the “meh” trap – or – personal style & mindful spending

A guest post by Hayley Lau.

vintage buttons

This year I’ve been thinking lots about mindful spending.

I think it’s seriously important for us to buy more from handmade and indie sellers than big box stores. To buy quality over quantity. To buy less – which enables us to really treasure what we do have, instead of constantly searching for nicer and bigger and better, and is way better for the environment.

I’ve found that one piece of this mindful spending puzzle revolves around knowing and embracing our personal style. Not the one belonging to the girl from that really hip blog. Ours. Ours alone.

What’s the use in spending lots on a handmade purse, if it’s just going to be added to a pile of little-used purses bought from chain stores? Alternately, what’s the use in spending just a little on a handmade purse in order for it to be okay if it does get added to that unused pile? Handmade loses value when it becomes disposable.

How are we supposed to make do with what we own, when our collections don’t quite express us?

When we know our things don’t work for us, we’re tempted to keep searching and buying to see if new things will.

What is personal style?

True personal style doesn’t change with the trends. It is a lasting expression of you in colour, form and sensibility.

I used to run a successful clothing line that was growing nicely.

But something felt off. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, though. I later realised that the style of my line didn’t reflect my true style.

The problem was that I was too focused on what I thought my style should be, instead of asking myself, what do I adore, above all the rest? I was too interested in what looks good on other people, what the trends were on the indie blogs I liked, what I was used to. What I really needed was to first turn my attention inwards, because the foundation of my style is in me, not out there.

My sense of style was lost because I was lost. When I removed the clutter that I didn’t love, I felt more free and clear. When I began to accept and explore the styles I loved, instead of the styles I thought I should love, I began to shine through my possessions.

Style isn’t just about appearance. It’s about how you feel.

Something you love, something that’s absolutely your style, will make you feel strengthened and good and whole.

Choose a thing you love and ask yourself: why do you love it?

I have a pair of boots that have lasted the style test of time. I’ve had them for ten years and I still adore them. I love them because they’re rustic, earthy, simple, with a little bit of character. That’s the life I want to lead. Those are the feelings I want more of in my life. That’s why I love them. It’s about the feeling. The aesthetics are just an extension of that.

The Meh Trap

Sometimes I trick myself into thinking something is my style, then I lose interest soon after I buy it. That means it wasn’t really ‘me’, because my true style isn’t so fickle.

I call this the Meh Trap. If we really questioned the thing, and were in touch with our sense of personal style, we’d know the new thing wasn’t for us. Meh stuff is kind of hollow, whereas stuff that’s our style really fills us up.

But the thing is okay, we think. It’s nice enough.

Nice enough isn’t good enough, though. It leads us to buy more, buy cheaper, and puts us out of touch with our true personal style.

Low prices make us fall into the Meh Trap. Discounts and sales do, as well. Urgency can make us settle.

When you’re strongly aware of your personal style, you’re less influenced by things that aren’t right for you.

Then there’s the Hype Trap. Think very carefully about what’s right for you, and try to accept that your youness is perfectly enough. Then you can avoid wanting something because it looks good on someone else – a friend, a blogger or a fashion model.

Some tips for getting in touch with your unique personal style

  1. Distinguish between the possessions of yours that you know aren’t serving your personal style, the ‘meh’ items, and the adored ones. Donate or get rid of as many things as you can handle, and feel the difference.
  2. Sit down with a blank page or a screen and write about or draw your favourite possessions. How do they make you feel? What do they have in common? Think about how they align with your values, your personality, the treasured parts of your life. Your true personal style will be intertwined with all these aspects of you.
  3. Note down some words or phrases describing your style, which, if they were to encompass everything you ever wore or bought, you feel you would never tire of. To find mine, I had to do lots of questioning and freewriting. I imagined I was in a room filled with things of the particular word or phrase, and gauged whether it made me feel full and good and perfect. Some of my words are ‘natural’, ‘simple’, ‘small but interesting details’.
  4. Start a style scrapbook or online bookmarking page (like we heart it) and be really, really picky about what things you include in it. Beware the ‘meh’ stuff.

Do you feel like you’ve got a firm handle on your personal style, or do you have some work to do? What’s your personal style journey been like so far?

Hayley Lau is a former clothing designer, interested in the intersection of overconsumption, remaking things and everyday mindfulness. She writes about ethical craft and mindful living at Thinker Maker.

25 thoughts on “the “meh” trap – or – personal style & mindful spending

  1. Good post! I believe I have a pretty solid handle on my personal style, but it took a long time and a lot of experimenting. I am not a big shopper, but am not immune to the consumer culture either. I have developed a practice of waiting when I think I want to purchase something, or feel like I have to have it. I am drawn to whatever it is and I walk away. I go about whatever other shopping I need to do and come back. I’d say 8 out of 10 times the desire has diminished. It is meh after all. Now I am talking about shopping in regular stores here, but the same goes for craft fairs, or online browsing. If I don’t allow impulse to guide my purchases the desire usually fades.

    1. Thanks Gwyn!

      I’m the same – not a big shopper (though boy, I used to be!) but I’m not immune to consumer culture. I’m just starting to realise how much it pervades my life without me even realising, causing me to do things I don’t even give a second thought.

      And I’m still not able to walk through a shopping strip without thinking, “Wouldn’t it feel nice to BUY something?” when there’s nothing I actually want.

      I do practice the waiting on making a purchase as well, and I’ve also found that the desire fades most of the time – great point!

  2. This is a fantastic post, and a topic I think about a lot, too. Every year, I get closer and closer to sussing out my personal style, and I no longer allow myself to buy clothing that doesn’t make my heart leap. You’re right, “good enough” is still no good.

    I cut my wardrobe down by a third this spring, and it was incredibly liberating.

    1. Thanks Brigitte!

      I’m glad you pointed out the liberation of getting rid of stuff – so true! Consumer culture keeps pointing out to us that having stuff feels great and makes us better people, but there’s no one advertising the freedom of less stuff, and more quality stuff, so it’s easy to forget and be wooed by new things instead.

  3. I think that personal style is something that can never fully be grasped. Like life, it is an ongoing journey have delights & disappointments, joys & mistakes. Right now, I like to think that I have a good handle on the fashion that makes me feel confident & happy to be me. On the other hand, at 26, I know that I have a lot of life left to live (I hope) & I’m sure there will be styles that come and go – ones I adore & despise – but I’ll keep on experimenting.

    1. That’s such a great point, and something that I hadn’t thought about before.

      If we keep thinking things will only be right once we get to this end point (of figuring it out exactly), we’re not going to be able to appreciate where we’re at.

      Maybe our personal style is what’s right for us right now, deep down, and within that needs to be an acceptance that things may change.

      While I’m mindful about my style, when things change I find them getting closer to the ‘real me’. I’m happy with the journey, but having some sort of guidance is helpful, too.

  4. Tara, thanks for presenting this excellent exercise. I’m definitely going to follow through. Lately, I’ve been very determined to pare down and simplify. Again, thank you for your words of wisdom!

    1. Tara was really awesome to let me share this post with you guys!

      I’m glad it encouraged you to follow through. I bet simplifying will make you feel lighter, good luck!

  5. This is really wonderful and I can really relate to the “meh” feeling I get when I’m debating over buying a new pair of shoes or a top. They are OK, but don’t make my heart skip a beat, you know? I love how you have asked us to compare our personality traits with our style and find where they overlap. Really love that. :)

    1. Thanks Mandy! I’m glad the post resonated for you.

      Also I guess sometimes we even buy things we KNOW are meh for us, because it makes us feel good in the moment and because consumer culture is shouting at as that it’s excellent to buy stuff.

      But trying to be mindful about it all, and really connecting with what’s right for us can help with these things.

  6. As an artist I love SO MUCH that I see. Pure white, modern style? Love. Colorful, eclectic bohemian style? Love. I can appreciate the aesthetics of so many styles, even if they aren’t me. I get all wrapped up in a style that I want to jump right in…except that it wouldn’t fit in with the rest of my lovelies. It has been hard to pinpoint my own personal style, and it is still evolving. Can “evolving” style be a style? I do tend to see common threads in my style though – monotone with pops of color or contrast for example. I don’t get that “meh” feeling after purchasing very often so I must be doing something right. I’m not an impulse shopper, each purchase is very carefully considered and researched in an almost obsessive way. I don’t like clutter. That helps.

    1. That’s an interesting point you brought up, Amber.

      Since your style is uniquely YOU, it’s going to have contradictions in it, because everyone has contradictions. Maybe the things that you buy – you see as an eclectic mix of randomness – but someone else would think ‘this is all so Amber’.

      I think people can feel the common threads of a style when it’s authentically ‘someone’.

      It sounds like you’re totally on track, which is awesome.

  7. yes…what amber says…

    i love to “window shop” online and off, just to gather impressions….and let them filter a bit before purchasing.

    great article. it really is so easy to lose touch with your personal style.

    1. Thanks Amy.

      I like to window shop, too. Before I started exploring this personal style stuff, I would spend too much time gathering and not enough time figuring myself out. I think that’s important to be wary of – that you really keep track of yourself when you put out your feelers like that.

  8. I definitely have a personal style, involving lots of quirky repositioning of clothes (for example, a shirt as a scarf), asymmetry, vivid colors, and the mixing of patterns.

    But it can be enormously tricky to keep it all straight, and I can relate to what you experienced through your past clothing line. I’m currently studying apparel design and also running a blog on the side about rethinking all aspects of style. The compulsion to constantly innovate in my design work and push boundaries in my writing actually makes my personal style evolution feel stagnant by comparison! And then I get confused about which needs to move at what speed…if that makes any sense at all.

    Thank you, Hayley, for the thought-provoking post (am definitely heading over to your site, which looks great). And as a new reader of Scoutie Girl, I have to say that I’m a fan! :)

    1. Thanks for the lovely words, Tessa.

      The compulsion to innovate – yes, yes! I certainly relate to that and I know exactly what you mean. I didn’t think of it that way before, but I think that’s precisely what I was doing with my line. I think if I had have kept my style evolution slow – both with my line and personally – I would have been less caught up by things that weren’t truly me.

      (I’m heading over to explore your blog, too. Sounds right up my alley, glad you introduced yourself!)

  9. Personal style is an issue that I’ve had a light-bulb moment with this year.

    I’ve always been that left-of-centre girl, with a tribal bent.
    When I got in to teaching I toned it right down – didn’t want to scare the kids or the parents.
    My style was found again when we moved to a very open-minded town. It was like seeing a bag of liquorice all-sorts walking the streets – from hippies to lawyers. I felt comfortable.
    And then we moved again, to a very conservative town. So I suppressed my style again.

    But I’ve decided that if people here don’t like what they see, to bad. It is who I am. My home reflects it. So why should I alter the way I dress, the bag I carry and the shoes I wear?

    1. Great point!

      I’ve definitely felt that. When I was in my mid-late teens I wanted to experiment lots with my clothes, but I felt limited by what would be considered okay. None of my friends and barely any of the people I’d spend time around were dressing like I wanted to.

      Maybe in your conservative town, dressing to express yourself will encourage others to do the same. Maybe there are other people suppressing themselves, too.

      I think that’s a huge personal development step though – dressing how you like regardless of what others think or look like themselves. Go you! I’m more able to do this when I realise there are awesome people out there doing this, even if they’re not around the place I’m at at the moment.

  10. Love this post! I am with the others in that I have been in a position where I felt comfortable in my style and also where I have pushed it back. I am slowly finding my way back, and the ‘mindful’ part of it has become key. I really love to buy things I love from sellers I love that have a story I love. I’ve become very attached to a few pieces because of this!

    1. Thank you Mandy!

      Totally agree – we’re going to have stages where we might drift away from the style that’s true for us, but thinking about it and exploring it can help us regain focus.

  11. I agree with the others, EXcellent post! You gals over at Scoutie Girl have some serious thinkers on them shoulders!
    My style is basic, with super fun, totally crazy accessories – and has been since I can remember. I like black dresses, leggings or tights, fun, COLORful shoes, red, green, yellow whatever as long as it STANDS OUT! i love my vintage accessories as well as the hand made! ANd I have had many of them, like you, for ten years (or more!).

    1. Thanks so much Liz!

      It’s awesome that your colourful style has stayed with you and you’ve been into it so long. I’ve only started to realise my style fundamentals this year, so I’m hoping the majority of my wardrobe will stay with me now for that long!

  12. My style is constantly changing, but I don’t buy anything unless I love it! It is so much easier when you don’t have to go thru piles of clothes that are just ok to find something you want to wear.

  13. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Having just downloaded the “Throw Out Fifty Things” workbook, this post is going to help keep me focused on the things that really matter whilst paring down —

    “What I really needed was to first turn my attention inwards, because the foundation of my style is in me, not out there.”

    This quote says it ALL. Though I haven’t purchased anything new in ages, I still get the urge, mostly because I know that most of the clothes I have don’t reflect who I am any longer. I’m going to enjoy the process of matching my outside to my inside!

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