Imagine there was a pill. It lessened your debt, made you more fulfilled, saved the planet, and tidied up your house for you. (Side effects might include smiling more.) What if that pill existed…?
I mean, everyone would be taking that pill. People would pay big bucks for that pill. All you would see on TV would be ads for this pill. All the big pharma companies would try to patent it.
But here’s the best part: the pill is free!
Minimalism, which I define as only bringing objects into your life which you have mindfully chosen to help you live your unique purpose, is a magic medicine.
So why hasn’t the whole of the USA swallowed the pill? Why has the minimalist movement, while passionate and growing, not been taken on instantly across America and the world?
I reasoned that there must be something fighting against us taking that magic medicine. While making my own minimalist journey for my book, A Life Less Throwaway, I found out what that was.
As we try to get the pill to our mouths, there are four jabbering, distracting, monkeys hanging off our arm. Yes, really.
Let me introduce you to the four monkeys of materialism and what we can do to overcome them.
Monkey One – The Advertising Monkey
The first monkey is insisting, hundreds of times a day, that buying this thing or that thing will make us happier, healthier, more beautiful and likable. We mainly ignore this monkey. We think we can’t hear it and that what it’s saying isn’t going into our heads, but it is. (Otherwise advertisers wouldn’t spend the money to make ads.)
While our conscious brain might be musing other things, this monkey is clever. It speaks directly to those bits of our brains we don’t control, the bits that create deeply hidden urges and impulse buying.
We must mute this monkey if we can, and teach our kids to mute it on the TV and internet, too. Where ads are unavoidable, like on the street, break their power by becoming mindful of them. Look the monkey straight in the eye and say, “I’m good just the way I am, thanks.”
Engaging this monkey consciously and confidently is the only way to quiet it.
Monkey Two – The Trend Monkey
The second monkey makes fun of your shoes! It’s telling you, “You can’t possibly wear that again, everyone has seen you in it. Besides, it’s out of style.”
It’s the monkey that points out that your couch is “a bit 90’s” and hypnotizes you into thinking that things you used to love have somehow stopped being beautiful and interesting.
This monkey can be silenced by taking the time to dig deep into your unique sense of style.
Spend a few hours really considering which colours look great on your body, and calm and inspire you in a home environment. Put in a weekend to nail down the shapes and textures that make you happiest.
When you consciously build a sense of your own aesthetic, you can then dismiss the fads and tell the trend monkey you don’t give a hoot if “spots are in” and “stripes are out” because you’ve taken the time to find what makes you feel fabulous forever.
Monkey Three – The Status Monkey
The status monkey is the trend monkey’s evil twin. This monkey lives inside your head and is constantly pointing out to you what other people have and whether they are “above” or “below” you.
This monkey is obsessed with being on top, because in ancient times, a human with low status might get kicked out of the tribe and starve. This is one paranoid monkey!
So now it hisses in your ear, “We have the worst house on the street, the oldest car. Look how big that woman’s engagement ring is. Everyone else gets new backpacks for their kids each year.”
The status monkey is massively encouraged by the advertising monkey. Models look haughty in advertising and on the catwalk because, whether they know it or not, they are trying to activate this monkey in your head.
The monkey sees the ad and says, “See how she’s looking at you? That means you’re below her! If you buy this designer bag, then we can go up a level and feel higher, too.”
Kids can suffer cruelly under the tyranny of the status monkey. “Everyone else has one!” is a familiar cry.
Working on getting self-worth from what you do and who you are, rather than what you have, is the only way to quiet this monkey.
Ask your kids why they are pals with their friends. It will never be because they have the latest toy, but because they are fun or kind – intrinsic things. Reassure your kids that it’s this stuff that other kids care about too. Reassure yourself of this too, while you’re at it.
It’s been shown that whether you’re rich or poor, how you feel about your status can affect your immune system and actually shorten or lengthen your life.
So please, don’t let the status monkey trick you into thinking that people with more stuff or more expensive stuff have higher status. You give yourself your status.
Calm this monkey by telling it that you appreciate it looking out for your survival, but it doesn’t need to worry because you’re king of the jungle where it counts.
Monkey Four – The Attachment Monkey
Many of us want to declutter and let go of excess items that aren’t adding to our happiness. However, the attachment monkey clings hold of all of your possessions, no matter what, and makes big monkey eyes at you.
“How could you possibly let this go! It’s yours! You spent money on it! It’s worth something! What if you need it? It reminds you of someone. Maybe you’ll use it someday!”
This monkey needs to understand that objects which aren’t being used or appreciated are non-objects. In fact, they are draining, negative objects. They’re just clutter, and a waste of the materials and time that went into making them. The mere fact that you own them isn’t a reason in itself to keep them.
How can we beat this monkey?
Well, if the monkey says you might use an object one day, choose a specific time limit. Write the date on a sticker and put it on the object. Make a deal with the monkey. This is that objects expiry date. If you haven’t used or appreciated it before the date goes up, it goes.
If it is the waste of money that bothers the monkey, try and sell it to make a return. But think of it this way, it’s even more a waste of money if it’s sitting there making you feel guilty. Who wants to spend money on an object that makes them feel bad every time they see it?
When it comes to mementos, instead of clinging to them all, satisfy the monkey by picking one or two special items that can do the job of all the items you don’t use or look at.
These four monkeys all claim to have our best interests at heart, but at the same time they’re all trying their very best to stop us doing what will actually make us happier, less debt-ridden and more connected to what really matters.
Treat them as you would treat any monkey: kindly but firmly.
Say, “Thanks so much for the advice, but at the end of the day, you do not know what’s best for me… you’re a monkey.”
Then take the pill.
Tara Button is the creator of Buy Me Once, which was recognized by the Guardian as “[the] holy grail for those looking to prioritize quality over quantity.” She is the author of A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life. Through her writing and speaking, she inspires a lifestyle of reliable and responsible consumption.