An influencer’s antidote to influencing

But..how to shop less?
But..how to shop less?
Image: AP Photo/Luca Bruno
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If you look at Miranda Anderson’s Instagram, at first glance it might strike you as similar to many other bloggers. Her feed is filled with light-filled photos, flat-brimmed hats, smiling children, and inspirational quotes. But you won’t find a lot of what is increasingly crowding many influencer feeds: posts telling you to buy that same flat-brimmed hat, candle, outfit, or cake stand.

Anderson has worked as a blogger for many years, focused mainly on home improvement and DIY, and does have many posts that were sponsored by brands under her belt. It’s a big part of how she’s been making a living. But her life philosophy is “practical minimalism,” or “intentional living,” where the whole point is getting rid of stuff, not acquiring it. It’s similar to the message popularized by the home organizer extraordinaire Marie Kondo.

I met Anderson at a conference for women bloggers I recently attended (Quartz member exclusive). I had one question: how can you be an influencer and make money off of promoting products for brands, and preach rejecting mindless consumerism?

Anderson, who is 36, told me that she never was an avid shopper, but in 2017, she did a yearlong experiment where she and her entirely family didn’t buy anything that wasn’t consumable, like food, or printer ink. She applied this same philosophy to her work. At the time, she didn’t work with brands that made objects that would fill up her home—instead choosing to do sponsored posts for companies that make food, greeting cards (that could be recycled), and experiences, like travel.

One contract she didn’t renew, for example, was with a home décor company which allowed her to spend $500 per month to buy products at the store and promote them online. Her philosophy, Anderson said, is less about sustainability or criticizing capitalism, rather being satisfied and creative with what you already have. Living a simpler life.

Anderson said her income dropped, but not massively, and the following year, she carefully chose the brands she worked with to fit her values. One brand was Home Depot, given it fits with Anderson’s work, and she was renovating a house at the time. Anderson said it was her best year to date, financially.

But the biggest lesson of the challenge was that she decided to start to move away from doing sponsored partnerships. She said she began to realize that she didn’t want to be part of the cacophony of voices telling you to buy everything you see on social media.

“As my job, I was contributing to the messaging that people needed more in order to feel better or be happier,” Anderson told me.

Anderson got tired of the never-ending consumption on the internet. Around the holidays, when she was going through her blogger friends’ instagrams or blogs, “it was like every single person was selling something,” she said. “I think just tuning into that, I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t want to be part of that.”

She wrote a book about her not-shopping challenge, called “More Than Enough.” It oozes positivity, but it also offers some glimpses of Anderson’s realization how big a role social media, including her own work, play in contemporary consumerism.

“That personal endorsement [from an influencer] feels so emotional, that it convinces us even more covertly of the things we should buy,” she writes in the book. “Sometimes the feeling comes from friends and family, and sometimes from the hundreds of strangers who begin to feel like friends.”

“I don’t need marketers to tell me what I need. Being present in my everyday life is enough to inform me of my actual needs,” she adds later.

The book, which she self-published in keeping with her DIY ethos, offers a number of common sense, useful, but flexible solutions to avoid an Instagram-induced shopping obsession. It involves borrowing instead of buying, recycling, making things for yourself. She also suggests a reframing of your consumption habits—including how to do this all with young children constantly begging for toys.

Anderson doesn’t want to say that people shouldn’t buy things or that consumerism is bad—which sometimes leads to inconsistencies in her approach. But she embraces them.

Her motto is tailor-made for the Instagram thirst for wanderlust: “Less Stuff More Adventure.” The slogan is printed on a small line of products she sells on her website—t-shirts, sweatshirts, and luggage tags. I point out to her the irony of espousing making do with what you have, and selling merchandise. She’s aware of it, but defends her products. The t-shirt can be one of the few items you have in your closet, and besides, it encourages people to live by that motto, she said.

“You feel kind of dumb going to Target with a “Less Stuff, More Adventure” t-shirt and leaving with three baskets full of random crap, you know?”

Anderson’s book was part of her plan to limit sponsored work. She also hosts a podcast, and has plans for another book, and life coaching. The most successful bloggers all diversify their revenue streams anyway, she said.

Influencing has become another advertising channel, with many creators doing little more than sponsored posts. What used to be a way to support  creative work now makes up most of the work itself. Younger people treat influencing as a business from the outset, not as something that develops after years of work building an audience on a topic. And as influencing develops into an ever-larger business, control slips away from the individual creator (Quartz member exclusive). Big platforms wield power over the content, while agencies and brands decide who gets afforded opportunities and who does not, and sometimes shape of the content itself.

Anderson’s decision to move away from sponsored work comes as the “shoppability” of online content is about to enter a new era, one where platforms like Instagram are likely to become even more of a gigantic mall than they already are. Instagram is expanding its shopping features—you can now shop directly from the app, both from brand and influencer posts. Instagram also announced that companies will be able to boost influencer posts, making them in effect act like regular ads. We’re goaded to shop as soon as we touch our phones. And it’s never been easier to have any product you could possibly want on your doorstep the next day.

At the same time, the “Less Stuff More Adventure” attitude also emerged during the Instagram era. Social media rewards photos from an elephant refuge in Thailand, or the shot from Iceland’s hot springs. The adage that millennials prefer “experiences to things” is so oft-repeated it has become a cliche. Marie Kondo’s decluttering methods are infinitely ‘grammable.

But don’t expect people to stop buying things for those experiences. Think multi-colored Outdoor Voices leggings that look great with a beautiful canyon as a background, or an Away suitcase that tells your Instagram followers that you’re embarking on an escapade. Or perhaps even one of Anderson’s t-shirts.