“Wanting less is a better blessing than having more.” —Mary Ellen Edmunds
Owning less brings great benefit to our lives: less stress, less debt, more time, more freedom.
But wanting less brings even more. Removing ourselves from the culture of consumption that surrounds us allows wonderful habits to emerge in our lives: contentment, gratitude, freedom from comparison, and the opportunity to pursue greater significance.
Breaking free from excessive consumerism is an essential step not just for a simplified life, but for any life that desires to be lived intentionally. How then we can realize this freedom? What steps can we take to break free?
A Simple, Helpful Guide to Overcome Consumerism
1. Admit it is possible. There are numerous persons throughout history and the present who have adopted a minimalist lifestyle that rejects and overcomes consumerism. Find motivation in their example. And admit you can join their ranks. Victory always begins there.
2. Adopt a traveler’s mentality. When we travel, we take only what we need for the journey. As a result, we feel lighter, freer, more flexible… we understand why there is a growing movement to stage our bedrooms like hotel rooms. Adopting a traveler’s mindset for life provides the same benefit—not just for a weeklong vacation, but in everything we do. Adopt a mindset that seeks to carry only what you need for the journey.
3. Embrace the life-giving benefits of owning less. Rarely are we invited to consider the benefits of owning less. But when the practical benefits are clearly articulated, they are quickly understood, easily recognized, and often desired. Of course, these benefits are only fully realized when we actually begin living with less. An important step to overcome consumerism is to embrace the reality that there is more life to be found in owning less than can be found in owning more.
4. Become acutely aware of the consumer-driven society in which we live. Our world will lead you to believe your greatest contribution to society is the money that you spend. We are faced with 5,000 advertisements every day calling us to buy more. As a result, average consumer debt equals $8,000/household, shopping malls outnumber high schools, Americans spend more on jewelry and shoes than higher education, and 93% of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite past time. Recognizing the consumeristic mindset of our world will not immediately remove you from it, but it is an absolutely essential step in the journey.
5. Compare down. Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” He was, of course, absolutely right. As we begin comparing our lives and possessions to those around us who have more, we lose joy, contentment, and happiness. And we begin trying hard to close the gap. This is because we always compare upward—looking at those who have more. But we could begin breaking through the consumerism-trap if we began taking greater notice of those who need more and spending time with people who have less and remain joyful in their circumstances.
6. Realize your money is only as valuable as what you choose to spend it on. The financial resources we have earned or been given hold great potential. They can be used to provide for those without. They can be used to bring justice and hope to a world desperately searching for both. And we ought to dream bigger dreams for our money than the clearance rack at a department store.
7. Consider the full cost of your purchases. Usually when we purchase an item, we only look at the sticker price. But this is rarely the full cost. Our purchases always cost us additional time, energy, and focus (cleaning, organizing, maintaining, fixing, replacing, or removing). Making a habit of intentionally factoring those expenses into our purchases will allow our minds to make more competent and confident decisions about our consumption habits.
8. Turn off the television. Television glamorizes all that it needs to glamorize in order to continue in existence. Corporations don’t spend $50 billion every year on television advertisements because they think they can get you to buy their product, they spend that much money because they know they can get you to buy their product. Television is an industry built on the assumption that you can be convinced to spend (and overspend) your money. You are not immune.
9. Make gratitude a discipline in your life. Gratitude serves little purpose in us as merely a response to positive circumstances. Gratitude holds its greatest potential as an attitude in undesired circumstances. Embrace it as a discipline during seasons of plenty and seasons of want. And begin focusing more on your blessings than your troubles.
10. Practice generosity. The surest path to contentment is generosity. Giving forces us to recognize all we possess and all we have to offer. It allows us to find fulfillment and purpose in helping others. Remember, generosity always leads to contentment with far greater efficiency than contentment leads to generosity.
11. Renew your commitment daily. We are bombarded every single day with advertisements from nearly every flat surface we encounter. Rejecting and overcoming consumerism is a daily battle. Expect it to be such. And recommit every morning—or every hour if necessary.
To exist is to consume. But we were designed to accomplish things far greater. And the sooner we remove ourselves from overconsumption, the sooner we realize our truest potential. May it be so in your life and in mine.