10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism

avoid-consumerism

I am trying to live a minimalist life. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t own stuff.

My family of four still owns three beds, three dressers, two couches, one table with chairs, one desk, eight plates, eight bowls, eight glasses… My kids own toys and books. My wife sews. I read, play sports, and care for the house. We may be seeking to live a minimalist life, but we are still consumers. After all, to live is to consume.

But we have worked hard to escape excessive consumerism. Consumerism becomes excessive when it extends beyond what is needed. When we begin consuming more than is needed, boundaries are removed. Personal credit allows us to make purchases beyond our income-level. Advertisements subtly reshape our desires around material possessions. And the consumption culture that surrounds us begins to make excessive consumption appear natural and normal.

Excessive consumption leads to bigger houses, faster cars, trendier clothes, fancier technology, and overfilled drawers. It promises happiness, but never delivers. Instead, it results in a desire for more… a desire which is promoted by the world around us. And it slowly begins robbing us of life. It redirects our God-given passions to things that can never fulfill. It consumes our limited resources.

And it is time that we escape the vicious cycle.

It is time to take a step back and realize that excessive consumption is not delivering on its promise to provide happiness and fulfillment. Consumption is necessary, but excessive consumption is not. And life can be better lived (and more enjoyed) by intentionally rejecting it.

Consider this list of ten practical benefits of escaping excessive consumerism in your life:

1) Less debt. The average American owns 3.5 credit cards and $15,799 in credit card debt… totaling consumer debt of $2.43 trillion in the USA alone. This debt causes stress in our lives and forces us to work jobs that we don’t enjoy. We have sought life in department stores and gambled our future on the empty promises of their advertisements. We have lost.

2) Less life caring for possessions. The never-ending need to care for the things we own is draining our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things that we don’t need—and in most cases, don’t enjoy either. We are far better off owning less.

3) Less desire to upscale lifestyle norms. The television and the Internet has brought lifestyle envy into our lives at a level never before experienced in human history. Prior to the advent of the digital age, we were left envying the Jones’ family living next to us—but at least we had a few things in common (such as living in the same neighborhood). But today’s media age has caused us to envy (and expect) lifestyle norms well beyond our incomes by promoting the lifestyles of the rich and famous as superior and enviable. Only an intentional rejection of excessive consumerism can quietly silence the desire to constantly upscale lifestyle norms.

4) Less environmental impact. Our earth produces enough resources to meet all of our needs, but it does not produce enough resources to meet all of our wants. And whether you consider yourself an environmentalist or not, it is tough to argue with the fact that consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is not a healthy trend—especially when it is completely unnecessary.

5) Less need to keep up with evolving trends. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.” Recently, I have been struck by the wisdom and practical applicability of that thought whether relating to fashion, decoration, or design. A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. As a result, nearly every year, a new line of fashion is released as the newest trend. And the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest fashions and trends when they are released… or remove yourself from the pursuit altogether.

6) Less pressure to impress with material possessions. Social scientist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, this term was used to describe the behavior of a limited social class. And although the behavior has been around since the beginning of time, today’s credit has allowed it to permeate nearly every social class in today’s society. As a result, no human being (in consumption cultures) is exempt from its temptation.

7) More generosity. Rejecting excessive consumerism always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values. When we begin rejecting the temptation to spend all of our limited resources on ourselves, our hearts are opened to the joy and fulfillment found in giving our personal resources to others. Generosity finds space in our life (and in our checkbooks) to emerge.

8) More contentment. Many people believe if they find (or achieve) contentment in their lives, their desire for excessive consumption will wane. But we have found the opposite to be true. We have found that the intentional rejection of excessive consumption opens the door for contentment to take root in our lives. We began pursuing minimalism as a means to realign our life around our greatest passions, not as a means to find contentment. But somehow, minimalism resulted in a far-greater contentment with life than we ever enjoyed prior.

9) Greater ability to see through empty claims. Fulfillment is not on sale at your local department store—neither is happiness. It never has been. And never will be. We all know this to be true. We all know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought into the subtle message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise. Intentionally stepping back for an extended period of time helps us get a broader view of their empty claims.

10) Greater realization that this world is not just material. True life is found in the invisible things of life: love, hope, and faith. Again, we all know there are things in this world that are far more important than what we own. But if one were to research our actions, intentions, and receipts, would they reach the same conclusion? Or have we been too busy seeking happiness in all the wrong places?

Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, it would be done more often… myself included. But it is a battle worth fighting because it robs us of life far more than we realize.

Excessive consumption promises happiness, but never delivers. True life must be found somewhere else. (tweet that)

Image: schizoform

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. D says

    Thanks so much for your article, this is really something to consider, the marriage is going down the drain, my youngest teen left home and doesent speak to me and hates my husband and took me to court, my family and friends are very sad and hurt about this situation, and now I cannot stand my husband any longer i know the family daughter, the whole family is being and has been neglected, my husband is so obsessed with money and his debt that he created, his business is gone down, he is completely isolated, his music life has gone down, he only showers when going to church and makes like he is the loving husband, and does not take care of home needs family needs or marriage needs, he is till paying his x out when he does not need to because the judge gave him a way out, he calls the police and they throw him out, and I finally have had it, im making change in my life now, but he does not get it, he thinks because we spoke over the damage of the storm that we are ok, ?????, how come he is so consumed by the debt and money, he believes that God is not hearing him and is not answering him, he says that until God does something their is nothing he can do, constantly complains about the money when he is well off then most, what is his problem what does he not get, if you cant enjoy life and be thankful for what you have and stop with all the credit cards and debt do something about it nothing will get done, I have to lanscape, clean, everything because he will not, he works and pays the bills and says that is love, he is tired fatigued and is high maintanced but does not realize it, he is up and down, and he claims without the anointing of God there is nothing, constantly wants to be on this energetic high plane in life, what happen to just natural, sincerely fed up,

    • Christine says

      You have my empathy; I can feel some of your pain and anguish when I read your post. I have but one creative suggestion, one which may help your mind deal with some of of it. Go to YouTube and search for the name “Byron Katie”. Watch several of the videos that demonstrate her working with people living with anger, frustration, fear, and all kinds of painful emotions, living with all kinds of difficult siutations. You can also get one of her books (you can try your local library, too) but watching her working with other people may be a greater first step. I wish for you a sense of calmness while living with a storm swirling around you. Better decisions and better relationships happen when the mind is quieter and you just might find, like Katie did and some of the many thousands of people who have benefitted from her work, that the people around you are also positively effected by your own calm. Be well.

      • Zdislava says

        There is a God. The universe was created with a Big Bang. What happened? God created the universe. How can we know this is true? How can nothing just explode and become something? How can it be such a finely tuned explosion that everything just happened to become habitable? There’s no way the universe could’ve 1. Been here forever 2. Been started by nothing. God hears us and we can know he does because he gave us free will. He doesn’t chose our actions for us. Like with any relationship, if one person controls another then it isn’t real love. So know God exists and know he will answer your prayers if you are perseverant. :)

      • David says

        Jenny, it is not for you or anyone to tell someone that God does or does not exist. You are no better than a fire and brimstone preacher saying that everyone is going to hell. The most cruel thing someone can do to another human being is to take what hope or faith they have. You are no more than a vindictive soul throwing a concrete block to a drowning person.

        • nonserviam says

          Reread what Jenny actually said. Is she throwing a concrete block or a life raft and paddle? It depends on how healthy a relationship you share with reality.

          As the late-great Christopher Hitchens once said: “The one who prays is the one who thinks that God has arranged matters all wrong and thinks they can instruct God how to put it all right.”

          It isn’t cruel of anyone to give solid advice on how to self-actualise goals or find solutions to problems, in lieu of pandering to their delusional belief in a supernatural being who doesn’t exist and therefore will not actualise their goals or fix their problems for them. I thought it was a quite compassionate and inspiring thing of Jenny, to underscore the importance of self responsibility.

          Despite their emotional attachment to the idea of Santa Claus, you eventually want your children to grow up illuminated by reality so that they can adapt to life’s challenges and not remain emotionally or intellectually retarded to the degree that their delusions and fantasies take primacy over their ability to process and adapt to reality. This is particularly true if said fantasies have a tendency to hinder self-responsibility, like the Christian faith does. We all know deep down that if we want a better life, we have to get up off our asses and make it better. Praying is futile and inimical to the maturity required to take control of one’s own destiny. Hence the virtuous intent of Jenny’s comment.

          Religion itself is one thing that has for too long been counting against our collective evolution as a species (along with the centrepiece of this article: consumerism, of course). So please. Grow up, and allow others to grow with you. Peace.

        • Carol Halitsky says

          I do not see Jennie as putting religion down, she is saying that we are responsible for ourselves .. what did i read once .. I will teach you how to fish, then you can feed yourself, god can give you a set of oars for your row boat .. but if you do not use them .. you will never get to shore

      • Ellen Scott Grable says

        Jenny right on! We are the Godhead and it is up to us to fashion our lives in a way which respects ourselves, our fellow members of the planet and nature…nothing could be closer to the image of God than that.

    • Boo says

      How about chcking out Dave Ramsey’s “total money makeover” – it gives a clear plan for getting to peace with your fonances. many churches hold Financial Peace Universities too.
      I was just like that before i finally found this plan and worked my way through my debt. I’m still a long way from riches, but i am finally at peace with money :)

      • Jasmin says

        Yes, love this! I’ve taken the class three times. Same advice your grandma gave but he keeps his teeth in!!

      • Rob says

        I just started getting my finances under control with Dave Ramsey’s method even though I’m not religious. I found a helpful video on YouTube explaining the zero sum budget. I am excited to have a budget that will get me out of debt and living simply.

    • R.A. says

      I’m sorry you’re going through this. He must realize that he has God given talents and ambition IN ORDER TO change his situation – the situation won’t change itself unless he makes the DECISION to do so. God gave us a free will and if your husband doesn’t decide for himself that he wants change, then change won’t happen.

  2. says

    ” It promises happiness, but never delivers. Instead, it results in a desire for more…” So true!

    Loved reading the post :) very insightful, thank you!

  3. says

    Wow, you so nailed it. I consider myself a minimalist, myself. I don’t always succeed in being frugal, but definitely that’s where my heart lies.

    This is great stuff. Worth sharing.

    • says

      Wel,I and my Familly walk in sad and hard life but because we are religious people,everything easy to say maybe also to do and to get but to enjoy it so hard,dificult give you an example,

  4. Kimberly says

    Over lunch recently, a colleague raised the topic of shopping at ‘Costco.’ I told him that I never buy in bulk because all that stuff represents an obligation – a commitment I’m not comfortable making. I was laughing when I made this comment, but it’s my truth. My friend laughed, too, because he couldn’t conceive of such a notion. Is this minimalism? Not sure. It’s just what fits rigt for me.

    As for managing the things I own (myself and two teen-aged sons), I ask myself a simple question: if I were to move, would I be willing to pack and carry this to my new home? The answer is most often “no”.

    Thanks for letting me share.

    • says

      To Kimberley …. good onya. I think that’s definitely a good part of minimalism. Costco and it’s ilk, relies on people buying in bulk, which has a family ploughing through scads of food etc. before the use by date runs out. Buying what you need … which is what I try to do myself, is minimalism. HOWEVER, what to do with all the collected bits and pieces over years, that we just HAVE to hang on to ‘in case we need it one day’ … that’s my own biggest worry. Sure hope I can gather the courage ( and it will take that ) to rid myself of a heap of un-needed stuff one day. I do believe it will be very liberating.

      • Ellen Scott Grable says

        Ann,
        I think you already know you can do without much of what you are clinging to for what ifs…The universe always fills a vacuum. What if we lived in the faith of knowing what we need will come when we need it? Then we could let go of all our what ifs and move forward and see what life has for us.

  5. Happy Annie says

    Exactly! Like you, for me being a minimalist isn’t about owning nothing (as so many people mistakenly think). It’s about living in balance and simplicity without excess! A long time ago I heard an analogy about excess that went something like this: If you want a glass of lemonade it does no good (and is in fact wasteful) to keep pouring it long after the glass is full. No one would keep pouring it until it’s spilling over the rim and onto the counter. Instead you would pour it a bit lower than the lip and then stop. We can think of our drawers, closets, garages, and houses like that cup. Don’t overflow! It’s wasteful and messy :)

  6. says

    All my life I’ve felt like I spend more time arranging the stuff around me than enjoying it, so point #2 nailed it down. However, I feel like this post is also on the extreme side – it seems like you are obsessed and spend time calculating how may items you have, which is also time-consuming. Do you use paper plates if guests come over? If so, it’s a work-around :-) I have a set of regular plates & 1 dining set that I use for guests. I have a big family, and I like having them over, which means that I need more than 8 plates. Just some thought. Thank you for your posts.

    • shara says

      I think the point is to have what you need, not more. So more dishes for you is perfect. In my home we have much less than the author, and that is perfect for us! Its all about personal needs! Which is awesome and refreshing. :)

      • David Honaker says

        I love the analogy about the lemonade and believe that your post is so true.

        Everyone is different and has to decide their level of minimalism. I have decided to get rid of everything I haven’t used in a year. Clothes, book, decorations and everything else must go.

        I packed my sock drawer and have gotten out only what I needed between washing clothes. We buy too much and keep what we don’t need or even use. I can’t believe how empty that drawer is now and how easy it is to open and get my socks out.

        I avoid stores and delete all messages unread from stores selling to me. That alone has made me happier. Someday I will sell this big house and live even smaller!

  7. Emily says

    It is very courageous of you to take this attitude towards life. I am going to start to do the same. Between the number of people in this world who are suffering with far less than me, and the woman at work today who told me she just went on holiday and bought 20, yes 20, pairs of shoes for herself, I think I am experiencing a wake up call. Thank you for your very insightful piece!

  8. Janine says

    We recently had a day of biggish quakes here in nz; some things broken and house cracks – but mostly just a little scary. We were advised by authorities to have ourselves prepared in case a big one hit and we had to leave the house. For a few days I had our ‘escape’ belongings at the front door… One small backpack each, impt documents and laptop, wheelie bins with tent, sleeping bags, gas stove, torches, batteries, water and several days food. Standing back and looking at that pile was so enlightening. A few hundred dollars of stuff – everything else I was prepared to walk away from; it wasn’t necessary. A real lightbulb moment.

    • says

      Thank you for sharing that insight. An event like that really takes (some of) us back to seeing what is truly important in life. Our society of consumerism challenges so many to think they need more stuff. Having less gives me so much freedom, not only in my living space but in my soul.

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  11. Stephen Wright says

    Consumerism is destroying the United States. I make my own products and I never celebrate Christmas. Christmas is about family and Christian Values. DO NOT SHOP AT ALL BECAUSE YOU ARE BEING TRICKED BY THE DEVIL TO SPEND! “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. — II Corinthians 12:9-10.” Do not spend any money this 2013 Christmas. This goes for the Jews in Cherry Hill also. For god said to me do not shop at Macy’s or Walmart for the devil told me so. Stephen Wright

  12. Hilary says

    For many years I was a home stager, getting homes ready for sale. Many of my clients were older people, downsizing and leaving the family home. It was remarkable to me how many people were blind to the burden that their “stuff” created. Mothers would say, “I’d just throw this junk away but I know it’s important to the kids so I’ll have to keep it until they can take it to their homes” . Meanwhile the kids would say to me, ” All this stuff of Mom’s is garbage and I don’t want it but she would be so hurt if I didn’t take it”. So much angst!
    The wisest response I had. and have I taken it to heart myself, was from a twenty year old man who said ” My grandmothers memory is not entrenched in the possessions that now clutter my parents basement, it is in the tiny moments that made up our relationship. I just need one small thing of hers that I use and see everyday which can bring those moments back to my heart.”

    • Sylvie says

      Great comment :) It’s sometimes tough disposing of material possessions that hold sentimental value, but at the same time it is very liberating because it frees you from looking solely in your past which allows space for focusing on the present. At the same time, I can appreciate how certain items will be treasured for a lifetime.

  13. Prudence Dagg says

    Love LOVE the idea of minimalism, though I have my vices…I was wondering; I read a phrase in a book that went something like “Still not happy? Must not be consuming enough” (I think after detailing lots of excessive consumption by this generation, this country).

    Would someone on here know what that book was? I’d like to read a book or two on this. Thanks!

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  16. says

    So, if we escape consumerism, what do we do with the available time vacuum left from trying out the latest fashion ?That of commuting to our closest shopping malls, or searching for deals on the internet? I propose that we try to bring ourselves close to nature, to the earth. While in my youth as a teen, i spent full days, sun-up to sun-down in the Andean valleys in central Bolivia, cultivating potatoes, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, flowers and many other crops. I involved myself in hard physical work, that gave me an undescribable “high” of having interacted with the Earth. And in it’s closeness, I have been rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, and felt extremely well, as much physically and spiritually. I believe, that for mankind to achieve TRUE happiness, it is indispensable to have a close connection with our sustainer, the EARTH. And through agriculture of tending produce and getting your hands covered in dirt, there is a metaphysical union.

    • nonserviam says

      This comment piqued my interest the most, as perhaps I can relate to it on a fundamental level. I, too, have encountered spiritual union with the earth, however laborious the experience was. Thus I propose the same: that we turn back to nature. Throughout the rise and fall of entire cultures, dynasties and empires, nature in all it’s wild abandon is the only mainstay which has proven to stand the test of time. I propose that we all start joining the winning team, work with nature instead of against it – lest in destroying ourselves through consumerism, we too destroy the mother who cradled us into existence.

    • Lilmissaussie says

      If everyone lived a minimalist lifestyle, we wouldn’t need as many jobs. Think about it. The more greedy people become, the harder and longer they have to work to sustain a particular lifestyle and keep up with materialistic ideal of how third life should be. This leaves very little time to enjoy life. And we wonder why so many people are depressed. If people got back to basics, grew their own food, only bought essential items and lived more like a community again then there would be no need for 40-50hr working weeks. At some point, this greed machine we all contribute to will stop working and we will be forced back to a simpler way of life – probably for the better.

  17. kammi says

    I agree and live by this. I do not think that development is defined by more consumerism within a country, especially if it is to the detriment of citizens who create and build. What great things have we done to justify consumerism? You are right about resources, and finances. I personally don’t own a single credit card, a single loan, or television. I take public transportation (small carbon footprint) and cook most of my food. I also haven’t bought any clothes in about a year and even then it was from a thrift store. I am not poor; I have a sizable amount of savings and investments and no debt; I grew up with values that emphasized relationships as opposed to mindless consumerism. I love reading and I live in a major city in the US. I plan to retire somewhere one day where I can be happy with nature and continue to leave a small carbon footprint. But right now I want to spend my career improving the lives of others or doing something meaningful and building throught my life.
    I don’t think that we are happy with mindless, excessive consumerism. And as for society making jobs; we really only have jobs that give us money in an industrialized society; perhaps we would be more of an agro-society or we would focus on ideas and in raising our youth with proper values and spirituality and direction if we weren’t distracted by all this ‘stuff’. Perhaps our ‘currency’ would be education instead. Plus, we’re overworked and unhappy by these very ‘jobs’. As a society, looking in the future, what can we say we’ve left behind as legacy? How did we treat the least among us and our elderly? This is the dark side of excessive consumerism; it almost discards those outside of the markets intended for it.
    Btw, I’m in my twenties. Have a great day.

  18. LA says

    Wow! Love some of the recent posts on here by the twentysomethings. You guys may be the hope for the future of mankind. I’m in my mid-forties – part of the brain washed Gen X group. Our egos were crafted very carefully to consume and succeed at any cost. I finally see the truth; it’s made me feel angry, regretful, cheated, and grateful all at the same time. My husband and I are committed to creating a minimal lifestyle going forward.

  19. Cary says

    I love being a minimalist, I tend to relocate often and learned long ago that it is all just stuff and can easily be replaced if it is really necessary, most of the time it is not. Thus my lifetime of possessions can fit into a 6×10 space and can fill a one bedroom apartment. It’s all just stuff.

  20. says

    In 2006 we, a family of 5, returned to the UK in crisis, 1 critically ill son, 18 years, another, 16, who had to finish school and leave his studies behind, a young daughter with OCD and a wife who had to leave the best job she ever had. I was a mess, bullied and depressed.

    We landed in London with no one to meet us and all we had posession wise were the clothes on our back, several suitcases and a mountain of debt, almost £100,000 spanning both UK and New Zealand.

    We very soon realised our lives had to change. We lost the desire to own, grew our own food as best we could, foraged, bartered, knitted, home brewed and learned how to be, to meaningfully exist and we cleared ALL our debt without going bankrupt. It took several years.

    All three of our children are now at University, are content and healthy. We now live back in New Zealand, live minimally still and have brought back to this wonderful country all the lessons learned from that experience. We have grown to live a simple life and love it – less is more.

  21. Todd says

    My fiancé and I have been moving towards a minimalist lifestyle and enjoying the freedom of having fewer things. But now, the wedding approaches…..as does the unavoidable registry/shower/onslaught of gifts.

    Trying to stay ahead of the clutter and excess we decided on some ground rules for our registry. 1) upgrade anything we already own and donate, sell, repurpose or dispose of the old item. 2) ask for items that provide a utility, solution or serve multiple purposes. 3) if it causes stress, high maintenance, a service agreement, accessories or either of us has to convince the other we “need” it, then we probably don’t. 4) use 50% of cash gifts to wipe out personal debt & reapply the monthly savings towards any remaining debt to be debt free quicker. 5) share the wealth–her dress, reception decor, miscellaneous items related to the event will be donated, rather than stored or thrown out.

    • Tina says

      We retired when husband was 55 and I was 53. We had savings and we have pensions. We got a buyout of 40% of our income. We have been doing fine because we never lived on all our income usually I/2 or 3/4 if we had kids in college. If you never live on all your income and never get in debt it is pretty easy to live on little money. Our only expenses are housing and a car payment at 0%. I find it fascinating that some people pay $100′s of dollars for uncomfortable shoes. Or that some people are always buying new furniture. A big source of my clothing is rummage sales and garage sales. I haven’t bought anything new in years and years except underwear and shoes. A friend tried to start a conversation about a new cable TV show but no one else in the group had HBO.

  22. Pamela says

    I really enjoyed this post. It seems that the more I get rid of, the more I find to get rid of, which is a good thing but it’s also scary when I see how much I have taken part in the consumerism pursuit of happiness.

  23. Billy says

    I love this post. Religion and atheism are 2 things I have de cluttered. I had copies of the bible and the koran. Both went in the trash(recycle bin). Now not only are my shelves uncluttered but so is my mind from someone else’s fantasies cluttering up my head. The tv’s next to go!! I’m looking forward to it already. Great post, keep up the good work……..be free!

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