In the 21st century, through capitalism, the internet, social media and neoliberalism, we have been sold the narrative that the more stuff we own, the happier we will be. But is it really true? Over time, clothing has decreased in price (most often at the expense of exploited garment workers) and increased in accessibility, thanks to same-day delivery making it easier than ever to shop. Meanwhile, social media constantly triggers FOMO, telling us not only that we must buy something because someone else has it but that once we've worn an outfit – and satisfied our brains with that hit of dopamine – it can't be worn again.
Now, though, thanks to a global pandemic and ongoing climate crisis, the narrative around consumption is shifting: priorities are evolving and people are looking to reclaim their power and buy what they actually want and really need rather than what they are influenced to buy in order to reach the ever-shifting goalposts of happiness. Progress-pushing brands are putting the planet over profit and a previously fringe movement of people who claim it's cool to care about the environment now make up the majority.
So will owning less truly make you happier? In the research paper turned book, The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser offers a scientific exploration of our culture of consumerism, finding that people who consider material belongings and assets important are less satisfied overall than those who don't. Happily, the digitalisation of our daily lives has enabled more sustainable movements to flourish: from low waste to slow fashion to the sharing economy (renting a dreamy dress for a special event is now as normal as the way we used to view shopping new), 'less is more' has never felt truer.
That being said, it can be hard to change your actions and divorce yourself from societally conditioned ideas about consumerism, particularly when fast fashion tends to be more size-inclusive than luxury and more affordable than sustainable brands. To get you going, we've compiled a starter guide for stepping off the consumer carousel with the help of sustainability expert Victoria Prew, cofounder of rental platform HURR Collective.
Click through to find five points that'll help you shop less.
Take a rainy day (or any day in lockdown) to clear out the material things in your life, from your clothing to the knick-knacks which are gathering dust. You don't need to go full Marie Kondo here – this isn't about becoming minimalist but instead identifying what you've bought out of peer pressure, because it was a fleeting trend, or that you've simply evolved past. You’ll come across so many things that are mentally weighing you down, from a dress you tell yourself you'll fit into in the future to a bag you simply won't use again. Donate anything you no longer want to charity (although make sure it's sellable – anything that isn't will end up in landfill), pass to friends and family who can give it a new lease of life, or hit eBay and Depop. You'll be left with a collection of things that generally improve your mood or hold happy or meaningful memories, meaning when you go to shop in the future, you'll have a clearer definition of what lasts and what doesn't.
If, like most of us, you are used to scratching the itch of impulse buying, Victoria says: "Take the time to consider every purchase by taking a photo of that item – come back to it in two weeks and ask yourself, 'Do I still love it? Will I wear it over 30 times?' It's only if the answers to these questions are 'Yes' that you should consider purchasing." Remember, carefully curated doesn't mean a minimalist capsule wardrobe. Many associate longevity with muted colours and natural fabrics but carefully chosen and worn to death may equally mean '80s brights or '70s prints.
Even better, go one step further: if you still love the piece after two weeks of contemplation, check secondhand stores to see if someone else is selling it on for a more affordable price. "I love alternatives to traditional consumerism," Victoria adds. From Etsy and Depop to eBay and now Instagram, there are thousands of digital secondhand marketplaces to find the vintage version of what you're after. They say trends come around every 20 years, after all, so your must-have piece is undoubtedly already out there somewhere.
Creativity is a huge part of fashion so it can be hard to separate damaging consumerism from self-expression. If you want to experience all the fun of fashion without adding more waste to the planet, renting is a great way to trial new styles and brands, and still feel special on big occasions like birthdays and weddings. "We've made sure HURR looks and feels like traditional e-commerce but without the environmental impact that purchasing has," Victoria says. With HURR, Rotaro and By Rotation all offering a host of incredible designers, you're spoiled for choice – but if you don't feel ready for renting just yet, try organising swap shops with your friends.
Think of your digital landscape as the world you inhabit every single day; it's often the first thing you look at in the morning and the last before bed. Regaining power over that world is key to curbing harmful consumer habits. First things first: set aside an hour to unfollow people or brands that encourage shopping new and often, and seek out those which show more creative ways to style what you already own.