Here is the full text of Lucía González Schuett’s talk: Think Twice Before Buying at TEDxHHL event conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk at HEC Paris. I built my presentation around the junk drawer. You know, that drawer most of us have at home where we store every random object we own, but apparently haven’t found a better spot for.
I shared this image, because this is where my personal rollercoaster journey began… thoroughly looking into each of my junk drawers and questioning every single thing I owned.
Do I really need this? Does it add value to my life? Is it worth the space it takes up or the care it requires?
I had decided to declutter and downsize my belongings once and for all and spent year 2018 without buying anything but food.
I couldn’t imagine back then, how much the idea of not buying would resonate.
Ever since that talk, people from all over the world have been reaching out to me to tell me their views on the topic, to laugh at their own struggles with their junk, or to share tips they had found useful during their own non-buying experience.
It has been rewarding to confirm that I am NOT alone in fighting this mad circle of consumption we’re tapped in. And especially encouraging to see that there is still a lot to be discussed.
I used to work in the fast-fashion industry. I was making a living paid on a commission on sales base by convincing you to buy more and more often of what you don’t need.
I was in charge of organizing complete merchandise rotations that would transform the appearances of our stores every week for you to walk by, hopefully walk in, find a garment you like and buy it, knowing that if you walked out without it you’d had forever missed out.
After a wonderful time in the industry I decided to take year 2018 off, went to business school in France, and embarked on this non-buying one-year challenge.
As you can imagine, both experiences were absolutely transformative for me. So the way I now look at the world, understand business, and criticize consumption, have completely changed.
You see, in the consumer goods arena, I was used to and trained for speed. Being faster than your competitors has proven to be a straightforward source of competitive advantage. And we as consumers are more than happy to be pampered in that way.
If we stop and look at the role that time is playing on our decision-making, there is an interesting twist worth observing.
We’re developing business such as storage units on the city outskirts. As if our homes weren’t expensive enough, we can now additionally rent out on by the square centimeter a personal storage room to pile up all that stuff we already own which obviously doesn’t fit in our smaller and smaller apartments. And that we probably won’t be using in the next months, maybe years.
Still, when it comes to purchasing something new, we expect the delivery service to arrive within 90 minutes.
Well let’s be honest, companies aren’t delivering that hand-free sauce stirrer within 90 minutes, because you urgently need it. But just so you don’t have the time to change your mind.
What really worries me today, though, as a humble observer, is that after buying that sauce stirrer, you’ll get recommended a pancake pen. Please don’t ask me what a pancake pen is. The only thing I know is that it was one of the items on this description email I received with a subject: The 10 best kitchen gadgets you’ve never heard of before.
I can assure you if there happened to be a kitchen gadget out there I’ve never heard of before, chances are really low that I need it.
Today the app I use to measure my performance when I go jogging is trying to tell me when it’s time for me to throw away the sneakers I’m wearing and buy a new pair.
Or, the pillow I sleep on, I recently found out, apparently has an expiration date. All of this is way beyond that dimension of time I used to apply.
And it is here, ladies and gentlemen, in my opinion where we collectively need to pause for a moment and wonder: Are we losing or at least outsourcing our very basic common sense to decide our needs by ourselves?
When it comes to consumption, getting over the want and becoming honest about the need, there’s a scary yet extremely insightful exercise.
The truth is that we all live different realities and it is not always possible to completely give up buy. It is possible for us, although, to rethink our day-to-day behavior towards consumption, exercise the ability to appreciate things again and eliminate that link between easy access and taking things for granted.
During my year without buying, I discovered that thinking twice before you click the Buy Now button is a worthwhile practice to help you take back control of your consumption, whether that may be for the environment, for the sustainability of future generations, for your personal finances, or for the sake of your peace of mind.
Think twice and try not to order that product when you’re about to run out of it but to finish it first. And then spend some time without it. In other words, try to miss it because there’s so much to be learned from missing things. Plus, you’ll exponentially increase that short-term happiness once you get it again.
Think twice and give yourself time. If you have identified a need hopefully by yourself, jot it down on a wish list or drop that item in your online shopping cart but let it sit there for a few days. You’ll be surprised how much stuff we can happily live without.
You may come to realize you don’t even remember what’s in that cart. And you’ll reduce the chances to regret a buy because you find a better option a week later.
Think twice before buying and go back to fixing. The idea that it is cheaper to buy a new one than to fix it is the most irresponsible argument I myself have ever believed in.
Try fighting plan [to absolve this]. Try the fun of visiting a repair cafe or visiting the shoemaker down the street. Try learning how to sew the buttons back onto your shirts.
Think twice before buying and consider second-hand, the most sustainable way of saving vast amounts of money. If you really need a couch, that’s fine. But let me tell you humanity has produced enough couches for all of us to sit at the same time. And we’re all moving around so frequently that second-hand items are more often than not hardly ever been used.
If we speak about fashion, thinking twice becomes even more critical. Try it if you can to choose quality over quantity, longevity. Products responsibly produced to last at least their complete life time on the long term even across users. That is think twice about buying but also about selling because swapping items among us has never been as easy as it is today.
All in all, try a shift of mindset to consider yourself a custodian of things rather than an owner. Someone lucky enough to be allowed to use, like in those good old days when part of the joy of reading arose from actually going to the library to borrow the books.
For its dramatic consequences, we all know we need to give consumption a break. Alternatives today are in line with what we want to call the sharing economy among other fancy titles.
It all comes down to being grateful again, to having more by owning less, to exercise the willingness to share, the willingness to ask, even the willingness to lose, the willingness to enjoy deeply and completely for a moment and then return, to knock on your neighbor’s door when you need a screwdriver and him knocking on yours when he needs a bike pump, because what a burden for both of you to each own both things and how enriching to go back to knowing your neighbors.
Ultimately, we know it isn’t the junk in our drawers that is going to make us happy but having the resources, the space and the time to dedicate to the things that truly matter.
Isn’t that worth pausing and thinking twice?
Resources for Further Reading:
- Why You Feel Anxious Socializing (and What to Do about It): Fallon Goodman (Transcript)
- How To Find Joy When You Love An Alcoholic: Kim Moore (Transcript)
- Psychological Abuse – Caught In Harmful Relationships: Signe M. Hegestand (Transcript)
- Pet Loss Grief; The Pain Explained: Sarah Hoggan DVM (Transcript)
- Chemistry For Your Sex-Starved Marriage: Jessica Gold (Transcript)