This afternoon I decided to unfollow all clothing brands and retailers on social media and have started to unsubscribe from mailing lists as and when I receive emails.
I have taken a step which should help me to stop buying and consuming unnecessary material things, things that I want but don’t need and things sold or marketed to me through a website or app.
The step stems from a principle outlined in an audio book I have been listening to. The book is called Atomic Habits, by James Clear and is brilliant. It sets out easy and practical steps train good habits and give up bad ones.
One of the principles in the book demonstrates how a bad habit becomes harder, or less appealing, when we make it more difficult to carry out. This can be applied to our spending habits. By reducing our exposure to adverts, it will be more difficult to find and buy things that we do not really need.
We often complain about the things that we see on social media, but often we have control over who we follow and what appears on our feed. We will still see targeted adverts, but we can make our lives easier, so long as we want to, by only following accounts that add value to our feeds and do not have the potential to cause harm.
I have also had thoughts of my own on the nature of wants and needs, and how they are quite natural, but can also be manipulated to work against us. Most of our wants needs present themselves to us rationally as a result of changes to our circumstances and environment. However, adverts are designed to artificially create wants which don’t really exist or have been manufactured by others.
By avoiding marketing material, our wants and needs are more likely to be organic. We will want a new coat when our current coat is unsuitable because the weather has changed, or when it is worn out, and not because an advert has told us that we want a new coat.
In my first post I highlighted the fact that, despite the happy and pleasant nature of their advertising campaigns, not all companies are our friends. Some form important parts of our identity, build trust and do genuinely good things, but almost all are most interested in us spending our money with them. By signing up to mailing lists and following companies on social media, we give them another route into our lives and our wallets. This is perhaps cynical, but social media is an undeniably large cog in the marketing machine, in a world where many of us are consuming unsustainably and have wardrobes full of clothes that we rarely wear.
Social media and mailing lists are another tool used to make us want things that we do not really need. This is why companies use them. The main purpose of almost every brand’s social media account is to make you buy more of their products.
Now, I’m not saying that we should never want anything, but instead that we should want things on our own terms. A sensible want is an organic want, manifested naturally within us, as opposed to an artificial want planted in our mind by a barrage of adverts and marketing ploys.
By limiting the number of adverts we see, we are not making it impossible to buy things when we realise that we need them or really deserve them. We can still visit a shop if we realise that we need a warm coat for winter, but we would only be buying the coat because we have good reason to, and it would be worn many times instead of joining the collection of worn once mistakes in our wardrobes.
Perhaps I have not gone far enough, for I am certain that adverts will still regularly reach me through paid promotions on my feed, or a paid partnership post from one of the few celebrities that I follow. But every step to making a habit easier to stop, is an important step in the right direction.
On the other hand, many people will think that what I am doing is unnecessary. Lots of people enjoy looking at products online, take inspiration from the posts of brands, and ultimately get a kick out of buying things. I do too. Products, especially clothes, form and reinforce our sense of identity. I understand this entirely.
But I also understand that buying things can become a negative aspect of our identity, and our identity has a powerful effect on the habits we keep. Once something is part of identity, for example expensive clothes or cars, maintaining that identity becomes habitual, and we are forced to maintain these habits in order to maintain our identity, no matter how expensive these habits become.
I will focus more on identity and the role it plays in our spending habits, especially at the height of the social media age, in my next post.