Written by Rachel B, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Beijing: International Career Pathways, Summer 2019
Have you ever shopped at Disney World just to return home and think to yourself, “why did I buy everything with a Mickey Mouse head?” That’s exactly what shopping in China is like. Everywhere you turn, there’s an opportunity to make a purchase. You are constantly surrounded by painted fans, faux jade jewelry, decorative UV umbrellas, and small replicas of popular sights. It’s quite a challenge to refrain from whipping out your wallet and giving away all of your bills more quickly than your budget allows. However, I am determined to remain a minimalist.
The concept of minimalism is something I have been trying to incorporate into my personal shopping habits in order to live a more meaningful life. The idea is not to forgo essentials, but rather to live a life free of clutter and excess. The goal is to only buy things that spark joy and have meaning in your life instead of those that are destined to become a new piece of junk in your home. When tempted by a suffocating consumerist market that will do anything for you to make a purchase, this concept becomes more of a challenge to adhere to.
Before arriving in Beijing, I was determined to find gifts and personal mementos that were both meaningful and unique. Little did I know, this was a much harder task than I anticipated. Even visiting an extravagant seve-story Pearl Market where you can bargain your price, I found there wasn’t much that sparked joy or meaning. While many of my fellow students bought faux designer pieces, trinkets, clothing, and other goods, I walked out nearly empty-handed. There’s one secret to this story: you don’t have to buy things to be happy.
Throughout this trip, I have made very few purchases; some of which include a bracelet, necklace, and a scarf. These items all have a story behind them and hold significance to my studies in Beijing. The bracelet and necklace were handmade by a Tibetan woman named Zanta. As a group, we studied Zanta and her life journey through documentary viewing and discussion. The scarf was purchased from a shopkeeper with whom I had a long conversation about our families. Additionally, my grandmother is always cold and they had a scarf in her favorite color. The woman wished my grandmother well. These items may be small and meaningless to others, but they all hold a story and serve a purpose in my life.
I’ve found that it’s easy to get carried away or attracted to familiar, western-style shops. It’s also easy to buy something out of urgency in belief that there won’t be more shopping opportunities later. However, it’s absolutely possible to find goods that are meaningful, unique, AND cost efficient.
In order to find the most meaningful items, I ask myself questions every time I make a purchase. If the item is for myself, I ask, “will this add value to my life?” If the item is for another, I ask, “is this going to add value to their life?” Nonetheless, the most important question is always “Is this the best use of my money?” If you have to convince yourself to buy the item, it is not meant for you. Continuing minimalist habits in China is not easy, but it’s more than possible. For anyone that is looking for a less artificial experience in China, I recommend asking yourself for your own true opinion when making a purchase.