#DetoxWithDrSlow No.5: Consumer Habits15 May 2015
As mentioned before, in this edition of #DetoxWithDrSlow I've had the chance to do a very special interview for this series.
Psychologist Dr. Mercedes Gutiérrez-Moyano Zimmermann from La Coruña (Spain), has very kindly offered to answer some questions related to shopping habits. I was very keen to get the perspective of a psychologist on this subject. Not only in order to get practical tips as to how we can cultivate healthy consumer habits, but also in order to gain a deeper insight into why we consume the way we do. As we all know, understanding the reason behind our behaviour is one of the most vital steps towards change, as well as a chance to learn more about how our minds work and therefore ourselves.
I really hope this interview will inspire you to have a think about these questions yourselves and as always I'd be very interesting in hearing/reading your opinions, experiences or questions either as a comment below or via an email to:
for the next Ask Dr. Slow column on May 25.
P.S. Se puede leer este post en español en modasostenible.org.
P.S. Se puede leer este post en español en modasostenible.org.
Dr. Gutiérrez-Moyano Zimmermann, it seems that our appetite for buying and owning more and more is almost insatiable. Is this a phenomenon of our time or perhaps simply human nature? In either case, what are the reasons behind it and how can we curb it?
Buying is quite a recent phenomenon here in Spain. Both advertising, and the media, as well as modern marketing strategies encourage us to buy, i.e. creating needs and desires. Children are big consumers too, during times like Christmas, there's more advertising for toys, perfumes, wine, cars, etc. inciting both children and adults alike to consume more.
In order to curb this excessive modern consumerism, we should begin to educate our children better, by teaching them to buy in a responsible manner, and parents should try to set an example with their own behaviour.
There are increasingly more initiatives which question the pace at which we consume, do you think these counter-movements stand a chance in changing our habits as consumers for the better again?
I am not so optimistic. When people have very established consumer habits, it's very difficult to change them. I believe we as consumers have to become more aware of our shopping habits.
Anti-consumerist movements are increasingly more wide-spread and I think these movements may improve our habits.
Movements such as the Spanish initiative Knowcosters, claim that buyers can make purchases in a conscious way, by informing them about where products come from and how they were made.
Such initiatives seem more effective in order to change our shopping habits.
Talking to other people, I generally get the impression that most of us are perfectly aware of how mad modern consumerism is, yet we somehow seem to be unable to escape it. Why is it so difficult for us to break the cycle, and what would realistically help us to do so once and for all?
It's hard because consumerism is such an essential part of modern life, it's something we do every day being part of a capitalist system. We are surrounded by all kinds of incentives that encourage us to consume, be it walking down the street, reading a newspaper, watching TV or connecting to the internet.
Perhaps it would be very helpful if we became more aware of our consumer habits. We could make a list of things we'd like to buy or need, in order not to buy just for the sake of it, since this won't make us feel better anyway, set ourselves spending limits for extra purchases to be less impulsive, try to pay less attention to advertising, recycle more etc.
Similarly, I'm often amazed at how little many people care about the conditions in which their clothes were made. What do you think would motivate them to opt for more ethical and sustainable choices in the future?
It's quite difficult, people buy fashion and forget that many of those products are manufactured in countries with poor working conditions and low pay.
Perhaps there should be more emphasis on where and how those products are manufactured, through pictures, information etc., making us more aware of these issues.
How easy/difficult do you think it is to develop a healthy self-esteem in the age of social media and image obsession, where we're constantly encouraged to consume more in order to improve the way we look etc.?
Our body image begins to establish itself in our childhood and continues to develop throughout many years. In recent decades growing cultural pressure towards slimness and beauty has been increasing. Advertising on television or in magazines tells us that in order to succeed and be happy we have to have a certain appearance, being tall, skinny, fit, etc.
Not all people are equally affected by social pressure, since some of us feel more secure in ourselves than others, i.e. some people may have a lower self-esteem due to a negative body image. To develop a healthy self-esteem these people should therefore try to give less importance to their body image, and more importance to other aspects of their personality, their values, their beliefs, qualities, etc.
This is a difficult task, especially nowadays, where we're told that being taller, more beautiful/handsome will make us happier.
Sadly, for some people shopping has turned into an addiction. What are the warning signs that suggest a more serious problem?
- A lot of time is being spent shopping.
- Shopping is a way of managing emotions; to feel good and stable.
- Being impulsive, i.e. the person doesn't stop and think about the usefulness of the clothes, he or she simply buys what they like, what they feel like buying at that moment.
- Buying a large number of clothing, or buy the same item in different colours, etc.
- Hiding new clothes from people who are close to them, e.g. their family, partner etc.
- They usually pay by credit card, hence they're less aware of how much they spend.
- They can't stop buying, and buy for any excuse, because it's e.g. cheap etc.
- They feel guilty when they buy too much, but they can't stop.
Equally, what can people around someone with a suspected shopping addiction do to help?
In most cases no addict considers having an addiction. When a family member or friend notices it, they could help them by trying to:
- Limit credit card allowances (small amounts).
- Accompany him/her when they go out.
- Take them out for a walk and without going shopping.
- Only go out when it's strictly necessary.
- Enter either few or very specific shops.
- Do not stop at every single shop window and don't make unnecessary purchases
- Check your closet and count the no. of clothes there are, e.g. no. of trousers, shirts, shoes, etc.
Last, but not least, if you had to give one piece of advice to our readers on how to shop/consume more responsibly, what would it be?
- Go through your clothes from past seasons first.
- Set a budget and try not to exceed it by more than 20%.
- Keep receipts in order to make a list of what you spend.
- Buy useful items that can be easily combined with what you've already got.
- Avoid buying things too quickly, just because it's e.g. cheap or trendy.