Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I've written in the past about the power of advertising and the psychology of store design and product placement that convinces us to buy things, often things we don't need (scroll down and search for "Advertising" in "Categories" on the sidebar of this blog to read previous posts). The psychology of shopping is endlessly fascinating to me, and I've compiled a few more posts that address aspects of it.
1. In "Psychology Today," Kit Yarrow, Ph.D, presents five ways that sales make you vulnerable. In her article, "Why Clearance Sales are Psychologically Irresistible," fear of missing out is in first position on her list.
In her research she found that "sale shoppers ultimately spend more money than non-sale shoppers. They often purchase things that aren’t truly satisfying; and because they aren’t satisfied they continue to shop. Additionally, the rush they get from snagging a bargain has an addictive quality - the products they purchase are in some ways secondary." She offers some suggestions about how to counter this vulnerability, including using cash rather than a credit card because cash is "real" and credit isn't.
2. Here's a rather surprising observation, discussed in a New York Times opinion piece by Oliver Burkeman entitled, "Suffer. Spend. Repeat," about shopping during the holiday season:
"[I]t may strike you that retailers have gone out of their way to make holiday shopping as unpleasant an experience as possible. The odd truth is that they probably have. And there’s a reason for that: evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend."
And once you start spending, chances are you'll continue because, "according to the theory of 'shopping momentum,' as explained by researchers from Stanford, Yale and Duke Universities, we fret far more about whether to buy the first item we purchase during a trip than we do subsequent ones."
3. Martin Lindstrom "has learned a few things about advertising and marketing. He's advised major corporations such as Disney and Proctor & Gamble, and recently wrote a book called Brandwashed, which chronicles the many ways corporations get us to consume their products."
Brandwashing starts very young (Lindstrom says the average American 3-year-old can recognize 100 brands) and it saturates our lives. Example: Those small cardboard boxes in the produce department of Whole Foods that say "Patty's Farm" aren't exactly what they seem to be. The box "[has] actually been designed by a graphic design company in New York City to make us feel this is nostalgia at its peak."
Learn more in an "All Things Considered" NPR interview called, "Products R Us: Are We Brandwashed?" (8 min 26 sec)
Obviously, the solution to functioning in a society that's saturated with marketing ploys is to try to outwit the advertisers by being constantly aware of their efforts and prepared to meet the onslaught that greets us whenever we go shopping. But vigilance can be fatiguing and even the most knowledgeable and sophisticated shopper can be vulnerable to just the right combination of sales techniques.
I find that avoiding "window shopping" and its equivalent, browsing online, help keep my focus on what's needed. But there have been times when that hypnotic "Oh, look! It's sparkly!" moment has taken over my brain and claimed my sanity just long enough to open my wallet and pull out a credit card. Do you have any special tricks your rely on when you're shopping? Please share because we all need as much help as we can get!
(Image credit: Robert Linder on stock.xchng)
Friday, March 29, 2013
When talking about uncluttering or simple living, it's quite possible to be misinterpreted as a spoilsport, a killjoy who doesn't want anyone to have anything beyond a scrap of threadbare clothing, a dented coffee mug, and a tent to sleep in. Those who dare to have more than that are supposed to feel guilty or at least ashamed of being so decadent.
Of course, that's not really what uncluttering and simple living are about. But it can be a fine line that separates gratitude from guilt when we think about our own possessions. The never-ending questions we face are, "How much is enough? How much is too much?"
The images you'll see in the projects linked below are thought provoking, perhaps even shocking. They're not meant to engender guilt or shame; they're meant to offer perspective, which can be helpful when we're trying to answer those difficult questions.
Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s project entitled Toy Stories presents photos of children from around the world with their most important possessions: their toys. Galimberti explores the universality of childhood and concludes, “At their age, they are all pretty much the same; they just want to play.” But he discovered significant cultural differences, too. In wealthy countries, the children were inclined to be possessive; in poor countries, even when they had only a toy or two, the children were inclined to share.
|Keynor – Cahuita, Costa Rica|
JeongMee Yoon's Pink and Blue project "explores the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures [and] ethnic groups, as well as gender socialization and identity." The project began as a result of her five-year-old daughter's insistence on wearing only pink and playing only with pink toys.
I've posted about this project in the past, but it seems appropriate to reference it here again, not because it demonstrates the power of marketing, but because of the comparatively large quantity of toys that are displayed. Could a child with this many playthings identify only one most important possession? Does that matter? Do these pictures represent joyful abundance or thoughtless acquisition? How can we know? Are the gender issues more important than the issue of quantity?
|SeoWoo and Her Pink Things 2006|
|Seunghuyk and His Blue Things 2007|
How much is enough? How much is too much? ~ It's easier to know how much is too little.
Monday, February 04, 2013
Ryan Nicodemus, co-author with Joshua Fields Millburn of the book Minimalism: Leading a Meaningful Life:
I had an interview this morning . . . where the guy asked what does a minimalist's life look like and I didn't know what to tell him because it's really not that different from anybody else's life. It's just more deliberate. If you were to walk into my home, you wouldn't think oh something's wrong with this guy. You'd just think he's tidy. . . . [Minimalism is] more about living deliberately and more about asking what adds value in your life and cutting out the superfluous stuff.
Defining "superfluous" is, of course, most challenging. Akiko Busch writes in "The Art of Shedding Possessions:"
There are many factors ruling our choices about what to surrender. A force equal and opposite to the impulse buy is the precipitous urge to give something up, which can spring from some combination of regret, disenchantment, a sense of failure, even fatigue.
But beyond such hasty and impetuous housecleaning are the simple facts that we outgrow things, our tastes change, and, maybe most of all, our desire for material belongings wanes. Parting with them may only be a matter of recognizing that we need to end certain relationships and understand how the physical objects around us have served as their emotional accomplices.
Sometimes simplified circumstances can be imposed on us by chance. John Stark wrote of discovering "The Zen of a Small Kitchen" when he moved to a new city:
For the first few weeks, I felt as if I were in one of those PBS reality shows where people are made to live in a house from a bygone era. . . . First, I had to acquire the right mindset. 'The original owners of the house had four children,' my landlord told me. If that kitchen was good enough for a family of six, surely I, one person with a Doberman, could make do.
And that, of course, is the answer to all uncluttering challenges: the right mindset. If one commits to simplifying, to mindfully letting go of unnecessary possessions and thoughtfully dealing with the mundane, life will begin to feel ordered, to flow instead of bump along.
Peter Lawrence, author of The Happy Minimalist, demonstrates the extreme minimalist point-of-view in this post from Treehugger. In the 14-minute video at that link, Peter explains that minimalism requires "constantly examining what resources are needed to achieve your objective."
Most of us will feel that we need more than Peter Lawrence does, but how much more? Well, that's always the question, isn't it?
Photo Credit: "Tranquility 4" by Ove Tøpfer, stock.xchng
Monday, December 31, 2012
Thursday, December 06, 2012
|One of my new, small drawings: graphs created from|
significant numbers in someone's life or numbers
derived from musical patterns in favorite songs.
Anyone who's attempted to unclutter understands that our relationship with our stuff is complicated. But too often uncluttering is misunderstood as a process that leaves one bereft of possessions, forced to live an uncomfortable, minimalist existence. Of course, that's not the case at all. Uncluttering just means letting go of things that no longer serve a purpose in your life. Defining what's necessary and unnecessary is a personal, often difficult, decision.
Sometimes having very little is the correct choice for some people. "Vagabond minimalist" Andrew Hyde has chosen the ultra-minimalist route. You may have heard about him last year when he was being publicized frequently as "the guy who owns only fifteen things." Most of us wouldn't be comfortable trying to live with so little and, in fact, I wonder if Andrew might have had a stash of at least a few items awaiting his return from the road. But he certainly seemed content living with his stripped-down-to-the-bone possessions.
But what if you have a huge collection of stuff? It's not just "stuff," and it's certainly not clutter, if it's really a collection, if you display it proudly, if you enjoy it and want to share that joy with others. Jacinta, true collector, has some 5,000 snowmen figures that she cheerfully displays every holiday season. In this video, we see that there's nothing cluttered about her home. Crowded, yes, but cluttered, no! She obviously adores her collection, so even though it may seem a bit much to most of us, if it's affordable for her family, why not continue to celebrate it?
Sometimes people redefine their relationship with "stuff" in a way that minimizes clutter. If you're fed up with our consumer culture, you think long and hard about what you need before you make a purchase. That alone would make accumulating clutter difficult. Katy Wolk-Stanley, who bills herself as The Non-Consumer Advocate, has particularly stringent requirements: she's vowed not to buy anything new. It began when she heard about The Compact, a social and environmental movement that started in 2006 in San Francisco when ten friends promised not to buy anything new for a year. Katy adopted the plan in 2007, but decided to continue -- indefinitely. It's been five years. Again, not everyone would be comfortable making this kind of commitment, but it works for Katy.
Now let's talk about clutter and art. Most artists I know (myself included) have an uneasy relationship with clutter. One major challenge is that almost everything we see has creative potential. Heaven help the poor artist who specializes in collage -- the most extreme example of someone who sees potential art everywhere, even in stuff that's been discarded, often for good reason!
You might think that the very fact that I make art, which is "stuff," is a contradiction: on one hand, I advocate getting rid of stuff and, on the other, I make it. But I never advocate getting rid of something that you find useful or beautiful (to borrow the classic explanation from William Morriss of how to choose what things to have in your home). I can't imagine living without art, so if you find it an important part of your life, I understand completely. That's why I continue to make art and that's also why I've decided once again to have a holiday sale of my original work. If you're interested, click here to go to my art blog for more information.
As we approach the end of the year and that time when we make New Year's resolutions, maybe this year we don't need to resolve (again) to unclutter. Maybe we need to resolve to work on understanding our relationship to our possessions and finally figuring out what we need and love. Then we can apply that understanding not only to what we have now but also to what we buy in the future. Let's start by asking ourselves, about everything that we own: Is it beautiful? Is it useful? If it is, let's be grateful that we have it; if it isn't, let's gratefully let it go.