How shopping bans are like diets, and throwing things away won’t fix you

Trigger warning for disordered eating (somewhat bizarrely, you might think, in an article about decluttering and shopping. But I often find that the way we relate to one thing is the way we relate to everything).

When it comes to clothes, I’m a shitty minimalist. Yes, I am good at throwing things away but I almost immediately buy new things.

In the same way that having a thin body doesn’t mean you have a healthy one, a small wardrobe does not mean simplicity. Over the past few years, there has been as much binging and purging of my clothes as their was five years ago with the food I ate (or didn’t).

Just like going on a diet has led to me restricting my calorie intake to unhealthily low levels, my pursuit of simplicity has led me to throw out things I now really miss.

In the same way that wanting desperately to loose weight led me to binge eat entire tubs of Ben and Jerry’s icecream, I managed to spend over £100 on clothes within a few weeks of my KonMari clearout.

Is there a darker side to minimalism?

If there is, it’s never discussed. I’ve only ever seen minimalism described as a solution to mental health problems, not a symptom. But I can’t be the only person who, inspired by theminimalists.com, has thrown a load of stuff away when I’ve been in a manic mood only to regret it a few weeks later.

When you are depressed, or anxious, it can be easy to think that throwing things out will lead to the fresh start you are hoping for. Especially when minimalism is billed as the way to eliminate discomfort, and find your freedom.

But of course, you can’t change who you are by changing your surroundings.

If you want to change yourself, then you need to work on yourself.

To be fair, Colin Wright does address this point.

Don’t get rid of stuff just because you can. If you do this, the most likely result is that you’ll be sad and lonely without your things and will just end up buying new versions of them, which supports conspicuous consumption, costs you a bunch of money, kills the rain forests and generally wreaks havoc on the world in general. Don’t put yourself in the position to yo-yo when it comes to this many things.

Right. Unfortunately, I had to experience this yo-yo-ing for myself before I really took this point on board. I’m a obnoxious like that: I never listen to people’s advice, I have to go ahead and make mistakes myself to learn from it.

So what happens next?

One of my breakthrough moments happened while I was listening to The Life Coach School Podcast episode on Constraint. In it, Brooke says something about honoring commitments to yourself being an important part of self love and self respect. At least, that’s how I interpreted it.

This was mind-blowing to me. Every single month I promise myself that I’m not going to buy any new clothes. And every single month I fail because I see not buying clothes as deprivation, and buying clothes as self-love. I tell myself that restricting my clothes shopping (why would I do that? I love shopping!) is being too hard on myself and that I deserve pretty things.

But if buying new clothes is love, why do I feel so awful about it afterwards?

Because by consistently breaking the promises I make to myself, I am showing myself disrespect, I am telling myself I’m not worth keeping promises for, and I am treating myself in a way that I would never treat anybody else.

Love is keeping promises. Love is respecting someone enough to honor a commitment. In this case, love is not buying myself new clothes.

This month, when I find that I’ve wandered into a shop and am checking the price of a beautiful cardigan, instead of telling myself that I must not buy it because I’m supposed to be “being good and restricting myself” I say that by not buying it I am “honoring a commitment I’ve made to myself.”

Okay, it’s only the 10th, but I haven’t bought anything yet…

 

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