‘Sex isn’t really what sells. What sells is fear’

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How many times have you glanced at the front cover of a glossy magazine, stared at an image on Instagram or gazed into a shop window and thought how well-curated, stylish and – well – downright sexy everything looks?

Luxury fabrics; girls with pearls dripping from their glossy lips; that ‘must have’ shade of mustard/aubergine/burgundy – it’s all there. But does it make you want to buy it?

Does sex sell?

The oh-so-shiny (and pricy) periodicals are always ahead of the game. Are you just about to sashay into September? The October issue of Vogue/Tatler/Harpers etc. is already on the shelf. Its mission is to persuade you to buy the next thing (and the next thing) and to get it first.

The Sunday supplements then reinforce the message on a weekly basis with their snappy articles entitled: “What’s hot now”; “What to wear this month”; or “The latest colour story for Autumn”.

All of this stuff looks so attractive, cute and highly fashionable. It looks sexy. But, does sex sell?

Well, no.

The title quote from this blog post is taken from Matt Haig’s Notes On A Nervous Planet, which I’m reading at the moment. What Haig says is this:

“Sex isn’t really what sells. What sells is fear.”

Oh.

What is this fear you speak of?

This ‘fear’ we’ve all seen – and been driven by – takes many forms:

  • Fear of not looking stylish, beautiful or fashionable enough
  • Fear of not seeming successful enough (or not appearing to move in the right circles)
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Fear of not being enough
  • Fear of loss

You can add your own fear to the list.

Have we succumbed to purchases through fear?

My most recent ‘fear’ purchase came about through fear of loss. In my last post, I mentioned that I had ‘won’ (bought – doh!) a bag via eBay. In fact, it wasn’t a terribly successful transaction but its motivation was definitely fear.

I had recently returned home to find my bus pass on the road at the bottom of our drive. I mus have pulled it out of my bag when rummaging for something else, but I hadn’t noticed its lightweight form dropping to the ground. I need this pass every day; just imagine if someone else had picked it up or I’d arrived at the bus stop only to discover it was missing?

My intended new bag was designed to mitigate this risk, as it had a small zip-up pocket on the exterior of the bag. In theory, my pass would be the only item to go into that little pocket, which would be zipped up firmly to ensure no future loss! You see? Fear…

Bigger purchases can also be driven by fear

Bigger, more substantive purchases can also be driven by fear.

Worried about turning up at business meetings not looking adequately successful in your old family estate car? That fear can literally drive you to purchasing a brand new, beyond-your-means vehicle that you don’t actually need and that will represent too great a chunk of your monthly outgoings. (Note – Dave Ramsey’s rule of thumb is this: never have anything with a motor that represents – in value – more than half your annual income).

The solution

Examine what drives your behaviour. Behaviour change is key if we’re going to get beyond fear-driven impulse purchases that lead to clutter (and even debt).

Think of all the categories in which you’re likely to spend for fear of missing out; for not seeming pretty enough; for not feeling as well-groomed as you would like; or simply for not being on top of the latest trends. As Autumn is just around the corner, this is another time of transition in how we look and what we wear. So, think about the following categories:

Make up

You know what suits you. Just buy that when it runs out.

If you do fancy a change of product, then do your homework before you buy. I’m about to go and have a make-up session at Trinny London (check out the results on Instagram after next Thursday afternoon!).

The reason I’m doing this is because I have read very good things about Trinny London products but really want to try them out properly before I buy. It’s also a fun thing to do with my 16 year old, before she goes back to school. I once treated myself to some make-up in SpaceNK where the helpful salesperson applied a little bit of product to a square inch of my cheek and declared the colour match to be perfect. It wasn’t.

Clothes

Don’t try and emulate the clothes of a friend whose style you admire. They won’t suit you and you’ll end up passing them onto someone else.

Need a wardrobe boost? Put Project 333 in to practice before you buy more.  In my case, that’s “Project 224” (I tend to change my wardrobe around every 2 months, using normally 24 items or less in that period). The weather – and notably the temperature – changes frequently in the UK. Although we’ve had an unusually prolonged hot spell this year, the end of August has seen temperatures drop back to a more usual level. This has led me to doing my habitual switch-around where summer clothes go and spend the winter in the little wardrobe in our study and the autumn/winter clothes begin to emerge from their enforced exile.

Accessories

Choose accessories that work in any season and buy quality over quantity. I’m not big on accessories, I have to admit. I used to work with a wonderful woman who knew how to wear a chunky necklace and who was never without a fabulous statement belt. That’s just not me. So, buy what you need and only buy what you’ll actually use (not what your ‘fantasy self’ or your best friend might wear.

Be not afraid

So, as the final Bank Holiday of the year becomes a memory, don’t be driven by fear.

Especially if you’re off to college or university or Sixth Form, remember that being you – and being your authentic self – is way better than trying to emulate someone else’s style, looks or bank balance. It’s much better than way and I promise you won’t miss out. So let’s get ‘Fear’ off the list once and for all.


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Why I’m calling it a day with eBay

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When you’re in the early stages of decluttering, it’s very likely you’ll discover lots of near-perfect items (or ‘gently used’ ones), which easily be sold online.

From clothing and accessories to electronics or children’s toys, sites such as eBay can be a brilliant way of moving stuff along to a home where it will be used and enjoyed. Plus, you’ll make a bit of cash in the process.

For my part, I’ve been a member of eBay for almost exactly 15 years. In that time, I’ve sold far more than I’ve bought, although I have purchased a few things. And it’s true that some have been better than others….

My eBay dashboard

My eBay profile tells me that I have 284 ratings and a mint green star. When it comes to gamification, I really don’t care very much what colour it is, but that star suggests I’m doing OK.

Nonetheless, I have made some mistakes over the years. I share them here, so that you can avoid them if you’re considering selling via this channel. If you’re a well-established e-Bayer, read on and enjoy a wry smile or two at my expense!

Mistakes I’ve made

Selling

  • Wrong description  – I once listed a well-used but perfectly decent laptop, believing that the box my husband had given me was the actual box for the device. It wasn’t. Instead, I had used the box of the device that had superseded the one to be sold.Lo and behold, my poor buyer (who was tech-savvy when I am not) realised my mistake and we quickly reached an amicable solution: He kept the machine but we agreed a sensible price for what it actually was versus what I thought I’d sold….
  • Inadequate packaging – If you’re going to send something breakable, make sure you use a lot of packaging. I tried to send an Orla Kiely ceramic bread bin to a buyer.  It should have been triple-wrapped in a wodge of bubble wrap, lovingly encased in several boxes, before being parcelled up in brown paper (taped a gazillion times with sturdy parcel tape). Instead, I sent it with only scant wrapping and a prayer in would arrive in one piece. Of course, it didn’t. 

    I should have been more accomplished at this stage in my eBay career. Needless to say, my buyer was justifiably disappointed and I swiftly provided a full refund. Here’s where you get hit by a ‘double whammy;’ eBay still charged its commission.

  • Accepting a buyer’s plea to have me despatch a bulky and large item by courier was another example of ‘not a terribly good idea’. We owned an electric piano, which was already secondhand when it came to us, but we sold it for a reasonable price on the basis that this would be Collection Only.
    The problem came when I discovered our winning-bidder was in Brighton. Did she realise that Kenilworth to Brighton would be a round-trip of over 300 miles? Our buyer, however, had other ideas. If she paid, would I send the instrument? Reluctantly, I agreed to do it, but there followed a rather chaotic sequence of events.

    First of all, the piano had to be despatched in two large packages. Cue Julie Andrews singing ‘My Favourite Things’. These packages were, indeed, brown paper and tied up with string. They were also extremely heavy, exceeding both the courier’s weight and size guidelines. Still, we (buyer and me) agreed to take the risk.

    Off went the parcels and we waited to see what would happen. By some miracle, some days later – in two separate consignments – the piano arrived at its destination. It turned out my buyer had been a past contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest, so I was bemused to have been able to contribute to her potential future musical adventures.

  • Calculating postage costs can be problematic. You have to be very focussed when it comes to understanding not only weight, but also volume. eBay provides estimates and guidance on this, but you can have some ‘fun’ trying to weigh a bulky item. My usual trick is to balance a large mixing bowl on my kitchen scales, then place the item to be posted on top of that. This way, you can usually view the weight easily. Remember to weigh the item once it has been wrapped; packaging can add to weight and volume.
  • Finally, seeing other stuff to buy when I should have been focussing on the selling has also been a feature of my experience with eBay. This leads me onto Buying.

Buying

  • Getting too attached to an item is a foolhardy thing to do. Some years ago, a “pine” wardrobe – located just up the road – turned out to be a terrible bit of tat (I should have “viewed it, before bidding…). Don’t get into a bidding war. Assess your item, put in your maximum bid and walk away. If you win it, you’ll find out soon enough.

More recently, I bought something whose quality was inadequately described, resulted in a ‘to and fro’ dialogue with the seller to persuade them to accept the item as a return. To me, this felt like a case of obfuscation; the item was in very poor condition and I was dismayed to see this on unpacking it. Happily, I have been able to return it with the (reluctant) agreement of the seller. Let’s hope I get my money back!

  • Clothes can be a mixed blessing when you buy them via eBay. I do advocate second hand but I should point out that there are some caveats associated with this. There are a great many reputable commercials sellers on there (who also sell directly via their own websites) e.g. Carobethany whom you can trust, as well as many super sellers of their own stuff. Look carefully at their feedback if you’re going to buy and only purchase brands whose quality and fit you can rely on.

Taking a rain check

So, to coincide with the change of British weather, I’m taking a raincheck with eBay. For now. Since we all acquire stuff we don’t need, it’s likely I’ll return to it some time in the future. But, for moment, we’ll let the sun set over this useful but rather complex way of letting go of stuff.

What’s your best way to get rid of clutter? Do you simply let go via the charity shop or doorstep collection? Perhaps you prefer a local selling platform such as Facebook? Do please share below. It would be fantastic to know what works for you.


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Things I’ve learned after 2 years of blogging about minimalism

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It’s been more than two years since I began blogging about minimalism and intentional living (and over four years since I began my own ‘Clearout of the Century’).

So, what I have learned in this time?

Stuff accumulates

You have to be relentless in your pursuit of an uncluttered life. Even if you’re being intentional about what you bring into your home or work space, other people still give you stuff. You also acquire stuff.

Stuff (of all kinds) lands on your doormat most days. This is a constant truth, no matter how vigilant or mindful you may be. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so ‘stuff’ will seek its way into your home like a weed filling a crack in the pavement.

Decluttering is an ongoing de-layering process

I always describe decluttering as though you are peeling the layers of an onion. Once you’ve removed the outer layers, you may need to maintain some momentum to keep that sense of lightness and freedom that you’ve begun to enjoy.

So, when a charity collection bag drops through your letterbox, go to your ‘goods out’ drawer and fill it ready for collection.

Your needs change over time

You’ll remember that, back in the winter, I took the decision to go ‘car free‘. Instead of carrying a leather tote bag from car to office, I switched to a rucksack, also using my handy cross-body bag for my purse, bus pass, phone and so on.

Have I used my trusty leather tote? Of course not. And I’m not going to, so I’ve listed that on eBay. You need stuff to function, but if it’s not being used, let it go.

Things need a consistent home

Recently, I have been helping clear the home of a relative who has died. I was struck by how similar the contents were of many of the drawers that we emptied. Why hadn’t there been one drawer for X and another for Y? The answer to this will never be clear, but this experience taught me that:

  • Having one location for similar things means you won’t forget what you already have and end up buying duplicates (or triplicates!)
  • You’ll maximise the space you have if you keep similar things together; they sit well alongside each other in the drawer (especially if you store them using the KonMari method)
  • You won’t lose important documents, keys or information if you have a single place for items that go together. Check out my 3 S’s of Paperwork for some ideas about how to approach this.

Labelling avoids confusion and saves time

This reminds me. Keys must be labelled!

How often do you rummage through a drawer and come across a key for something…. but what? Label those keys, keep similar ones together (i.e. window keys) or use a distinctive key ring that everyone in the family recognises for a particular door or cupboard.

Go ‘all out’ or potter about – it’s up to you

For our recent foray into familial decluttering, there were 6 of us  working consistently to a plan. In the space of a few hours, we went all out to declutter 3 downstairs rooms. If one of us had been doing it, you can imagine that this task would not only have been daunting; it would have taken a whole working week. In fact, I spoke to a colleague of mine who had been doing a similar task in her parents’ bungalow; it had taken her 20 whole days…..

Since you may or may not have 5 family helpers on hand at any one time to declutter your home, I recommend the slower route. Pottering about the house can achieve very good results, but in a more mindful or leisurely way. American cousins, I believe you call this ‘puttering’. Whatever – you’ll achieve your goals and enjoy seeing your space free of clutter.

What you own really does own you

Whether it’s a work outfit that needs dry-cleaning or a car that needs fuel, new tyres or its annual service, the old adage is true: what you own owns you. The less you own, the less you have to worry about.

I can’t tell you what a joy it’s been to walk to the bus each morning, hop on, read my book or catch up with colleagues, then simply hop off on reaching work. Earlier this week, for my 5 mile journey, the bus arrived in Kenilworth at 07:41. I was on campus at the University where I work at 07:56. Brilliant! No need to find a parking space, no need to worry about traffic. Wonderful!

Minimalism impacts positively on other areas of your life

Whether it’s money, personal development, living in a more environmentally-conscious way or helping others, adopting a minimalist lifestyle can really make a difference in all areas of your life.

As I have written in previous blog posts such as this one, external clutter can point to something going on in your life beneath the surface. When you find you are able to let go, it’s possible to discover that living a life with less can really mean a whole lot more.


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