A home improvement show blared over the 50-inch TV in the car mechanic’s lobby as I waited for the oil to be changed in my Honda Accord. While I rarely watch television shows at home, my one-hour wait prompted me to look.
A woman was getting a home makeover, and seemed quite happy. Tears streamed down her face. She was excited to restart life in her new home.
Then came a commercial. And another. And another. And another. And… well, you get the point.
I was glued for a few minutes, though.
The TV seemed to be suggesting I needed to repaint my home, update my wardrobe, take heartburn medication, get better sleep at night with a new mattress, and enter a sweepstakes for my own home improvement project.
These were all companies, ideas, and items that I had never heard about nor considered.
When I caught myself mulling over the prospect of buying two sweatshirts for the price of one, I laughed about the power of these advertisements and gently refocused my attention on the book I had brought to read.
But this moment stuck with me.
Companies spend billions each year on advertisements because advertisements spur spending more often than not. I’ve been promoting the countercultural philosophy of minimalism for a lot of years, but I am still not immune to the subtle pull of consumerism. I was humbled knowing that I still have the potential to fall for these marketing messages.
As humans, we are consumers. From the indigenous peoples of Canada to the billionaires of Manhattan, we all need sustenance and shelter to survive. Life requires consumption. However, when we buy more than we need, can afford, or continue to occupy ever greater amounts of space, conspicuous consumption is likely present.
Fortunately, we are also social creatures. And properly applied, we can tap into the power of relationships for healthier living.
For instance, when I’m tested to consume, I fall back on my values, family, friends, and the Becoming Minimalist community.
Each article I write. Every conversation with a friend. All the time with my family. They all provide accountability.
If I were to come home driving a brand-new luxury vehicle, I know my wife would question how this fits with my values. And heck, how would I explain it to you all?
You’d probably be quite upset or, at least, confused, right? You might think, “Why’s that guy driving a luxury vehicle when he just said he liked his Honda?”
Therein lies the power of an accountability loop: I strive for minimalism, writing and talking about simple living, which helps me sustain this value. To do otherwise, would likely cause me embarrassment and shame, and make you question what I preach.
This discourse acts as a very public—albeit informal—contract about my values, intentions, and dreams.
The question now is how you can find resolve for when you are tested.
Here are five quick steps you can take to create an accountability loop in order to consume less—especially in a world that constantly promotes consuming more:
1. Talk to a close family member or friend about being a minimalist.
Tell them about your hopes, dreams, and rationale for owning less. Whether you’re considering or already committed to it, you’ve already taken a significant step towards accountability by talking aloud. Ask them what they think about your values. Now they’ll know what matters to you, and might notice positive changes along the way. Additionally, you’ll be giving them permission to speak up if your actions do not align with your dreams.
2. Share a specific goal for minimalism on social media.
Facebook and other social media platforms can be distractions when you need to get things done. But they can also be used for good. Maybe you’re considering downsizing your home, decluttering your child’s unused toys, or donating that clothing from an ugly-sweater party seven years ago. Write it in print. Put it out there that you intend to achieve this goal, and see how people respond. You might just be surprised at the level of encouragement you receive from your friends and family
3. Take a before and after decluttering photo of your house.
Recognizing change can sometimes be difficult when decluttering takes weeks or months. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t made meaningful changes. With visual goals around minimalism, take a photo of your space you want to change—before you’ve even touched a thing. Then, set out on your mission. By capturing your efforts before and after, you’ll have a consistent reminder about your growth and what you live for.
4. Create a private and/or public place to catalog your journey.
Plenty of my friends use private diaries to reflect on their efforts. When they’re unsure about what they thought or believed, they refer back to it. The same can be true about public spaces like a blog. Writing diary entries or online articles cements your philosophies—much like talking aloud. I started this blog only days after being introduced to minimalism and often credit it for supplying great motivation during our journey toward owning less. A nice bonus, others can check in with you, be inspired, and follow along when you write publicly. For more info on how to start a blog, check here.
5. Invite others to declutter and/or make your own support community.
There’s a classic truism that says the best way to learn anything is to teach someone else. By employing your values and philosophy to inspire others you can further your own learning. Join a minimalist community—they are expansive and worldwide. There are countless meetup groups, message boards, and websites where you can become a member.
The minute you speak, write, and share your desire to become a minimalist, the concept will become more real. And you’ll suddenly be more accountable to your values.
Allow yourself the opportunity for community and support as you embrace a better life with less.