do want to change. People have started purchasing from resale sites like Poshmark, Mercari and ebay and on social media platforms like FB and Reddit. I see more people sign up for the makeuprehab subreddit and that’s positive. Even better, some business are taking note. IKEA recently decided not to have a Black Friday sale and to sell their floor pieces instead. Unfortunately, make up, electronics and fast fashion brands haven’t caught on yet.

Additional Reading:

Featured Image: Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash

Leave a Reply