A Minimalist’s Response to Advertising

Last week as I was driving home from work, and listening to a Podcast – one of my personal life hacks for using my commute more efficiently and keeping calm in traffic – I heard the Minimalists responding to a question that a listener had left on their voicemail; in a nutshell one of the pieces of advice they gave to a Woman who couldn’t stop shopping was to try to block out advertising, be it by switching from cable to Netflix or turning off the radio.

Trying to block out advertising has many potential benefits, only one of which is that you will be less likely to be induced to buy “stuff” that you don’t need; I’ve often said that Dr. Toye’s Women In Pop Culture course has had a more profound impact on the way I see the world, than anything else I learned in University, a large part of that impact has to do with my awareness of what advertisers are trying to sell me, and my enhanced ability to view ads with a critical eye. In particular a “culture jamming” assignment – for which we were strongly discouraged from destroying private property – really made me see how many of the underlying messages in ads run counter to strong feelings of self-worth or the belief that we have and are “enough”.

All of this got me thinking, so when I heard an ad – that has been bugging me for weeks – played on the radio, my issues with it really crystallised. A certain Canadian retailer has been running ads encouraging people to “find what you weren’t looking for.” That’s just absurd, its bad enough that we often make impulse purchases (yes even aspiring minimalists), we don’t need to go into stores looking for stuff to buy! My tips; make a list and keep it on your phone, buy only what is on the list, if you can’t find what you’re looking for keep moving, and if you see something that isn’t on the list sleep on it and go back tomorrow if you still really want it. Of course, we all have exceptions to the rule, for me its Art, if I see a painting I absolutely must own, I’ll buy it if I think its good value.

I worry that the trend of advertisements that induce people to make financially unhealthy buying decisions is taking off, because just this morning I heard an ad for an automaker, telling listeners – “There is a saying, that if you see something you like, you should buy it, because it might not be there tomorrow”. OK, first unless you are REALLY wealthy, you should not be making a decision to spend tens-of-thousands-of-dollars on a whim; and second, unless it is the end of the model year, ANY mass produced automobile is going to be available again tomorrow – trust me, in order to sell you the car, your dealership will find you the car you want in the trim package and colour you want.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy the things you need, and a few of the things you just want. But I am saying, you should do so with a degree of intentionality.

I recently purchased a thank you gift for someone who – I’m told – likes lemons and entertaining, I went to the store looking for a lemon shaped bowl or plate, I found stem-less wine glass style tumblers with painted lemons, I bought them on the spot and added real and fake lemons, honey, and some tissue paper to a basket to create a “lemonade starter kit”. Was it exactly what I was looking for? No. Did it meet my criteria and fill the purpose/use I required it to? Yes. Flexibility is important.

If you don’t need anything, don’t go shopping just to pass the time, and when you do need something, go shopping with a list and a bit of a plan.

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