Progress Over Perfection: Finding Balance as a Conscious Consumer

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it. ― Salvador Dali

Stones balancing vertically, backed by ocean.
Photo by Shiva Smyth

Until last week, I had forgotten the giddiness of buying something new. In my adult life, I haven’t found much joy in spending money on nice things for myself, instead finding satisfaction in scoring a cheap thrifted or found item. Excitement for me comes from being resourceful, and new and shiny objects carry the gratuitous weight of being both expensive and unnecessary—too precious to be put to use, and therefore pointless.  

For the last year or so, I completely didn’t care what I looked like: at work, solid shoes and flexible clothing was the way to go, and outside of work I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. So I used very little—no pampering lotions, trace amounts of shampoo, definitely no razors—I was au naturel and the lowest of maintenance. 

But last week I got hooked by an instagram ad. Those damn ads!! I thought about that featured $18 lipstick for a week, knowing I would eventually give in because, since I now knew of its existence, my life would not be complete without it. When I did (and I bought two, prompted by the incentive of free shipping), the flushing thrill was so fierce that I immediately wanted more. I could see myself throwing caution to the wind, no longer caring about the price tag or environmental impact, skipping away into a life of reckless indulgence in pursuit of that exaggerated gratification.

Three tubes of lipstick lined up before their color swatches.
Photo by The Honest Company

The pleasure of buying is powerful. 

The thing is—since my lipstick purchase, I have totally forgotten about it: it wasn’t necessary. It was the idea of the lipstick, the click of the “buy now” button, the curiosity and then the commitment to satisfying my curiosity, that was thrilling. I will experience a similarly disproportionate thrill when that package arrives and I am temporarily enamoured by the novelty of the colors and textures, which will probably inspire me to wonder how dreamy the other lipsticks in that series are. 

Happiness is an abstract and elusive state, one we all understand can’t be met by the superficial fulfillment of “stuff,” yet when tempted by a novel product, we suspend this rationale in the belief that it will get us there. The momentary exhilaration of cracking open the boundless potential of a new thing seems to bathe our environment in vibrant hues, promising a slightly more chiseled personal ambience and redeemed confidence. Single-mindedly we brush our concern for finite resources aside, just for “this one thing” that promises fulfillment. 

The exterior of an H&M store in a mall.
Photo by Psk Slayer


The side of myself that wants my hands in the dirt and never to encounter a shower usually overpowers the side of myself that finds restoration in makeup application and shoes that clack when you walk, but sometimes the dynamic shifts. When it does, I thoroughly appreciate Goodwill sprees and REI store explorations, sometimes even H&M (don’t tell anyone), and find myself indulging in random kitchenware like madeleine pans, ramekins, and chocolate molds—things that inspire me and fuel my creativity, but that I inevitably only use once.

Though I pride myself on needing less to be content and inhabiting a relatively slim margin of consumption, the allure of things—and occasional excess—does not escape me. It’s about finding balance, and a cognizant undercurrent that anchors your values to the inevitable ebbs and flows. 

When it comes to inanimate objects, we are adulterous. Our infatuations tire quickly. We crave fulfillment when we are empty, to pull us out of negative feelings, and stimulation when we are bored, to pull us out of apathy.  

Though our innate craving for novelty is clear, I don’t believe this drive is as inherently ravenous as we experience it today. Companies spend millions of dollars creating friction-free buying experiences and ads that appeal to our psychology, satisfying our desire for pleasure with unnatural speed and saturated stimulation.  

While we can shelter ourselves to some extent from this input, occasional straying is a part of the process. Perfection isn’t sustainable, but practice will eventually lead much closer to it.

Related:

How to Buy Less Stuff

Captive Overconsumers: Why We’re Stuck in a Cycle of Spending

Published by Yenny

I want to share with you what I’ve learned from my work as a food rescuer and from my personal waste-reduction journey, while bringing you perspectives from my network of wise industry professionals. Let’s push full-steam ahead toward building the tools and systems we need to conserve, preserve, and value our resources.

2 thoughts on “Progress Over Perfection: Finding Balance as a Conscious Consumer

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