consumerism | mindwi.se edit

Define it: What is the source of this consumer frenzy?, Why do we buy too much?, What are the factors that influence our consumption?, Why do we create needs and justify our purchases?, How to resist the urge to buy stuff?

Explain it: Black Friday, Abundance, You're a human being, not a consumer, Buying, aka throwing money at a problem, Advertisement is the #1 enemy, A cup of coffee, Shortage, Not true, I used to be in debts, Euphoria, then nothing, On buyer's remorse, Hedonic treadmill, World is insane, Standardized greed, Our time, Every day is a struggle

Fix it: Stop buying coffee on-the-go, Fantasy self, I need, Convenience, Well, fuck that, 4 rules to have a mindful consumption, 5 questions before buying

Having completed studies in sustainable development in 2018, I'm no better than anyone else. But at least I know that what I do is most probably wrong. I question myself daily on so many different aspects, but I find it so difficult to excerpt ourselves from this broken system, to fully respect the environment. Being mindful with our own consumption is a starting point.

With each potential purchase, I start by asking myself this question: for what problem am I trying to find a solution?


What is the source of this consumer frenzy?

In my humble opinion, the two World Wars play a leveraging role in this consumer society. Governments have been able to develop a war economy, allowing the perfect industrialization of society, which has driven a completely new form of taxation, taxation on the sale of goods and services. This was set up to finance infrastructure developments, but over time, citizens have been able to obtain developments in social assistance and programs. Thus, we had entered the vicious circle of taxation and consumption. Because, it must be said, more tax means more social programs, but these taxes are collected only if each of us consumes. This means that frantic consumption has served to increase public services.

But there is a point not to be crossed, in asking for infinite growth. An anthropocentric view will explain that consumption is good for each of us, because the standard of living and happiness is improved. On the other hand, an ecocentrist vision, which puts the environment in the foreground, deplores the rate at which we are using what is made available to us for strictly profit purposes above all.

How did we come to live in a world that seems uncontrollable (from an individual point of view), but controlled (from a business point of view)?

Lynn White Jr had already, towards the end of the 1960s, formulated the thesis which has become famous which explains that it is fundamentally the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its ideas making the human being the unique being created in the image of God, who is thus invited to reign over divine creation and who is finally destined for a better world within a paradise located outside the terrestrial world.

To rule, to control, this is essentially the source of our endless consumption. Without meaning, our collective existence will control the rest.


Why do we buy too much?

1. We believe this makes us "normal".

The Keep up with the Joneses effect is very real. We are constantly influenced by others. If everyone has a smartphone, it's easy to get overwhelmed with our old phone. It is exactly as if we wanted to reduce the difference between society as a whole and ourselves in order to be closer to it and avoid appearing "abnormal".

2. We are independent and selfish.

Our existence sometimes boils down to what we have. Our conversations easily turn to newly purchased items, luxury items or coveted items. Feeling independent with one's financial capacity leads to spontaneous, unnecessary and redundant purchases.

3. We are bombarded with ads.

On the park bench, by the side of the road, in the back of the bus, in a magazine, between TV shows, in our mailbox or post office. Advertising is omnipresent and influences us to the highest point.

4. We believe we are becoming happier.

Who has never experienced instant happiness following the purchase of a new object? Happiness fades quickly in the majority of cases and we forget it to want a new, more recent, that shortly after.

5. We want to be secure with our purchases.

If buying something makes us happy, we automatically feel secure. So why not buy some more? Maybe all the problems will go away at the same time. Unfortunately, this creates new problems without necessarily eliminating the old ones.


What are the factors that influence our consumption?


Why do we create needs and justify our purchases?

I believe that the abundance of products as well as the marketing means that our purchases need to be more "thoughtful", without necessarily being useful, and that financial pressure drives our decisions to be justified at a higher level. Let consumerism not spoil our daily lives and take a step back before loosing the purse strings.


How to resist the urge to buy stuff?

  1. Refuse advertisement: close the TV, use an adblocker on your web browser, shut down the radio when driving.
  2. Think long term: do I really want to deal with this new object in 6 months, 1 year, 10 years?
  3. Stop shopping.
  4. Go minimalist.


Black Friday

It is the holiday season, the season of magic, common euphoria and family reunions. Officially, many consumers plan to spend large sums to purchase goods. After all, what better way to celebrate the holidays and feel like you're off work than by increasing the strain on your financial situation?

Instead of putting yourself in debt, why not try a Buy Noting Day? A great read about it is to be found on Mr. Money Mustache.

Rather, I wonder if a Black Friday is really different from any other 364 days of the year.

The videos of consumers fighting in shopping malls reflect for me only an accelerated and densified vision of our human activity in general. In a single day, consumption actually appears to be higher than usual, but in fact, when you consider that multiple consumers have delayed a purchase knowing full well that Black Friday was approaching, consumption is zero. there is only doubt on the same day when the cameras are focused on the event. For the other 364 days of the year, very little is said about it in the media, but consumption is just as intensive, consumerist and focused on a lifestyle predatory of the living environment.

The day synonymous with excess is therefore only a simple representation of the rest of the year and serves a specific purpose: to make people forget how our individual action, outside of this single day, is not justifiable. As if Black Friday was justifiable because it is the exception to the rule. The problem is that it is a social conditioning for consumption.


Abundance

Almost everywhere, we are surrounded by abundance. We have a decision fatigue built in our daily life now. Most of the industries use the subterfuge of the multiplication of products to confuse ourselves and give us the illusion of choice when the differences are often minimal or non-existent. This abundance therefore does not help us to make an informed choice and keeps us in the dark. At the pharmacy, to fix that cold you have, how many different brands, different types, different formulas are you proposed? When it is time to change that old car, how many models, trims, options do you have? Think about another situation and the result will probably be the same.

To overcome this, we must first inform ourselves before buying, allow ourselves a grace period of a few hours or a few days before making the purchase and better question ourselves about our real needs. Most of the time, we can go without.


You're a human being, not a consumer

Don't you aspire to something more than owning a luxury home, a car of the year, the latest electronic device or even the most popular profile on the Internet?

Isn't the true value of living altered to the point where we no longer distinguish between human beings and consumers?

For me, I decided to refocus my life on solid values away from what is conveyed by the society which follows the trend of corporations. This translates into more free time to avoid daily chaos and allow me to think normally. Live debt-free, live stress-free, reduce the influence of advertising to reduce consumerism, live simply and according to your real financial means. Just live, without trying to prove yourself or to others.


Buying, aka throwing money at a problem

If I buy this, it will fix that. If I buy a car, I will be able to get to work faster. If I buy a new bed, I'll be happier. If I buy a robot vacuum, my house will be cleaner. If I buy this sportswear, I will go for a run every day.

The problem with this thinking is that too often it attacks the symptoms and not the cause. Buying a car to get around to a job that is initially too far from home doesn't often make sense. Buying a Roomba to clean your floor does not rule out the fact that you have to clean the counters, the sink, the toilet and ultimately the floor too.

Spending often large sums of money imagining that all problems will be solved, it looks like a utopia.

By stopping to think like that, by postponing/reconsidering purchases and by reducing dependence on consumerism, one easily frees sums of money and, despite popular belief, frees up time. Indeed, spending thousands of dollars annually for the possession of a car for the simple fact of going to work or accumulating expenses of a few tens or hundreds of dollars forces you to work more to pay for these "luxuries".

By avoiding this vicious circle of working to pay for things that we believe are necessary to simplify life, we withdraw into a way of life where everything is slower, less excessive and more down-to-earth. Naturally, we will respect more the people around us and the environment that is lent to us. Because a problem solved by a purchase is very rarely a real problem. Advertising agencies know a thing or two about it.


Advertisement is the #1 enemy

The main problem with advertisement is not the brainwashing, manipulation, commodification. The real problem is that it works. Advertising is manufactured demand. You want things because somebody else want you to want them.

As an individual living in a free-market economy, companies spend a lot of energy training you:

Your lifestyle is designed not in your image, but to satisfy the minority of the population which controls the majority of the assets. As soon as one becomes aware of this, it is possible to untie the bonds of certain addictions and to live a life full of meaning and in its image. Giving up the ad-filled television that shapes your thinking is just one example of many.

There is more to life than being a consumer. Yes we have certain needs which require regular purchases, but avoiding becoming dependent on any product or service frees up immense time and financial resources and can only make us happier.

All the microdecisions instilled by advertising only reinforce a deficient lifestyle.


A cup of coffee

Each morning, lots of us turn on the coffeemaker or stop at the coffee shop to get a morning dose of caffeine. It is quite natural, since it is simple and inked in a routine.

But let see this from another angle.

It assumes the coffee beans are already cultivated, roasted, conveyed to us, ground. It assumes the electricity or natural gas to boil the water is here for us to use.

Now, what if you need to do all steps yourself? Like collecting firewood to boil water. Or roasting the beans. Having the convenience of water on tap, of energy on tap, of coffee ready for us are few examples of the modern world we can benefit to optimize our life... or slow it down to appreciate it even more.

Life is a succession of steps, which we don't always have to do because others did. Having gratitude for the others is a great way to start your day, one cup at a time.


Shortage

Every single day of our life, we listen to news, scroll through endless feeds of, run against ads along the roads, on city buses, on park bench. Many of the communication we get since the beginning of the pandemic is this: hurry up, get what you want while it lasts. We face major shortages.

Bicycles are getting rare by the minute, cars are missing electronic components to be ready to deliver to consumers, toilet paper was the new crazy consumerism shit last year, phones are getting more expensive because of factory shutdowns, housing markets are bursting in flame everywhere in Canada, etc.

Let's face it: there is no shortage of any kind.

The only possible shortage is the lack of common sense in our very own life.

You don't need anything to be complete. Just relax, shut the screen, leave the phone/computer away for a bit and breathe. Don't be part of this madness.


Not true

It's not true that I'm buying $1000+ smartphones for the rest of my life. It's not true that I'm falling for expensive city-living full of temptations for many years to come. It's not true that consumerism will drive my views, actions and behaviours daily. It's not true that working in a bullshit job is my main purpose up to 65 years old (or older). It's not true I will eat cheap, processed food forever.

I can go on and on. But you get the point.

Individualism, luxury, abundance, consumerism, opulence, maximalism: all those should be traded for human-centered existence, frugality, lagom, responsible consumption, simple living.

Don't accept what you think is wrong. Step back and change in a better way.


I used to be in debts

Not swamped in debt to be insolvent, but around $40k in car loans, $5k in home furniture and a $300k mortgage. My incomes were not that bad, but I was saving almost $0 for the long term. All the money that was coming in was burnt out quickly.

One day, I decided I had enough of that struggle. I decided that I no longer will live above my means. From now on, maintaining a debt is, for me, part of a faulty economic system. Instead of providing new possibilities as advertisement suggests, it creates dependencies.

Thus, without overconsumption and related debts, I now choose to live more freely and simply.


Euphoria, then nothing

Consumerism de facto underlies disappointment. Buying goods brings instant happiness, not through ownership, but through the buying process, the experience. After this short phase of euphoria, monotony quickly returns and we abandon the physical object to fall back into a "dreamer" spirit to which is attached a renewed physical object, improved, inaccessible in the very short term. Our spirit of provider engages and leads us to create an intense desire for possession of the better.

It is an endless circle to which we have no real obligation. One decision-making/awareness to turn the tide and pull us out of endless consumerism and bring us meaningful life in which disappointment is not an intrinsic characteristic.

New Internationalist - The demoralized mind


On buyer's remorse

I firmly believe that acquiring an item is way too easy. The decision, no matter how well thought out, will never take into consideration the future that will really unfold (not the one we foresee). It is then difficult to make a good decision. Sometimes we hit the nail on the head, sometimes we fail miserably.

I decided a few years ago not to base my current decisions on those of the past. So feeling remorse for a purchase and sticking to it is not part of my lifestyle. If I made a mistake, I accept it and try to analyze the reasons not to reproduce them in my future decisions.


Hedonic treadmill

Let me tell you a short story. Back ten years ago, I was making an average salary with no benefits in a small business. One day, after four years working there, I decided that I had enough. Money-wise, but also to try something else with my life. Just for the sake of it.

Few weeks after I applied on couple positions, I got an interview in a multi-billion crown corporation. Got the job, with about 50% increase in my salary PLUS full benefits, including pension (what we can call golden handcuffs). I was raving.

That day, I specifically told my wife that we will no longer have money issues. For the symbol of it, I bought an expensive toothbrush (something about $8 for a disposable one, stupid right?).

This is it, right there: the hedonic treadmill.

The act of using newly-added money in your life to justify stupid decisions to try to make you happy, but it does eventually lead to a return to normal state where you are no longer happier.

By buying the toothbrush, all I did was to transform future money into instant happiness that won't bring any real value in my life because we, as humans, don't need so much shit anyway. All I did was to fulfill a void because my mind needs constant justification of its own existence.

Happiness and justification also equal pleasure and satisfaction. But it doesn't specify for how long. And that is the main problem with buying stuff these days. The need gets created artificially by marketers and we, people, drink this Elixir of Singing Birds as pure truth, like it will solve all our problems.

Back to my not-so-short story where I need to write down some facts. This job change did increase my wealth. It allowed me to try new/different things and experiences. But I'm still trying to find my way in a sea of possibilities, rowing against the current to see something different.

Because if you replace the toothbrush in my story by a new car, a second new car, a more expensive place to live and what else, you get a life over-inflated with consumerism at its best. And it is the exact thing I'm trying to fight big time, but without success as of today. One day, I'll be in my sweet spot out of this madness.

The Minimalists talked about Eudaemonia few years back, a way to rebalance hedonism in life by talking about a broader sense of wellness instead of pleasured happiness.


World is insane

Haven't you ever look to modern society and said to yourself "this way of living is totally insane"? I realized that I think about it almost daily. I can't pinpoint all the reasons, but it feels like people are brainless and are pursuing the wrong goals.

How come we arrived at the point to celebrate housing overinflation to sky-high prices in a country like Canada? People making huge bucks out of thin air are laughing. But for every homeowner cashing out fake value of a property, how many others will struggle with housing for the rest of their life? Rents are going up too, and still, governments don’t lift a single finger to fix the free market when housing should be a right.

We should not be forced to work full-time to meet our basic needs, just to survive. Poverty is removed from the benchmarks by making people working more and more, increasing their incomes, but not their wealth because they now have to justify high mortgage just to live in any major city, where work is located. You just can't win this race, the system will consume you.

Additionally, we go to university because we want others to recognize our success in life, then we chase this high-paying job to pay for over-expensive stuff to make sure we are happy. When we think about it, it is nothing else than a vulgar display of power of the others, the environment, ourselves.

We spend our life, our time, our hours, to be part of a broken system. Why do we do this? Comfort? Convenience? Social status? Novelty? Entertainment? Belief in a moral value of progress? Trying to fill an inner void? This is insanity.


Well, fuck that

This short read is about my cynism toward our world. We go nowhere as a whole.

We are told to buy our happiness by advertisement. We are told we are not complete without the latest industrialized piece-of-shit that will be rendered obsolete by your unlimited wants or the unlimited stream of crap pushed by corporations. We are thrown at way too much information that is totally irrelevant to our existence (Neil Postman was right). We are told to race against each other to be successful. We are left behind by a system that wants to outlaw being poor. We are a cog in the machine that is geared toward wealthy people, not community wellbeing.

We are tired of this shit. (At least, I am.)

Every single day of my life, I ask myself what I can do to stop this. Well, I have no answer, but to refuse to be part of it.

Refuse advertisement, refuse consumerism, refuse endless scrolling, refuse the rat race, refuse being in debt and slave of your job, refuse to be a disposable tool.

Accept to live a meaningful life by creating good around you. Start an initiative to bring joy to people. Build a coop to offer a service.


Standardized greed

Greed: an uncontrolled longing for increase in the acquisition or use: of material gain (food, money, land, possessions); or social value (status, power). Identified as undesirable throughout known human history because it creates behavior-conflict between personal and social goals. (Wikipedia)

Standardization: the process of implementing and developing technical standards based on the consensus of different parties, a situation in which all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions. (Wikipedia)

If by greed we can refer to the tendancy of some human beings to hoard money, power and whatever they feel rightful for them to remove from others, I strongly think that the standardization of such is now normalized within the story tale we are being told by modern society. It created standardized products that we can find everywhere around the world, be it a cheeseburger, an industrial machinery or a pair of shoes.

Because of the globalization, standard products are the new norm. The world is closer together, in a bad way. A bakery expansion to take over a country’s market without regard of the quality is overlooked as beneficial to all of us, but in fact it is a pure format of greed, just so a few CEOs and shareholders can get rich and successful. Why not focus on being local, personalized, higher quality products, rather focused on standard subpar products?

In fact, I believe we need to stop justifying our sole existence with monetary measures and the have more, be more ideology. I don't understand celebrities making million of dollars already launching a new business with their name on it, thus making even more money. Like you really need more... or you justify your life with a fake sense of helping others because they buy your crap. I'm sick and tired of that greed. And I'm also desperate too see so many of human beings buying crap they don't need, just because somebody else told them they need it to feel complete.

Thinking about this makes sad for human future. Corporations reduced our existence to greed, individualism and transactions. Let's fight by giving our life a more deep meaning, whatever it is.


Our time

We work for somebody else to earn an income. In fact, we spend our time on this planet for an imaginative invention, money. Then, why is human being so stupid to spend it the wrong way? Why do we decide to follow the trails of advertisement and consumerism? Are we that disappointed about our existence that we don't trust ourselves to live freely with less?

Instead of trying to earn more money for our entire life, why can't we slave ourselves for a few years only, spend a bare minimum and invest wisely so we free ourselves from a broken system? Do we really prefer to slave forever and get pointless rewards like SUVs, McMansions and $5 latte?

Life has nothing to do with careering and professional prestige. Life is about us, human beings who need few things in life to be happy. Time should be one of those needs.

After 32 years alive, I feel misplaced by society. Even if I can be sufficent for the rest of my days with my family (with lower standards, less SUVs and less lattes), there is a major force that want to drive us crazy to continue to live in those conditions, the modern slavery.


Every day is a struggle

I'm trying to be strong, trying to protect myself from consumerism, from wanting things, but it failed. I tend to scroll mindlessly way too much on news sites. It brings me relief of boringness in my day. However, it also brings unsatisfied wants, which leads me to lookup, search and read about new products. Garbage like smartwatches, expensive bicycles, gizmos, new cars, technical clothing, etc.

I'm so bad. And stupid. I should not consider myself a minimalist anymore, I struggle so much.

I would be proud if I can get rid of the Internet, by throwing away my smartphone and my home Internet service. But it is not a viable solution because it would be like closing the lights in a bar for an alcoolic; he'll still be holding that glass, just in more mental obscurity.

Remember when people were saying computer would reduce paper usage? It resulted in even more paper everywhere.

Internet used to be defined as the way to reduce our dependency of going to places. It resulted in a new dependency of getting every thing at our place.

I hate this shit so much. Amazon, stop removing frictions between the product and us. Facebook, stop pushing garbage craps down our throat. News sites, stop playing on live drama to fear scare us constantly.


Stop buying coffee on-the-go

Whatever is you favorite coffee shop, stop buying from it. The added comfort of having a warm cup of coffee in your car during your commute is an absolute convenience to never change you way of life revolving around this very car.

For a few years, I commuted by bike. Damn near impossible to carry a paper cup full of coffee. My solution was: a Aeropress, a manual burr grinder and a bag of fresh beans. I saved time AND money.


Fantasy self

I used to own expensive stuff. Motorbikes, SUV, lot of clothing, way-too-big house, cleaning products by the crate, expensive and multiple gadgets, ton of accessories, furnitures, shit I don't need.

All that, now vanished.

Like the time I spent to pay for each item.

I no longer want to assign my success with expensive stuff as a reward, to create a fantasy self. An expensive mountain bike to follow my friends and impress them won't bring me anywhere I want to be, but probably somewhere where others want me to be. Problem is, many of the wants are a fantasy.

My suggestion is stop trying to be somebody else, just give up on expectations, including yours. Live freely, lightly and with a purpose.


I need

When is the last time you heard someone saying "I need x" or you personally said "I need y"? Have you stopped and thought for a second how weird it sounds?

Thing is, you don't need shit. You want shit.

I need a new car.

Well, technically, most of the time, you don't need a new car, you want it. To go to work, to fit your lifestyle, to go from your house to your too far-off points of interest. If you already have one, I tend to judge your claim because running the same car longer is financially wiser and it has the ability to lean your life about savings instead of endless debts, renewal, upgrade, etc.

Personally, I changed my car at the beginning of this year because it was 17 freaking years old and I was moving in a cold city, hostile to old diesel engine. And still, spending $15k on this new car feels wrong. Good thing it is our only one and it is quite economical.

I need a new job.

Again, you don't need one, you want it because you're probably tired as shit of the current one. Thing is, you should look for a better job in different terms. Stop chasing happiness, money. Start to look for a better balance in life where money is no longer the justification of going out of bed each morning.

That's me right now. I'm not tired of my job, but it doesn't fit my lifestyle since it requires long commute.

I need this new TV.

No you don't. Curved, 3D, whatever 4k high-res is just marketing BS and you are being fooled to think you can't live without that.

Simple solution:

  1. Can you go without? (I know, it is taboo in our society.)
  2. Do you really need that? If yes, let it sink in your virtual shopping cart for a day/week/month or two.
  3. Do you still need it? If yes, find it second hand.
  4. You win and save money.

Anyhow, stop buying shit you don't need.


Convenience

I might not have referred to the article titled The Tyranny of Convenience by Tim Wu, but I feel like it is fairly appropriate right now, especially since majority of our society is acting like there is a scarcity on everything because of the pandemic.

No more cheap houses to buy.

No more produce or canned food at the grocery store to buy.

No more used and new cars (because of parts shortages) to buy.

Etc.

In fact, there are still many houses on the market, many used cars (on all price ranges) and starvation isn't the head title of newspapers. The only shortage is our ability to settle for less, take what we already have for granted. We aim too much on the never stop improving aspect that it turns us into buying, replacing, trashing machines.

And I'm part of it.

A recent example is the fact that a tread on Redflagdeals.com kind of pushed me to buy a Nespresso single-serve coffee maker. I despised those since years (see Keurig, in French). Economically, I spent $100 plus taxes and got $100 credit to get coffee pods. No big deal as you can see. Truth lies elsewhere.

I can enjoy a cup of a lungo espresso quickly, yes, but I also have to manage new pods, manage used ones to be recycled (if it really is) and I now miss my regular setup quite a bit. Indeed, my regular espresso maker with $10 for 2 pounds of Robusta coffee beans was fitting the bill perfectly. So, why did I get the Nespresso?

Advertisement? Maybe.

Convenience? Most probably.

When we look at acquiring something, we tell ourselves a story about improving ourselves, having a better life, being more complete, getting a social status (I deserve it) and what else.

This reflection leads me to this other article from Becoming Minimalist: One Question You Can Ask to Declutter Faster. Don't be fooled by the title, the article contains a question directly related to convenience: “What would I use if I didn’t have it?”. This question allows us to see our possessions with a new perspective. Because let's face it: Life goes on even without the stuff you don’t buy.

We are surrounded by comfort and we can't even acknowledge it. You can have anything, anytime. Abundance is everywhere. But the same abundance can lead us in scarcity.

Back to my example, I do mistakes sometimes. I try not to blame myself too much and just refocus and take decisions not to remove frictions like most companies want us to, but to remove convenience like it should be. Taking an extra 2 minutes to grind beans, stomp grounds, clean the filter and a few extra steps isn't the end of the world. It's in fact a reward to yourself, not relying entirely on convenience.


4 rules to have a mindful consumption

  1. Don't buy compulsively.
  2. Don't hoard.
  3. Don't organize your space to store more stuff.
  4. Don't keep just in case.


5 questions before buying

  1. Can I afford to part with this money?
  2. Can I pay the actual/true cost?
  3. Will it serve a value of bring me joy?
  4. What else can I do with this money?
  5. Can I get by without it for a while?

If you didn't need it 5 minutes ago, you probably don't need it now. Put time between yourself and the object.

Reference: Your lifestyle has already been designed by David Cain