A Simple, Helpful Guide to Overcome Consumerism

overcome-consumerism

“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.

Image: dno1967b

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great list, Joshua. A lot of these things slip through our filters and we end up figuring it out too late. Actually, scratch that. Some of us don’t ever figure it out at all.

    Number 6 sticks out to me most. Money can buy you plenty of things and I feel like experiences are much more valuable than a tangible item that has the same sticker price.

    • joshua becker says

      The sooner the better that’s for sure. And don’t neglect to seek experiences and/or opportunities that actually improve the world we all share.

      • says

        The overriding message heard in developed countries seems to be, “You may not know what you want, but that’s ok, because Im going to tell you”

        You see and hear this on a some visual medium. You buy the ‘thing’. Then the next day, it’s a new billboard with a new message. “Now you’ve got that, you now need this and then you’ll be complete”

        A vicious cycle which never will end.

        http://thelandscapesoflife.com/consumed-by-consumerism/

  2. says

    Joshua,

    That is truly a shocking statistic about teenage girls. I wonder how much it’s changed in the last 25 years. I love the idea of adopting a traveler mindset. That’s an image I’ll take away with me from this post.

    • joshua becker says

      Shocking and unfortunate that’s for sure. Such a sharp warning to be observant of the messages that are constantly seeking to influence our thoughts and behavior.

  3. Laura says

    I’ve always fantasized about relocating my family to somewhere like Mexico, with the ideal in mind that suddenly then possessions and commitments would be simpler and more meaningful. I’m finally wrapping my head around making that happen in the here and now, even in the heart of affluent Alberta, Canada. I think a step in the right direction is surrounding myself with like minded people, turning OFF the tv and thinking for myself instead of accepting what is “normal”. I’m making progress but it’s about the journey, right?

    • Lina says

      It is a journey, I moved to Mexico after painstaking getting rid of everything I owed in the states. Not long ago I started contemplating moving and it was then It done on my all the things that inadvertly I had accumulated. It requires intention and somewhere I got lost, seduced by the arts & crafts and the newness of everything. Sometimes we get distracted, I now need to backtrack and focus on the direction I want my life to be. Journeys have many twists!

    • Rod says

      Hey Laura,

      If you ever do reconsider moving to Mexico, the caribbean offers a great minimalist lifestyle for very little. If you ever want to talk about this, get in touch. I made this move 2 years ago and I’m so glad I did.

      Cheers!

      • catherine hazur says

        I would be interested to know more about ur minimalist move to the Carribbean. Thanks in advance for any information u may provide.
        Catherine

  4. Courtney says

    Thank you for this wonderful list, Joshua. I read it mindfully and came out the other side feeling very peaceful. I’ve been trying to pare down for a while, with marginal success but still a long way to go. I always find inspiration and motivation in your blog posts, though!

    One thing I think could be added to #7 is the cost on the “other side” of a purchase, if you will. There’s the personal cost as you mentioned (time spent organizing, etc.), but perhaps just as important is the cost to other people and the rest of the world. For example, the creation of some products has a distinctly negative cost to the world, the environment, laborers, etc. But some products can positively impact the world, like things bought at shops that fund community enrichment, such as thrift shops and TOMS shoes. :)

    • jack mullet says

      yeah, but leave your internet and smart phone on, right? this list is lame. you can enjoy life just as much by consuming things

  5. Vivienne says

    What a great list! I am just beginning to look for ways to become less of a consumer. Its going to be a challenge because my husband and kids are not on board but I am hoping to lead by example. I don’t know if you agree but I would add taking care of the natural environment as an example of being minimalist. Using home make safe cleaners, reducing waste and recycling are important. Just a thought. Have a wonderful day and thank you for sharing this list.

  6. says

    Thenix and I are currently using the traveler’s mentality to use less and have less. We are traveling all the way down to the tip of South America in a hatchback 1998 Honda Civic (usually the smallest car on the road). Due to the limited amount of space and the need to have nothing showing to remove the temptations for thieves, we have very little in our car. Our backpacks are both small with a week’s worth of clothing. We have a tent, sleeping bags, and an air mattress for camping. We have a little bit of food and a gallon of water for those long road with nothing on them. That is all. Travelling really truly is minimalism.

  7. says

    I am practicing minimalism in a unique way by getting rid of a bunch of books, the contents of which are impeding my appreciation the beauty of the world around me. Namely, these are mostly scientific books, since in my opinion, this kind of knowledge kills the wonder of the natural order, instead of its claim to boost it. (Just my opinion, everyone approaches that idea differently.) And since knowledge is an intangible “possession” of sorts (namely it is often prized and can clutter the mind), to accumulate knowledge sparingly and not to dwell on it (since that is the chief way of forgetting it, the only way of discarding it) is one of my ways of being minimalist. In a way, ignorance can often certainly be bliss. That’s just my idea, you can digress. (By the way, there are plenty of posts you can read concerning that in the archives of the linked blog.)

  8. says

    Thanks for the awesome list. I have changed many of my beliefs regarding consumerism which has been so liberating for the past year or so. It just sort of happened- like an awakening for me. My challenge however remains to work towards sizing down what I have accumulated during the many decades consumerism was worshiped – lots of physical “stuff” but also some lingering limiting emotions and thoughts.

  9. says

    This came at such a perfect time… I’ve been paring down my possessions (aggressively) in the past few weeks, with plans to continue, and I was thinking the other day about how much I consume and how little I create/give/contribute. So this was perfect. Going to print it out and put it on my fridge. Thank you!

  10. Sarita says

    I am just starting this journey. What a great feeling to have empty shelves in my all closet! I will use open them,smile and say thts great! Thnk you for this post. I will save it and re-read it often. I will also pass the info on. NOW my problem area is my craft room! Can’t have too many rubber stamps,paper and ink! :-)
    Thank you again.

    • Pam W says

      I am currently starting to deal with all the stuff that is taking over my space. I can totally relate to your craft room dilemma with all the stamps, paper, punches, etc needed (or is it ‘wanted’) to keep the creative juices flowing. This area will be very difficult, maybe almost impossible, to downsize by much. There are plenty of other areas to be weeded out and downsized. The bathroom is the only room that is clutter free… Am so grateful to have discovered this site … reading Joshua’s great insights and doable approaches to what seems to be underwhelming tasks…as well as reading about how all those who comment and share how and what they’re applying to their own situation. There may be hope for me after all…

  11. Haseena says

    Beautiful! I love this idea of simple living, which has been endorsed by many followers of spiritual paths for thousands of years.

  12. Tori says

    I REALLY REALLY appreciate this article. In little over two weeks I am going to Walt Disney World and I setting a goal to not buy every cool trinket I see. I know it is going to be very difficult, but reading this helps motivate me and keep me determined.

  13. says

    Amazing post! Interestingly, as my income has increased I have been longing for a simpler life, with less “stuff” and more life experiences (many of which can be very simple as well).

    The traveler mentality point really hits home: I feel my best when I am traveling, and I attribute that to the fact that I live with very little while “on the move”; that gives me a sense of freedom. I wrote about that on my blog about 2 years ago.

    I am preparing a piece about consumerism, and will definitely mention your post!

  14. says

    This month our family is participating in a no-spend month where we purchase nothing beyond gasoline and groceries and those are to be at a minimum. We are making a very slow transition to a more minimalist lifestyle. Thank you for this list.

    • Holly Dominguez says

      We’ve done that before and it’s been such a great lesson to our family! Not only does it boost the bank account, but I loved that we cleaned out our pantry by actually eating the food instead of discarding it, and gave everyone a good perspective on needs vs. wants. I posted the quote, “Use it up, Wear it out, Make Do, or Do without,” on the fridge during our no-spend month, which really helped keep everyone focused! I know it’s not easy to do commit to this, but it is so worth it! Best of luck!

  15. says

    This is brilliant. We have been actively on the path to minimalism over the last 2 years, and this list came at a perfect time during our journey. Thank you, thank you.

    I will be sharing this with my family, friends and our little “Cosmic” community for sure!

  16. says

    I just spent one of the longest weeks of my life house/dog sitting for someone who has a big house filled with stuff (much of it broken). Of course since the house is so big, there is plenty of room to scatter stuff everywhere and nothing is placed in a logical easy to access spot. I spent 90% of my time wandering around a monster house looking for things.

    If anything, this experience re-enforces my love of minimalism.

  17. mom says

    I have been pairing my stuff down for a year now. I have removed at least 25% of our stuff maybe more. I find it gets harder and harder to remove items until now. I just spent a week with a friend who may not even realize she is a minimalist. I slept well, felt happier, less headaches and overall had a mood improvement. When I came in my door the grumpy side of me came out almost immediately upon seeing the clutter, dishes and the stuff on every surface. It is going to be hard but I really want this I guess I have to keep trying and someday it might be improved.

    • Kris says

      I, too, have been simplifying my possessions for a year.You are right, it is going to be hard to get your surroundings to a minimalist’s ideal state, but we can approach it and the journey will be rewarding Upon recent review, I began to feel that I hadn’t made much progress because my home and personal possessions still overwhelm in spite of the bags of items I have given away or discarded. That is until I went on a shopping excursion last week and found myself debating the true need of the purchase and feeling somewhat guilty about the purchase (even though it was a gift card purchase.) I realized, then, that the real success was in changing my mindset. A year ago, I would never have felt a twinge of guilt about purchasing anything. And I purchased often. Now I shop my closet, use the library, use up products before replenishing and keep a keen eye open to recognize things in my home that are no longer needed. Giving away possessions is the hardest part and probably comes from a childhood of having little. But that doesn’t mean that I am failing.

  18. says

    Hi Joshua,

    very well written and interesting. The obsessions of comparing ourselves upwards as well as the general consumption frenzy is simply taking out all the joy out of life.

    Don’t live to consume, but consume to live has been working very well for our family of three.

    You just got yourself a new reader. Good luck and all the best
    Chris

  19. Holly Dominguez says

    Pinned this article! I love the point about comparing down!! Once I realized that I had contracted “affluenza” from HGTV, I cancelled our cable and we’ve been living happily without commercials for over a year. However, I did notice I was still comparing upwards through my magazine subscriptions, and so I’ve been cancelling them as they come up for renewal. I also stop advertisements from invading my inbox. I jokingly think to myself about how many distractions my wallet has to face everyday. Getting my kids and myself to want less has been such a blessing, and it’s articles like this one that gives me a good shot in the arm to fend off all the infectious advertisements that pull on my purse-strings!

  20. Thomas says

    One day, a tourist visited a monastery and an old monk showed him this beautiful and calm place. At the end of the tour, the tourist could even have a look at the chamber where the monk lived. He was astonished at the simplicity, he saw a bed, a small dresser, a table and a chair. Instantly he asked the monk: Where you possessions? The monk returned: Where are yours? I am a traveller and perambulate, the tourist answered. The monk started to smile.

    Aren’t we all travellers in this world? We have a certain time to live on this planet and then we have to leave, with NO exception. Living as light as a traveller opens possibilities to explore the world around us. And even more…

    Thank you Joshua for sharing your thoughts and inspiration!

  21. says

    This is a great list – and I love point number 5 about comparing down. I still find myself looking at friends houses and longing for similar, even though I’m good for many of the other points.

    This is something, along with gratitude, that I need to consistently add into my own outlook.

    Gradually we find all the pieces of the puzzle as we go! Thank you!

  22. says

    You make some good points about shopping and especially about constantly recommitting. It’s strange to think that just a few years ago I considered shopping to be a fun way to spend a Saturday. Now, I’ve realized I don’t actually like shopping, and I’d rather not bring unnecessary items into my home! It’s taken a lot of practice, and occasionally I start to slip, but mostly your initial quote is what really speaks to me:
    “Wanting less is a better blessing than having more.” —Mary Ellen Edmunds

  23. lian says

    Another consideration, which may actually go under # 7 as a cost of a purchase, is the environmental cost of consumerism. It doesn’t make sense to use diminishing and increasingly expensive resources for stuff that doesn’t really add much value to our lives – and will likely eventually end up in a landfill. I’ve learned to see the stuff that tempts me as future landfill material.

  24. Ashman says

    Great article. Especially enjoyed the point about the true cost of something being more than just the price tag. To me, these costs can be seen in the unhappy and stressful faces of most of us who have been led to believe that we need the latest car, tv, or whatever. We find out how much the item truly cost us when we see how it feels to have it paid off.

  25. Carol MacMillan says

    As a wife and mother to two children aged 14 and 9 I find more and more that I’m having issues with number 5. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not feeling bad because I want more stuff, I’m feeling frustrated because I want much less and my husband and children are all on different pages from me. I feel like I’m forever dealing with everyone else’s stuff. I have ‘smaller living’ and ‘less stuff’ envy, I read great blogs like yours about people living great lives with less and it has inspired me to give away so many things over the last couple of years but nowadays when I leave my computer and look around it isn’t my stuff that’s cluttering things up. It belongs to the people I love and they aren’t so keen to get rid of any more of it. Hence my frustration. They have over the last year parted with some things but the bulk seems here to stay.
    I guess I should just get a grip and remember all the things that we have accomplished so far but it’s hard not to compare what we have with where I know we could be. I guess I’m stuck for now.

    • says

      Just thought I’d add that things have moved along quite fast since I posted my first comment. I guess leading by example really does work because my kids and my husband all recently decided to have a good cleanout. My husband in particular surprised me by getting rid of lots of old computers, floppy discs, boxes of old computer magazines and extra tables and things that he had stored in his manspace in the garage. There was only a narrow walkway between things before and now there is heaps of space to move around.

      So I think Joshua is totally right when he says that you can only be responsible for your own stuff and that you have to let people deal with their own things in their own time. They do feel the difference when you clear space in and around your things in the house.

    • shara says

      I can relate to this. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. But awesome things are working out! They always seem to

  26. Erica says

    I’m ashamed to admit this, but my idea of a fun day was spending $100+ at Target or going to an outlet mall and coming home with my trunk filled with stuff. I recently reached a breaking point and have started getting rid of things. Last night I got rid of books and some knick-knacks in my bedroom. It’s amazing how much nicer the room looks! I’m now working on getting rid of my grandmother’s china dishes that have been in boxes for almost 10 years. Baby steps !

  27. David Lynch says

    “Security is knowing what I can do without.”
    – Interview excerpt from the book “Hard Times” by Studs Terkel

  28. Mel Haun Sr says

    Someone mentioned moving. This is the real test on how one is living.
    Trying to judge what to do how much one has accumulated…..And how much of it one really needs.

  29. Northmoon says

    In addition to turning off the TV I need to stop following so many fashion/lifestyle blogs. Some of my favourite ‘what I wore’ bloggers have become more commercialized lately with links to deals at on-line shopping for clothing, skin care products, jewelry etc. They post their recent purchases as well as their travel itinerary for their vacations. Hard not to think ‘She looks so good, I want that xxx too’.

  30. Kathleen says

    Re: Adopt a traveler’s mentality — A couple of years ago, I noticed that I felt happiest when I was on vacation in a fully furnished house or condo, and not concerned with having just the perfect things in my (albeit temporary) home. So I took it one step further and decided to sell my home with all its contents, and moved with my computer and just a few boxes to a fully furnished and equipped condo in a new city. Now I only buy things that are consumable, and I have so much more money to invest in experiences. I am still amazed at how freeing this is.

  31. says

    As always a wonderful post. Consumerism causes a lot more damages on our society, our families and our lives than we can imagine. Unfortunately, consumerism changed our whole mentalities.
    It you don’t mind, I share one of my posts here that is about the effects of an artificially high standard of living that is a byproduct of consumerism.
    Thank you for a wonderful site.
    Paris
    http://thegreenminimalist.blogspot.com/2014/01/artificially-high-standard-of-living.html

  32. K. Winstead says

    I have moved 24 times in the last 42 years–almost all work related! Each move was more difficult and more stressful because through the years I had collected so much stuff. I got rid of a good bit of stuff during the packing and moving process each time, but always managed to replace it all at the new location. In the last 5 years I’ve gone from a 4,000 sq. ft. home, to a 2,000 sq. ft. home, to a 1,200 sq. ft. apartment.
    I am getting ready for move #25 in the next few months–moving to the smallest place I’ve ever lived (580 sq. ft.). Because of my minimalist efforts over the last several years I’ve given away, sold or donated more than two-thirds of all my belongings! I am not stressed about the upcoming move and packing should be a breeze. I look forward to this new chapter of my life!

  33. shara says

    I love this post, like all of yours. I laughed at the compare down suggestion though. That’s exactly what I did….and now I can’t find any families to compare down to. I know I just need to look harder. Lol anyways thank you everyday for the great articles!

  34. Purva says

    Joshua, great blog! I love most of them.

    ‘Americans spend more on jewelry and shoes than higher education’ – where is this statistic from, if it is data backed, that is?

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