How to Stop Letting Advertisers Control Your Life

Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” – Mark Twain

The task of living a simple, minimalist life is enormously complicated these days by modern propaganda. Commercials and advertisements work tirelessly to convince us that products manufactured on assembly lines will make us insanely happy. But in reality they make us more insane than happy.

The goal of Madison Avenue is to increase our desire – to change our attitude from “That’s extravagant” to “That would be nice” to “I really want that” and finally to “I’ve got to have it.” They are so subtle at their craft that we hardly realize we are being brainwashed. Subconsciously, they take control of our desires, our checkbooks, and our life.

To stop letting advertisers control our lives, we must make firm concrete moves to counter their assault:

  • Realize that happiness is not an item to be purchased, it is a decision to be enjoyed. Understand that your happiness in life does not need to be based on your possessions. Some of the most joyful people I have ever met live in poverty, while some of the wealthiest people I know are miserable. Happiness is a decision to be made and enjoyed – not for sale at your department store. In fact, many times our possessions actually keep us from truly living and enjoying our life. Decide today to be happy.
  • Identify what advertisements are really trying to sell you. The emphasis in modern advertising has moved from providing ‘factual’ information on a product to creating associations in the mind of a consumer. Most advertisements are not trying to sell you on the material properties of the item; instead, they try to appeal to our subconscious desires (status, sex, prestige, happiness, appearance, self-esteem, identity, or reputation) or subconscious fears (loneliness, security, weaknesses, uncertainty). Be aware of their strategy, look for it, and don’t be fooled by it.
  • Buy things for their usefulness, not their status. Purchase items for their ability to meet your needs not for their ability to impress your neighbor. Apply this principle everywhere, but your house, your car and your clothes are good places to start.
  • Remove advertisements from your life as much as possible. Cancel your junk-mail. Mute your radio/TV during advertisements or better yet, stop watching television altogether. Enjoy outdoor recreation (biking, exercising, hiking, gardening, camping) or occupy your mind with reading, art, conversation, philosophy, or meditation.
  • Enforce a 30-day wait period on major purchases. The extra month will provide you ample opportunity to answer the question, “Do I really need this?” It will also help you answer these questions: “Are there any subconscious motives to this purchase?” “Which brand is the highest quality?” and “Can I find it cheaper elsewhere?”
  • Join the joyful revolution. It seems that more and more people these days are choosing to say “no” to the mindless collection of material possessions and are saying “yes” to living simple lives instead. Overwhelmingly, these people are adamant that life is better on the other side of consumerism. Join us. And know that you are among friends.
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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  1. says

    I didn’t really realize the influence advertisers had until we had children. They were totally content with what they had, never asked for anything back when they only watched commercial free TV and never visited a toy section of a store. Now that they have seen commercials for goodies at Grandma’s house and at friends houses, they are always crying for the latest and greatest whatever! They don’t even know what it really is. They just want it!

  2. Arron says

    ….and to think that once upon a time I wanted to work in advertising. Glad that I woke up. Love this site and the minimalist mindset. Seems we all owe a debt of recognition to Mr. Babauta, eh? I found this site through his site. What a shame society sees us as odd for not wanting to be a part of the insanity.

    I am a recent convert to the minimalist life, after having discovered what I like to call “decontentment”, or, “The process of eliminating extraneous material possessions to attain a positive state of emotional and physical well-being.” I intend to start a blog called “decontentment” chronicaling my journey to lessness.

    Keep up the great posts! Oh, and as for capital letters, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with them, it’s just that they aren’t “minimalist” by nature. I get it.

  3. says

    browsed through craigslist for something i needed for my work, and stumbled across a post selling a nearly-new kitchenaid stand mixer. its heading, in bold letters: GONE MINIMALIST! MUST SELL!

    the seller was from the next town over here in the midwest. gave me a chuckle.

  4. says

    When our kids were young, we didn’t own a tv, but they still managed to know and understand that advertising pull on their desires. We decided to ‘educate’ them in sales resistance by explaining just how the ads were exploiting their desires and appealing to their various emotions. Then we showed them how to resist. For example, when my 10th grade son asked for fancy name brand tennis shoes, I told him he could choose either the shoes or “….” because he couldn’t have both. He opted for the other.

    • di says

      Giving kids a choice doesn’t always solve the problem.

      I only pay a certain amount for items. If the kids want more, they have to pay the difference.

      A $10 pair of jeans works just as well as a $30 pair.

      Many things that cost more are not necessarily an upgrade or longer-lasting.

      A lot depends on how well you take care of your things.

  5. says

    The biggest thing I have learned about not letting advertisers control my life was actually in high school when I studied logical fallacies. Seriously, almost every advertisement I see is based on a logical fallacies of some sort, straw man, irrelevant conclusion, slippery slope, etc.

    Sometimes I’ll play a game to see if I can figure out which logical fallacy each commercial uses. Takes the proverbial wind out of their sales (pun completely intended.)

  6. says

    I just love it when my kids say to me…”We don’t need THAT….THEY just want us to buy it so we will give our money to them”. Right on.

  7. says

    As for the 30-day wait period on major purchases — I have a friend who recommends waiting 1 month per $100 the thing costs. If you still want it at that point, then you really want it and should buy it.

    I like this because it allows some flexibility: wait 2 weeks to see if you still want a $50 shirt, wait overnight to see if you still want a paperback book. Of course some things are no-brainers (“I love it!!!”) and some things won’t be available later, such as original works for sale at an arts festival. Still, this rule seems to work well for both me and my friend.

    @Luke — my 10th grade English class actually did a unit on advertisements and how they work. Amazing eye-opener. Most of them seem based on simply associating a product with some nontangible or logically unrelated life situation. These days I really appreciate the occasional ad that focuses on communicating the features or advantages of the product itself.

  8. Yan says

    I second the advice of not watching commercial TV. For about 10 years, our family paid $12/month for “starter” cable TV just so we could get PBS educational programming for the kids. When our older kids eventually lost interest in Sesame Street, we considered “upgrading” our cable subscription to include The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, The National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, etc. We didn’t like the $40/month increase and found that Netflix offered all of the above for $8 – and no commercials.

  9. di says

    I keep a list of what I need in my wallet. As time goes by, I’ve thought of an alternative or realize I can go without.

  10. di says

    “Buy things for their usefulness…”

    Sleep, dine, study or entertain with just a daybed, sofa bed or floor cushions.

    A dining room set, living room set, bedroom set or office may not be needed.

    Store items beneath furniture.

    Extra shelving, closets and cupboards may not be needed.

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