Consumption, Goals, Habits, Life in Paris

Sustainable Self-Care

I’m thinking about old habits, new ideas, and the economic consequences of both.

Having marked two weeks at my internship, I’m bouncing back and forth between school, work, and studying, and I’m feeling how lean my free time has become. I knew this reality would set it, and I’ve tried to prepare for it accordingly.

When I reflect on the part-time and full-time work that I did in the US, I think about what I did when I was bored or when I had a bad day. The most common response that I remember having to a whomp-whomp kind of day was to buy something. A little lipstick, something from an online sale. As I skimmed back through old Gmail folders, I have so many shipping updates and estimated delivery emails from the years that I was working quite a lot.

Why?

I, like so many other people, would respond to an unsatisfying day with a briefly-satisfying purchase. Consumerism, or consumption as a cultural driver and basis for identity formation, is widespread, but I hadn’t realised how deeply I had ingrained consumption into my professional life.

My response to discomfort was not to address the source of the discomfort as it truly was, but instead to search for a product to make myself feel better. Based on my Amazon order history, that was also my response to dissatisfaction in my romantic relationships as well.

I’ve written at length about trying to avoid thoughtless consumption and greenwashed consumerism, but I hadn’t yet addressed this knee-jerk reaction. This is due in large part to the fact that my day-to-day can be pretty varied here, and to my budget constraints while in graduate school.

In moving forward with the long-term project of living more sustainably, I need to build new ways to deal with discomfort when my time is limited and my money is not. I assume that I will be making more than a few hundred euro each month when I start working, and I can either change how I use that money, or fall back into the trap of spending to address a problem that spending can’t solve.

So what are some self-care strategies that don’t involve purchasing more and more things?

  1. Journaling : writing is an amazing outlet for reflection. This is a free, easy way to attend to my emotional response to discomfort, and to brainstorm tangible solutions.
  2. Exercise : instead of shipping a lipstick to my door, if I feel the impulse to spend my way out of discomfort and I simply can’t redirect it, then a way to minimise the environmental and economic impact of that behaviour is to book a spot at yoga or barre. Even though I’d be spending money, my mind and body would benefit.
  3. Social events : one of my goals this year has been to invest more in my Paris-based friends, and I’ve added monthly movie nights into my routine. I get cheap movie tickets as a student and even though they still feel like an unnecessary expense, I have so much fun going out with friends after work, eating a crepe in the park and going to see a film. So far, I’ve seen Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and a broadcast of the Met’s La Traviata.
  4. Plant shopping : I assume that I will one day have to research the flower and plant industry, and I also assume that it will break my heart/plant habit. Until that day, however, I can reroute my sad-spending away from clothing or cosmetics and instead hand it over to my local florist. They’ve been very patient with me even after the death of several (read: tons) succulents, and I’m happy to support a neighbour’s business.
  5. Counselling : truly, this should be first on the list. The ability to see a counsellor was an amazing part of my healthcare plan in the US, and the cost will be about the same here in Paris. If I find myself falling into old patterns of discomfort shopping, I have a plan in place to pump the breaks, call a counsellor’s office that several friends recommend, and start working on an actual plan to figure out the source of the problem and practical solutions. This is the most expensive of my sustainable self-care options, but it’s cheap compared to how much I used to spend on clothing.

I’m keeping it short with these 5 things to try, both now and once I get a job. I’m truly having an amazing time at my internship and I don’t feel the need to online shop on a slow afternoon. Still, I want to be prepared for those days, should they ever arrive, so I can let go of my old habits and move forward with sustainable self-care.

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