How Do You Resist Consumerism?

Photo by psyberartist

“Our primary identity has become that of being consumers – not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but of consumers!  We shop and shop and shop  . . .” – Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Resist Consumerism

Throughout the month of January, Mandi of Organizing Your Way has been running a series called 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010Today, she is sharing her thoughts on how to resist consumerism, and she has invited me to write about what that looks like in my family as well.

Before we can know how to resist consumerism (or even if we want to resist consumerism), we need to identify what the philosophy of consumerism entails.  For those working within the discipline of economics, the term consumerism deals with a movement that seeks to protect buyers (think CPSIA). 

For our purposes, however, when we talk about consumerism, we are referring to “attachment to materialistic values or possessions,” and the belief that when we buy and spend and consume more and more and more, we can find fulfillment.

In early 2008, I watched The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard, and I am not exaggerating when I say it had a profound and life-changing impact on my life.  If you have not already seen it, I highly encourage investing twenty minutes into viewing it.  The chapter on consumption motivated me to make significant changes in how much I allow the very prevalent emphasis on consuming in our culture to impact my family.

As a former football coach’s wife, I often see things in terms of defense and offense.  To take a stand against consumerism, I knew I would have to both defend myself and my family from a culture of consumption while at the same time be very proactive in embracing a lifestyle that celebrates freedom from all of that stuff.

On the defense:

1) Guard your input: It is amazing how quickly I can become convinced I need something when a new Anthropologie  catalog shows up in the mail.  What is even more alarming is the intensity my preschooler feels when she sees a commercial for Pillow Pets – she has to have one!  There is no shortage of stimulus inviting us to buy this now!

Consider carefully what you allow to come into your home, your viewing time, your listening time, and your thought patterns.  Toss catalogs in the recycling bin, choose DVDs over commercial TV, don’t renew subscriptions to magazines that incite a desire to buy things you do not need.

2) Know your triggers: I find it hard to keep consumerism in check at Target.  I love that store, and I always walk out of there with far more stuff than I intended to buy.  I have to limit my trips there to the very, very rare occasion.  Perhaps for you it is window shopping at the mall or surfing for good deals on eBay which entices you to spend money.

Do a little self-assessment to determine where, when, and how often you find yourself falling into the consumerism trap.  Once you know your triggers, set yourself up for success in avoiding them.

3) Challenge yourself: Rachel of Small Notebook creates a No Spend Month for her family every summer.  In purchasing only what is absolutely necessary, she is reminded of how often they choose want over need.

Could you challenge yourself in a similar way?  Take things slow in the beginning.  For example, for my daughter’s birthday at the end of this month, I’m challenging myself to see how little we can spend on the birthday party while still creating a fun and memorable celebration.

On the offense:

1) Shop differently: Seek out gently-used over brand new.  Choose clutter-free over clutter-full.  Prioritize experience over excess.

2) Think differently: Keep notes of affirmation handy to remind yourself of the purpose of the path you are choosing.  I am personally so motivated and inspired by asking, “what is essential?” Intentionally asking myself that question keeps my want vs. need ratio in check.

As you consider bringing something new into your home, make it pass the William Morris test:

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

In lieu of reading material that seeks to convince you to go out and spend money, fill your reading and viewing time with that which reminds you to treasure and care for that which you already possess.

3) Live differently: I will be very honest with you.  In some ways, choosing to resist consumerism is quite easy for me in this season of life.  We live in a small rural town on the southern plains.  Our little community is filled with families that are working hard just to stay above the poverty level.  I drive a Toyota with over 125,000 miles on it, and no one in our friend group gives that a second thought.  We are renting a house that is over seventy years old, and one of the many charming character quirks is its saggy foundation.  Our neighbors across the street often park cars in their yard.  (I warned you I was going to be honest!)

It’s not really all that difficult for me to take these steps to resist the shiny new stuff of the consumerism/consumption cycle because of the culture and community in which I reside.  But I know for some of you, it is a much more daring way to live life.  Some of you move in friend circles which place a pointed emphasis on new and shiny – new homes, new cars, new clothes, new gadgets, new toys.

Choosing to live differently will disturb the universe in which you travel just a little bit. Be prepared to meet resistance.  Find strength in reminding yourself that in the very, very short time you are given on this planet, you are investing not in things that get broken or outgrown, tossed in landfills, and forgotten in short measure, but rather you are investing in the intangible – a peace and contentedness that fills your life when you are able to walk joyfully in your freedom from stuff.

Where are you in your relationship with consumerism? On the defense? On the offense? What do find provides the most motivation to buy less and enjoy more?