9 Intentional Ways to Challenge Consumerism in Your Life

finding-mindful-consumerism

“Don’t buy what you don’t need.”

Consumerism is not a pathway to joy and meaning in life. This is not a new revelation. In fact, we all know it to be true.

If specifically asked the question, nobody would ever say the secret to a joyful, meaningful life is to buy a lot of stuff. Deep down in our hearts, we know we were made for something bigger—something more significant than mere consumption.

Nobody really believes happiness is directly tied to the number of things we own. Yet almost all of us live like it.

We work more hours than ever before, earn more income, but save less. Personal debt has increased dramatically over the previous three decades. And consumer spending has been exalted to a virtue in our society—even patriotic.

As a result, the average credit card holder now carries 4 different credit cards in his or her pocket. Shopping malls outnumber high schools 2 to 1. 70% of Americans visit a shopping mall each week. Televisions outnumber persons in American homes. Home sizes have doubled in the past 50 years. And consumer debt has risen to 35% of household income.

Will Rogers said it like this, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.

We never intentionally set out to buy more than we need or spend more than we make. But here’s the problem:

Mindless consumption always turns into excessive consumption.

And excess consumption results in more stress, more burden, more pressure to impress, more envy, less financial freedom, less generosity, less contentment—and I haven’t even begun to mention the environmental impact.

It is time to rethink our spending habits, rediscover thoughtfulness and intentionality in our purchases, and remind ourselves that happiness is not on sale at the department store. Buying more is not the solution. We were made for greater pursuits than material possessions. And our lives should reflect that truth.

How then, might we begin to rethink and challenge mindless consumerism in our lives? Consider this intentional approach:

1. Stop and reevaluate. Look at the life you have created. Are you finding the time, money, and energy for the things that matter most? Have your possessions become a burden on your life in any way? Slow down long enough to honestly evaluate the whole picture: your income, your mortgage, your car payment, your spending habits, your day-to-day pursuits. Are you happy? Or is there, perhaps, a better way?

2. Stop copying other people. Just because your neighbors, classmates, and friends are chasing a certain style of life does not mean you need to as well. Your life is too unique to live like everyone else. And if you think you’ll be happier by following all the latest trends in society, you are wrong. Just ask anybody who has stopped.

3. Understand your weaknesses. Recognize your trigger points. Are there certain stores that prompt unnecessary purchases in your life? Are there products, addictions, or pricing patterns (clearance sales) that prompt an automatic response from you? Maybe there are specific emotions (sadness, loneliness, grief) that give rise to mindless consumption. Identify, recognize, and understand these weaknesses. 51% of the solution can be found by simply recognizing the problem.

4. Look deep into your motivations. Advertisers play on our motivations by appealing to our desires in subtle ways. Advertisements are no longer based on communicating facts about a product. Instead, they promise adventure, reputation, esteem, joy, fulfillment, and sex. What inner-motivations are subconsciously guiding your purchases? What motivations (greed, envy) need to be rooted out? And what motivations (meaning, significance) need to find their fulfillment elsewhere?

5. Seek contribution with your life and usefulness in your purchases. To live is to consume. As contributing members of society, we are going to work and earn and purchase and consume. But we are more than consumers, we are contributors. Our presence on this earth ought to bring value to the people around us. Purchase only what you need to more effectively accomplish your unique role in this world—everything else is only a distraction. Just because you can buy something doesn’t mean you should.

6. Count the hidden cost of each purchase. Too often, when we purchase an item, we only look at the sticker price. But this is rarely the full cost. Our purchases always cost more. They require our time, energy, and focus (cleaning, organizing, maintaining, fixing, replacing, removing). They prompt worry, stress, and attachment. Henry David Thoreau said it best, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

7. Test your limits. Experiment with a no-shopping challenge. You set the terms—even the world’s biggest shopper can find one experiment to test their boundaries. Go 30 days with no consumer purchases, 60 days without visiting the mall, or 120 days without buying clothes. You set the specific challenge based on your needs. You will break the cycle of shopping in the short-term and lay the groundwork for greater victory in the long-term.

8. Give more things away. Your life will feel lighter. Your heart will feel warmer. The world will be better. And you will be reminded shopping is not the answer.

9. Do more of what makes you happy. Your possessions are not making you happy. Once our basic needs have been met, the happiness found in consumerism is fleeting at best. Instead, find what it is that truly makes you happy and do more of it. I find my happiness in faith, family, friends, and contribution. Your list may differ slightly. But either way, owning a whole bunch of stuff is almost certainly not on it.

Make intentionality your highest pursuit. Not consumerism.

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

    I like to practice the second look way of shopping. I put it down and tell myself to come back to it later. If I don’t -then I didn’t really need it. I also like to use the idea of stopping myself from purchasing something by putting the money in a savings account instead of spending it.

  2. Jackie Marshall says

    Shopping? Is that where you buy things? I remember that from a long time ago…

    We had a “buy nothing” holiday this year. Thanksgiving was a fast day so no food at all. Black Friday we stayed home. We skipped most parties because it’s really depressing to see everyone in their new clothes, driving new and fancy cars, eyes glued to their ipads and iphones and not really communicating face to face. The old house just got even older and more run down. No tree. No decorations. No cards. Nothing. But we did pay that enormous unexpected medical bill for “preventative” care that was supposed to be free. So for the holidays, we learned to NEVER get any cancer screening or preventative procedures the medical industry pushes so hard for. Thank you Group Health for a non holiday of buying nothing but a big stick up my ass with a camera on the end of it. I’m so thankful for that.

  3. Melanie says

    Great article, and insightful comments. I, like several other commenters, was left with the task of dealing with the stuff belonging to loved ones after they passed away. My mother and my brother died within a year of each other, and as the sole remaining member of my family, I got all the stuff. Unfortunately, they were both hoarders. It was gut-wrenching to go through the incredible amounts of stuff they held on to and deal with it all. After that experience, I now have an almost pathological fear of stuff. I think everyone should think about what would happen to the people they love if they were to pass away tomorrow. Do you want to saddle your loved ones with the burden of your stuff, when they are already dealing with grief?

    • Amanda says

      I totally know were your coming from. As an only child I grew up with a Hoarding mom. Now that I have grown up and moved along with my life its only gotten worst. I have talked with her about it so many times and she says she knows it bad. She says ” I don’t want to leave all of this to you when I pass away.” I know she means it and wants to do good. But nothing has happened in the last 12 years. I am very worried when that day comes when I have to take care of a house full and a garage full. I don’t like to think about my parents being gone and really don’t want to think about having to go threw it all :( Oh and I am the total opposite o fit all. I don’t like a messy house .

  4. says

    I love this article! Great, and realistic ideas that get you thinking about your spending. On my drive home today I was reflecting on the fact that I don’t want to buy a new car (maybe ever). I have had two cars in the past 12 years, and total (including purchase price and repairs) I spent about $3200 combined. People keep telling me that I should buy a new car, but I have no interest. Why would I want an extra bill and increased car insurance when my car consistently gets me where I need to go? I will definitely be incorporating some of these ideas into my lifestyle.

    Thank you!

  5. says

    I did a 30 day shopping fast and it was life changing. I still go the shops but I don’t buy anything. I just like to look and I study the country of origin and the quality of items and what they cost and I always leave empty handed. It’s hard to find anything worth spending my money on. More and more the shops are filled with junk, most of it from China, poor quality, cheap looking trendy junk. It’s almost impossible to find nice things. My husband commented tonight that people are paying good money for what we would have considered knock offs years ago. Even the nicer brands are made in China now. I saw that even Brooks Brothers items were made in China now. Ugh. I’ve been looking for a nice pair of leather shoes since the end of my September shopping fast. Good luck, almost all the shoes are fake nowadays.

    • Grace garland says

      I agree about all the junk from China. It is amusing that national holidays like 4th of July and others have turned into simply an economic boost for China at the expense of our own financial stability in the US.

  6. KEVIN BROOKLYN says

    For me the best indicator of whether I really want it or need it, when I get all excited to buy is: Wait three days.

    If in three days I still really want it or think I need it? I might purchase it.

    But a lot of times I’m thinking I want something, just out of a flight of fancy. Thats not good.

  7. Anita Rotheram says

    Another great tip. If you NEED to bring something new in, find something you don’t need & take it out…

  8. says

    I agree, yesterday I went to function, and once again was toched to spend money on things that I already have too much of! I left feeling bad, because I know I need to rid myself of the extras I already have!

  9. annie says

    Buy nothing, or at least as few things as possible, new….almost all you may need is at your local op shop then at least you will be helping our cash strapped support services and it is a much nicer way to shop!
    Living in a small space is a good way to ensure you do not buy more than you need to.
    A way for we older people who may be struggling with accommodation costs is to share homes…this is something that is yet to really be tried here in Australia I would love to try and bring it to fruition.
    annie

  10. Susan says

    I love the blog and embrace your ways Mr. Becoming Minimalist, but you missed one – to consider simple, uncomplicated tools that will serve more than one purpose. I recall giving much thought as to whether I truly needed a blender…lol, I was born with a minimalist gene, ask my husband!

  11. says

    Great points! I also like to challenge myself to opt for quality when I really need something. I can’t always afford the highest quality choice. But our cheap, China-made, disposable mindset isn’t doing us any favors. Back in “the day,” things were built to endure. But today, who cares to make electronics that last a decade or longer?! We just want a new phone, a new tv, and new blah blah blah at least once a year.

  12. Donna says

    This week I’m packing my house and moving countries and yes my possessions have indeed become a burden on me. I have given bags and bags of them away, I will still need to pay to have some of them taken away and I’m left wondering why I thought I needed most of it all. I woke up at 3am this morning unable to sleep, stressing about how I will would fit everything in the one suitcase I’m taking with me. Never again! This experience and your article have changed my mind forever on the value of stuff. Serious gratitude to you. D

  13. says

    It’s my firm belief that high divorce rates and unhealthy relationships have a strong tie to our relationship with our stuff. Think about this, every three years (if that) we get a new cell phone- new features, slimmer, lighter, faster and so on. We get new clothes that are ‘in style’ for the year and are constantly upgrading to bigger and better. So once we create that mindset for ourselves, how content are we with the same husband/wife for 25+ years? Your brain has been programmed to ­­­expect a constant in-flow of newer and shinier- so the second we can let go of our obsession for more stuff and become content with what we have, the better off our relationships will be.

  14. Linda says

    “You don’t have to own it to enjoy it!” That’s what I was taught, HOWEVER– I didn’t learn that lesson very well, and now I am paying for not listening. I look at the difference between my parent’s life style and my own and I’m ashamed of how much I have. They worked very hard and gave my brother and I an almost magical childhood, but consumerism wasn’t their way of liviing. We went on vacations and explored books and chemistry sets and fished and ran amuck with our cousins, and skated and rode bikes and LIVED! I watch as my grandchildren are simply unable to put down the gadgets and PLAY. THANK YOU for every word! I NEED to push stop and begin finding the Joy in Less.

    • shauna says

      This could be my very own story. My parents lived very comfortably with few gadgets and no clutter. I am a compulsive shopper, albeit mostly garage sales, op shops & markets. I have spent the last 35 years collecting & cluttering every home I have lived in… and will now spend the next decade trying to offload it all. Trouble is I can spend a day de-cluttering and sorting, and still only part with maybe a supermarket sized bag full. I dont buy it unless I love it… so find it very hard to part with anything. Will give it my best shot though…. Love this website!

  15. diane says

    Having recently moved out of our overly-stuffed home of 20 years in New York to Florida, I had to do a total scale down. It was liberating, but not until after the realization of how much we wasted and bought unnecessarily. Of course, we came with very little, and had to set up house again. Determined to keep it minimal, but I often find myself slipping into my old ways again. I love to decorate my home, but the gnawing memory of moving out of our old home steps in each time I walk into a “decorator’s dream store.” Thus said, I bought the basics, and plan to decorate with beautiful and air-cleaning plants. They give your space life, and smile back at you with their growth.

  16. Robert Newbery says

    I totally agree with these principles…I often say…”look at that, its beautiful, How nice for someone else to buy and care for…and walk away feeling lighter…try it!

  17. Zed says

    My trick is to consider the impact the stuff I buy will have on the world around me. I have no desire to upgrade my iPod, because I know the minerals inside have a bad environmental impact and were produced under horrible conditions. It actually helps you separate want from need if you consider who you might be hurting. :)

  18. says

    Yay to this, and what Zed said… I try to ask myself what the real ‘costs’ are and do I really need it. The more people ask themselves these questions that you are asking the better the world will be.

  19. Yannis says

    I’m raised with limited resources so my mom finds it hard when I get rid of clothes I actually never wair because at some point they could come in handy she thinks. I have to admit that I have a lot of stuff to but what is the best way to give things to people without making it look like dumping your stuff?

    • Katie says

      Yannis, to get rid of things you don’t want you can donate them to a thrift shop, a church, a homeless shelter. If they are female things, women’s shelters always need women’s clothing and beauty supplies. You could also host a yard sale and sell your items while making a small amount of money on the side. If a friend has admired something you own, think about giving that item to your friend. You will both feel good about it.

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