Breaking free of consumerism

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Society tells us that we need more. In 2018 the average person living in western society was exposed to between 4000 and 10,000 ads per day*. And we can only assume this number is increasing with changing technology and the ever growing amount of time spent on social media and in front of TV.

The aim of advertising is pretty simple and has been consistent over time. It is to tell us how much better our life would be if we owned X. The message we hear is: Product X will solve your problems. Product X will make you happier. Product X will make life easier. Product X will make you look slimmer/ younger/ more beautiful. The message we don't recognise but is just as present in this advertising is: Your current life is not enough. You are not enough. You could be happier. You should be happier. You are not worthy unless you own X.

It is no wonder we get sucked into the vortex of consumerism. We are all operating from a position of lack. We are repeatedly and consistently told we are not enough and we believe it. We consume with the hope of attaining that elusive superior status or reaching the far off place where we are enough and are happy. What we fail to see is the cycle: trying to buy our worth or joy through consuming, failing miserably, and then repeating the process. We have access to more products with more speed and lower costs than any other generation in history yet we feel further away from happiness than ever. Depression and anxiety rates continue to rise** and buying our way to a happy fulfilling life is not working.

So there is plenty of discussion out there about how to live a happy life: connecting with your values, living with purpose and being your authentic self. This is not a post about that- this is a post about how to break free of the strangle hold which consumerism has you in. Now that you see that over-consumption is not the path to happiness (or enlightenment for that matter)- we need some tools to support our moving away from it. Here are some of my top tips:

1. Listen rather than watch

Reduce the amount of time you spend scrolling or watching a screen- tune yourself back into listening.

Music of most genres isn't there to sell you something (other than possibly the album itself); it's there to bring you joy, inspire, motivate and fill your soul.

While some podcasts will try to sell you things, many will simply tell you stories, challenge you to think and grow or impart wisdom. You may have to wade through an advertisement or two during podcasts, but often these can be skipped and studies show you are less likely to buy a product after hearing an audio advertisement compared with watching a TV advertisement.***

Consider educating yourself or being swept up in the adventure of an audiobook.

Break free of the desire to consume by being entertained by your ears rather than your eyes.

2. Acknowledge that you are enough

Stop playing the game of compare and despair. Stop measuring your worth, value and success using someone else's measuring stick.

Ask yourself:

What is important to you?

What does success look like for your life?

What is enough, really enough for you and your family?

What do you value?

How does consuming more align with your values or contribute to you achieving success?

Having the latest tech gadgets, a new fancy car and more clothes and shoes than you could ever possibly wear will not enhance your sense of self, not if you look deep enough. Start to recognise that YOU, your connections, experiences, opportunities, charity and mindset are the source of happiness - not your things. You cannot buy yourself happiness. People that tell you otherwise are usually trying to sell you something. Their convincing chatter about your inadequacy is about their bottom line, not about enhancing your quality of life.

When you appreciate that YOU ARE ENOUGH, you'll soon realise YOU HAVE ENOUGH.

You cannot buy yourself happiness. People that tell you otherwise are usually trying to sell you something.

3. Recognise how consuming excess takes you further away from happiness

When you try to 'shop-yourself-happy' you slap yourself thrice.

You slap yourself first with the understanding that comes, not immediately, but sometime after the purchase that the item in fact did not make you happier, slimmer, more beautiful, richer, cooler, a better parent or solve all your problems.

You then slap yourself again when the invoice arrives for the product, knowing now that despite the fact it didn't change your life and make you happy you still have to pay for it. Paying for it sounds simple but you don't just pay with your money- you pay with your time and the possibilities of that money. The time you take to earn the money to buy the thing is burden enough, but the appreciation of what that money could've done instead, the possibilities for making real change elsewhere is huge. Providing funding for your kid's education, paying off your mortgage, giving to those less fortunate than yourself: the possibilities were endless... until you spent that money on something you didn't really need.

The third slap comes repeatedly as you maintain, store, move, repair and then finally decide how to dispose of the thing when you let it go.

How is this cycle getting you closer to happiness? It's not! It's filled with a fleeting high at the point of purchase followed by disappointment and regret but yet we repeat it over and over with the thousands of objects in our home that are excess to our needs.

Time to take the blinkers off and see the over-consumption for what it really is: taking us further from our goal of happiness not closer to it.

4. Set a goal and remind yourself of it- regularly

Why do you want to break free of consumerism? You might be motivated by your increasing debt, a feeling of overwhelm from the amount of possessions in your home, saving the planet's resources or just wanting to move away from living and shopping unintentionally. The best way you can do this is to set a goal for yourself.

Start simply. It might be: Not buying any non-essentials for one week. Then, it might increase to: Sticking to only buying items on the grocery list for the next month. Maybe, you can ramp it up to be more long term and specific like: Only buying new clothes when the ones currently owned are damaged or need to be replaced. Maybe it is a goal to: Pay 50k off your mortgage this year by implementing a strict budget.

Whatever the goal is, revisit it regularly. Put a reoccurring reminder in your phone to keep it in focus. Remind yourself not only of what your goal is but also of WHY you want to achieve it. What does achieving that goal mean to you? And conversely, what are the consequences for you, your bank account and the planet for not achieving that goal.

When we start understanding the machine that is consumerism and our part in that machine, we are a step closer to breaking free of it. If you want to take a closer look at how you contribute to the consumerism machine watch Annie Leonard's: The Story of Stuff for a concise portrait.

Joshua Becker says "Owning less is great, but wanting less is even better." When you apply yourself to start wanting less and step away from a life of excess consumerism, you'll find mental and physical space for the important things in your life. Things like family, connection and experiences, which were buried under all the things you were buying or aspiring to buy. And that might just be the real path to happiness.

Want to go deeper? Check out this short but powerful You Tube video by Joshua Becker on Overcoming Overconsumption.

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