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Minimalism and Mindfulness: Combatants to our (over) Consumption

If there is anything to be gained from the lead up to Black Friday, Cyber Monday and of course - Christmas, it is this: as a species, we love stuff. A complicated love affair no doubt, a matter not just of budgets and bank balances, but of the brain too.

We desire to own new things to show off our personal uniqueness, to own goods that few others possess for the sake of our social status and self-identity (Lynn & Harris, 1997). We purchase things impulsively, a coffee here, reduced sale item there, conflicting with possible long-term goals to save money, for short-term satisfaction. We even buy things simply to make ourselves feel better (Baumeister, 2002), Items we may not truly (on a happier day) want - because ‘treat yo self’. For fashion followers, every Fashion Week brings in new trends and looks that that we didn’t realise we needed but are stimulated by all the same. For the layperson, the release of seasonal collections remind us that we must obey Mother Nature and purchase a winter/autumn/spring/summer staple.

Our psychology is easily led in a pulsing consumer world; there’s no wonder we have so much stuff. But if we are more likely to seek retail therapy than clinical therapy, where does that leave our psychological well being?

Minimalism and mindfulness offer reasonable solutions to our stuff problem: minimalism helps de-clutter our physical space and mindfulness de-clutters our mental space. Minimalism is the most practical approach of the two, grounded in the principle that we can live more with less. The theory goes that a reduction in stuff will lend to greater freedom, reduced stress and an overall healthier relationship with your spending habits (The Minimalists). If you can limit the number of items you own - everything from smartphones to sheets - the happier you will be. This comes from having greater opportunity to manage what’s truly important to you and to avoid being distracted by what’s not. Some people take this approach literally and restrict their ownership to only 100 items of the greatest value. Putting a numerical limit on what you own may prove effective in encouraging considered purchasing decisions, so perhaps minimalism is the way forward.

 

The Psychology of Fashion

However, minimalism does fall prey to our fallacies. Our judgements of value, for instance, can be entirely subjective. The endowment effect illustrates that the perceived worth of an item increases with its sentimental value and familiarity (Kahneman, Knetsch & Thaler, 1991). Such an effect can go a long way to explain hoarding behaviour, the antithesis of minimalism. Equally, the minimalist approach may champion quality over quantity, but quality costs. Those who genuinely subscribe to the minimalist lifestyle may be more able to afford a several-hundred-pound-investment-coat, compared to those who need the money for rent that month. Juggling these kind of decisions may burden an individual with more anxieties and dissonance than they experienced pre-minimalism. Simply, minimalism isn’t for everyone.

Here enters mindfulness. Mindfulness is considered a mental state that focuses your awareness to the present, where thoughts, feelings and reactions can be acknowledged and treated separately to appropriately and calmly evaluate your decisions (Brown & Ryan, 2003).  This moment of pause to calm the mental storm we experience day to day is to give way to ‘voluntary simplicity’ (Gregg, 1936), thereby propagating healthy minds without the need to tally up our furniture. For our spending, mindfulness lends a ‘due-diligence’ and ‘awareness of subtler processes of one’s own mind’ (Burch, 2012), a combative measure to our spending fallacies. Do you truly want to buy that coat that you’ll never wear, or is that just your emotions talking? Is that shoe everything that you need in your wardrobe, or is it just your intuitive, physiological reaction to the appealing glossy magazine trap? Overall, the mindfulness approach seems much more accessible and broadly beneficial to the everyday consumer than minimalism.

However it too is not perfect. Part of the teaching of mindfulness is to let certain anxieties, superficial or no, pass through your present-mode to be considered when they need to be considered. While this proves ideal in theory, some decisions in life do require some future thinking and planning, lest you be surprised and unprepared by what life might throw at you. Equally, the success of mindfulness depends entirely upon the mental capacities and determination of the individual. To say you only ‘get out what you put in’ becomes distinctly difficult when it’s all happening within your head, rather than being something external and tangible that you can manage.

All's not lost, however, for the consumer. Upon evaluation, a healthy consideration of your own battling mental states and a thoughtful insight into the items you own and look to own, can do a great deal to curb your stuff problem. But probably better to try after Christmas.

 

Zen In My Pocket

Meditation is one of the most ancient and effective practices of combating stress, but how can we incorporate such an old practice into our technology driven lives? Nicola Mouskis explores the importance of meditation and the latest app that helps us weave it into our daily routine. 

With fashion designers adopting dual roles and the industry at its fastest pace ever, there has never been a more important time to step back and ‘take ten.’ 

Last year Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz gave a speech at the FGI (Fashion Group International) Night of Stars awards which embodied the daily pressures imposed on the industry following the rise of social media and other technological developments. “We are living in a smart world. It’s all about smart design, smart product and technology.” Whilst these developments are offering designers creative possibilities beyond their imagination, they are producing 24-hour work schedules that are leaving designers “exhausted.” 

Thus, these pressures are producing fatigue and stress levels that are ultimately hindering the innate creative talent that designers depend on. In his book Creativity is Forever, Gary A. Davis pin points the factors that block creative thought such as: high stress levels, fear of criticism and various social anxieties.  And so the question arises – what is being done to beat these factors and reduce the effects of stress? 

Amongst many of our hippie in heels fads, meditation has been adopted as a practice amongst many within the fashion industry from fashion designers to supermodels; everyone is giving the ancient practice a try. But with a busy 24-hour schedule run by technology it must be hard to incorporate such an ancient practice into our lifestyles – wrong. In a new wave of apps, meditation has become as easy as sending a text message. 

It is fundamental that we adopt practices such as meditation

In 2010, former monk Andy Puddicombe co-founded the meditation app Headspace in an effort to make meditation more accessible to the world. Since its launch, more than 150 countries have downloaded the app worldwide. In a brief welcome animation of the app Puddicombe describes Headspace as a ‘gym membership for the mind that can train the mind for a healthier, happier more enjoyable life.’ Expectedly so with evidence published over the years that suggests meditation helps reduce the harmful effects of stressful lifestyles.
 
Before subscription, the app offers a ‘Take Ten’ program, which consists of ten, ten-minute sessions for ten days. Guiltily, I was slightly sceptical before downloading the app, as I was keen to step away from my phone and any devices that bound me to my work and daily routine. However once I watched the welcome animations and set out with my first ten-minute session I saw the app as an easy introduction to meditation.
 
I continued the ten days consecutively, finding it difficult at first to remain loyal to taking time out of my day, however by the seventh day I found it easier to incorporate it into my morning routine and sooner or later it became second nature. Whilst the effects were minor and almost unnoticeable, I found that by the end of the ten days my patience for things around me had grown and conversations became easier, I took the time out to listen more. In a recent video blog for Vogue, Puddicombe describes this as the ‘ripple effects’ of meditation and that the positive energies we gain from it are eventually reflected onto others through our calmer state of mind.
 
By the tenth day I caved and subscribed to the app, looking forward to all the other meditation sessions on offer such as a series on sleep, health and even relationships. One of the most prominent differences I came to identify since using the app was my revived desire to sketch. It seems after introducing myself to meditation I had began to knock down the factors that Davis stated blocked creative thought and in a more recent publication by Preston Bentley, Meditation Made Easy we are told of the benefits meditation has on creativity. He describes the meditative process as one that “strengthens the architectures of your brain allowing you to think faster and visualize better.”
 
Ultimately with the foundations of our future being built around technology and an ever-growing pace of demands, it is fundamental that we adopt practices such as meditation that enable us to exercise our mind and breaking down boundaries that hinder our creativity and create more of a mindful experience.