Life is complicated enormously by modern propaganda.
Commercials and advertisements work relentlessly to convince us products manufactured on assembly lines will bring us joy and make us insanely happy. But in reality they make us more insane than happy.
The goal of Madison Avenue is to prompt discontent, increase desire, and change our attitude from “That’s extravagant” to “I need it.”
They are so subtle at their craft we hardly realize we are being brainwashed. Slowly, they take control of our desires, our checkbooks, and our life.
Becoming Minimalist was founded on and has remained true to one simple message: Owning less is better than pursuing more. Possessions do not equal joy—even worse, they often distract us from it.
But to live this out on a daily basis, we must be mentally prepared to counter the pull and influence of consumerism.
We must remind ourselves often that happiness is not an item to be purchased, it is a decision to be enjoyed. Our happiness is not based on possessions.
Some of the most joyful people I have ever met live in extreme poverty while some of the wealthiest people I know are miserable. Happiness is not found in the abundance of possessions. It is a decision we make each morning.
It is wise to identify what advertisements are trying to sell us. 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 us on the material properties of the item. Instead, they 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.
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—your house, your car, your clothes, and your hobbies are all good places to start.
Intentionally and purposefully seek to remove advertisements from your life. Cancel your junk-mail (both physical and digital). 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 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?,” “Can I find it cheaper elsewhere?,” “How likely is it this purchase will soon become unused?” and “Am I controlling my decision or am I being manipulated by someone else?”
Join our joyful revolution. More and more people are choosing to say “no” to the mindless collection of material possessions and say “yes” to more important pursuits instead.
Overwhelmingly, these people are adamant that life is better when the influence of consumerism has been broken. You will most certainly agree.
Well done! This is a very nice way of drawing attention to how we spend money and not noticing it. Concise and supported with concrete examples as always I really enjoyed your post – as a new member of your blog. Thank you very much, Joshua.
Let me tell you a little consumer story. More than 20 years ago, I was visiting with my Aunt Margaret (who is now deceased). I sat in a chair that seemed to wrap its arms around me and hug me. I told her it was the most comfortable chair I had ever sat in. She laughed and said they were taking this chair to the dump that very day. All of her family were tall people and this little chair was not comfortable to them. So she gave the chair to me. Fast forward to two years ago and two recoverings of this remarkable little swivel chair. The arthritis in my knees had gotten worse, and it was a bit hard to get out of the chair if I sat for too long. My housekeeper told me I needed to get a motorized lift chair. I gave my little swivel chair to my aunt’s daughter who was happy to get it b/c it had belonged to her mother, and I bought a motorized chair. The motorized behemoth was carted into my rather small living room, and I tried valiantly to adjust to it. Unfortunately, it hurt the backs of my legs when the footrest was raised and even affected the circulation in my legs. One day I realized I hated that chair. I gave it to my housekeeper (who loves it) and went looking for a new chair. I bought another little swivel chair that seemed comfortable in the store. However, I needed a special upholstery to match my living room furniture. After about six weeks, the new chair arrived. I knew immediately when I sat in it that I would not be happy with it long term. But I had it specially upholstered and couldn’t return it. I was waxing nostalgic to my cousin about the original little swivel chair one day at lunch. She asked if I would like to have the little chair back. Suddenly, the sun came out and my day became brighter. “Yes!” I exclaimed. So, my cousin has a new swivel chair, but I have my original little swivel chair that hugs me back. Now, approximately $2,000 later, I’ve learned my lesson. Whatever it takes, my original little swivel chair that hugs me will stay in my home forever. I shall never again go foraging for what other people think I need. The end.
Dennis Ondek says
“They are so subtle at their craft we hardly realize we are being brainwashed. Slowly, they take control of our desires, our checkbooks, and our life.”
Joshua…..I would suggest the following edit:
They are so subtle at their craft we hardly realize we are [allowing ourselves to be brainwashed]. Slowly, [we relinquish] control of our desires, our checkbooks, and our life.
Madison Avenue is attempting to brainwash us for certain. My responsibility, however, is to consciously filter and combat the assaults. This requires focus and vigilance on my part. The “control” they seek to take is mine alone to yield……requiring me to be ‘awake and aware.’
Thank you for your commitment to the message of minimalism.
This spring we have decided to look for a small used pop up. Buying used as we couldn’t justify cost vs usage of new purchase. Want something better than tent and get up off ground and stay warmer and dryer.
And plenty campers that are good enough for us.
I’m sure lots of people would only consider buying new and big. Bigger is not always better. I want easy to haul, set up, and doesn’t have to be perfect, just easier on our old bodies.
This search is going to be an adventure!!
I just started project 333. I only own 35 items of clothing anyway. I get a lot of books and magazines from the library. Even buying 1 new thing is very hard for me. Right now, I am trying to decide whether to buy one tube of toothpaste or two. Many of my clothes came from my husband or my son.
We have a big family; 7. Live in a small house; 1200 square feet. And, live in an expensive place… Hawaii! By keeping life simple, we have been able to cash flow our first 2 kids through college. Before we buy anything we ask ourselves; can we do without it, can we borrow it, can we rent it, or can we buy it used? Owning less frees up both time and money:)
I can cancel my junk mail?!? How do I do that?
You can get signs on your letter box “No Junk Mail” etc
I agree. The problem occurs when advertisers are no longer just trying to meet our needs but are brainwashing us into thinking we need more than we actually do. That’s why I’ve reverted to only listening to podcasts, public radio, and mute the TV when ads are on. It’s not just the consumerism that bothers me, it’s all the noise pollution.
By the way, I enjoy reading your blog. Excellent work! Please check out mine if you get the chance.
Meryl @ Simple Family Home says
I agreed and loved most of this, except… I have to say it… I’m not sold on the fact that everyone can just choose to be happy and tada! There they are, happy as a lark. I guess part of this is the number of friends I have who experience mental illness, for whom happiness is not always a choice.
But in general, I completely agree with the pull of consumerism. I never watch adverts (as I never watch tv) and yet still I find fashion has this strange pull on me. We’re well conditioned humans!
Gardening, hiking, those are some of my favorite things! Almost all my favorite memories of places I’ve been involve outdoors and plants…Living slower lets you live deeper…
Waiting 30 days for a big purchase works really well for me. Usually, I have this rule for smaller purchases – I usually wait overnight before making the purchase. If the purchase still enthralls me after a night of cool-down, then I let go and spend the $100 on the item. In a lot of the cases, I don’t care about that item anymore, so I push it off. Until the next time, the demon of advertising whacks me in the head.
Thank you for the post.
Josh Andrews says
I feel bad for reading this post only now. I just ordered one of those wearable gadgets for me and my wife. I did try to hold off buying it, it’s been weeks. But I don’t know what urged me to obsess on it again and now I eventually hit the buy button. I feel like it’s unavoidable!
Return them as soon as they arrive!!!
Deanna Perez says
I look forward to your blog. It keeps me accountable and focused on the eternal rather than the now. Thanks Joshua.
I worked with my teenage daughter on a project about consumerism and advertising for school. One of the things that they had to do was analyze a commercial to determine how the product is being “pushed”. It was very eye-opening for both of us. Now, any time either of us see an ad or commercial, we can see the truth beneath the glamor.
I find this particularly easy to do. I know I do not need a lot of stuff or duplicates of junk.
The problem comes with my girlfriend. She has 2 children, that no matter my best efforts, are heavily influenced by the larger culture. There is no way to get her family on board either. The kids have 3 sets of grandparents and a lot of relatives. Her family has considerable disposable income. The kids get showered with a ton of useless junk and my girlfriend vehemently defends her families right to do so. I never win these battles. As a result the kids learn that consuming is good and why ever reuse things or find used things because you can just go to the store and get the latest, shiniest version. They have the same attitude towards food and resources too. Drives me insane.
Maybe it’s time to re-think this girlfriend. She may break your bank some day.
It seems that the issue is what her family is spending. It’s not clear that the girl friend is doing the big spending. People in that situation could ask for experience rather than goods. Zoos, museums and the like. Or college funds
I hate shopping. :)
Rachel @ Intentionally Simple says
Even though my two little boys (ages 3 and 5) watch very little TV, I’ve been amazed at their knowledge of products, companies, logos and jingles from what little advertising they’re exposed to. Obviously, we can’t completely escape advertising but we do talk about what companies are trying to sell with their advertising and help make our children aware of the goals of advertisers.
We’re raising our children to value people, giving and experiences over things and hopefully the influence of consumerism will never take root in their lives.
Hopefully. I have two step-children who went to Waldorf school and are very aware of certain things like our tainted food supply and such. We also live away in the country a bit. However, that does not stop the culture. It seeps in very effectively. Children are hardwired for entertainment. Most of what is sold under other guises in our culture is really entertainment.
If you have family members who do not care then you have a real struggle as well. They will aid the greater culture in its pursuit to turn children into zombie consumers with no imaginations.
I have watched these children slowly go from creative individuals to screen watching zombies with no imaginations anymore. Whatever they learned at Waldorf in their early years is all but gone. They just seem to wait around for the external world to entertain them.
Cheryl Smith says
This is SO true. We don’t even have television in our home. There is so much out there that I don’t even want to know about…not only the commercialism and mind manipulation that is motivated by trying to coerce us to buy things we don’t need or haven’t even heard of, but also the infiltration of mindsets that are not conducive to the wholesome, filtered atmosphere in which we seek to raise our son and foster in our home. We have even downsized the amount of news we take in. I think one of the most important components of minimalism is to unclutter our minds and be intentional about what we allow to enter and reside there. The battle is in the mind, and if we win victory there, it will automatically spill over into every other part of our lives. Thanks for this post…you are doing an amazing job here.
Esto es excelente!! Felicitaciones por la reflexión. Me encanta.
I certainly fell victim of the draw of consumerism. You don’t accrue 50K of debt and not be hypnotized by it. What I came to realize when I was broke, cut off from credit, working towards changing my relationship with money was how much happier I had become because I was finally forced to focus on relationships. My friends and family gave me more joy and happiness in my life than anything I ever bought. Today, almost 14 years later since the start of my journey, I still ask myself if I need what I want to buy. I will probably always have to ask the questions as old addictions are easy to break, hard to be consistent with implementation. It’s a dance of always being aware of what’s going on and meeting personal needs in other ways that don’t require shopping. I’m a happier person and continue to strive for greater degrees of joy and contentment. Thanks again for another great post.
This is a really hard thing to do. Thanks for showing the way and be a role model .
Great post, and I agree entirely with what you are saying. I made these changes in my life about six months ago and have never looked back! Once you come to this realization you finally appreciate just how toxic advertising is – see my post here for some of the toxic facts about advertising: http://insideraccountant.com/2015/02/08/escape-consumerism-by-reducing-exposure-to-advertising/
Wonderful post! Love your words of wisdom as a reminder to live minimally and as a result, happiness will follow. Thank you!
John P. Weiss says
Love the 30 day wait period. I had found an online leather messenger bag I really wanted. But it was close to $400! But I said no, I already had a less expensive leather satchel. Soon I forgot about the more expensive bag.
The thing I often find is that I go through the 30 day thing, do I need it etc. I will still buy the product, but it doesn’t live up to its marketing claims and I’m left with junk. That makes me so angry with myself.
Excellent. My husband and I have recently adopted a minimalist message. We just “upgraded” to a 700 sq ft apartment in Chicago :). I have found peer groups to almost have a louder voice spreading advertisers’ message(s) than the advertiser. I suppose that’s a part of the big strategy. Thanks for the tips!
Lori in Prescott says
The things that curbed my consumerism the most:
no “just looking” in stores.
GRATITUDE for what I have right here/right now is a settling influence.
I agree wholeheartedly. It takes discipline. We need to be on our guard too when grocery shopping as there’s also subtle brainwashing placed around stores. Stick to your list, choose stores where you know the layout blindfolded and shop quickly – don’t browse.
Great post once again, Joshua.
Always pays to be on guard.
Christina @ Embracing Simple says
“Buy things for their usefulness, not their status.” <– This speaks to me so much.
At the end of the day, if you're trying to impress someone with the things that you have, it's important to reevaluate what your priorities are and how those resources can be used for something much better than buying stuff as a status symbol.
I say invest that money into experiences or something that will really make an impact on your life and happiness level. Keeping up with the joneses is a surefire way to make yourself miserable!
Although I agree to some extent, I would argue that possessions /can/ be capable of bringing happiness, if handled in the right way. I do realise there might not be a way of communicating this message because it is most likely challenging your profound beliefs, but happiness is such an abstract concept that, in my opinion, may be pursued in many different manners. Please do not hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong about the message you were trying to convey :)
Great points here. I’ve recently read how marketers are studying functional MRI images to see what images and sounds put us in a consumer state. I find this kind of science sneaky and underhanded. Even predatory. We must be vigilant and stay aware of their tactics and inform those around us.
I really enjoy your posts. I have been on a mission to simplify and good things are happening as a result. I wonder whether you have read The Ant and the Elephant? It speaks of our subconscious mind that wants every picture it is exposed to even if you don’t know it. That’s WHY advertising is SO powerful. Also, ‘bread & circuses’ springs to mind. Roman times when the governing body was doing the wrong things to people they threw enormous feasts and put on entertainment to keep the masses quiet about the awful things. These days people ‘bread & circus’ themselves ON purpose. I used to watch every show about how my life would be perfect if I just get the paint job right and the right lamps and the right throw rug and I would turn myself inside out to achieve it. It’s rubbish. It’s keeping a lot of people broke and busy chasing the elusive happiness that can only come from within. Success is what you say it is, happiness is what YOU actually want to invest yourself in, legacy will be how people live their lives after they have known how uou lived yours.
Great post, Joshua! This speaks to the core message you have been pushing out there for the past few years. Thanks.
Yes! Wonderfully put. We’re working on simplifying our lives (possessions, schedule, etc.) so we can spend more time/energy/funds on what’s important to us. It’s worth every small change.
Each individual needs to decide for themselves their why, but as Joshua said, happiness is there if we choose it. I’m writing about our simplification efforts each week here: http://everydaymindfulliving.com/simplify-saturday/
Katie O'Brien says
You’re so right that this is a practice! I can go weeks and months staying conscious and then suddenly forget and start ‘needing’ more things due to the advertisements I see or seasonal changes in my life.
I also LOVE the 30-day wait period idea. I’ve started a version of that recently and 90% of the time I end up not wanting nor needing whatever it was that I thought I needed so badly :)
Great tips and thanks for the reminder to stay conscious to what matters most!
Eric B says
And if 30 days is too long, I’ve found that just one week usually has the same effect.
Obviously this technique works–that’s why Amazon has a prominent “buy with one click” button, but the “remind me to reconsider this in 30 days” button is conspicuously absent :)
I use the wish list on Amazon for this. It saves what I am looking at, and I can go back and check later to see if I still want something. It also lets me know if the price has dropped on something I was looking at.
T Ah says
Excellent tip. Thanks.
I love this post. So many great tips. I’m in the process right now of decluttering everything. I love he idea to purchase for the purpose not how it makes me feel or think it will make me feel.
So true! I seldom watch commercials these days, and I try to apply the rule of having a 30 day long waiting period before purchasing anything. It has made me more appreciative of the things I do buy after careful consideration. Less is more indeed.
Bob Pepe says
I love the 30 day rule… I would have so much less “crap” if I adhered to that simple principal.
Thank you for this post Joshua. I find standing up to the barrage of advertising primed to make us feel dissatisfied with our lives pretty exhausting sometimes. Reading this helps me to keep fighting the good fight.
Recently I have found actively practicing gratitude helps me to focus on the abundance in my life and not to fall for the marketers tricks.
I’ve got great results with two of the suggestions you make 1) unsubscribing from store email lists 2) waiting before I make major purchases. Both have helped to quell my preoccupation with shopping – in particular a fear of missing out on bargains – and helped me regain my money mojo. I share my experience here: http://wp.me/p66Woa-7
Trisha Wain says
Let’s not forget our children in this equation! If you have small kids or even teens, you know what I’m talking about. My latest pet peeve? Car commercials aimed at children choosing the family car. This makes me down right angry. We’re talking a major purchase being decided by children because they can use their electronics (another whole can of worms with me) while riding in it? Seriously? I started when my daughter was very young, teaching her that what you see in commercials is almost never what you actually get. We need to help them understand these same concepts at a young age. Those ruthless ad agencies think nothing of teaching our children that they need certain clothes to be popular, or junk food is cool, and pressure your parents into buying this thing or that. Just wanted to extend these ideas to encompass all of us. If we teach our children to be smart about how they make consumer decisions, they will be more responsible consumers as adults.
Phil Pogson says
Bravo! I am putting a link to this on my FB page so my blog readers can get a dose of this wisdom.
Andrea H says
My first instinct is to ask, why, why, why do we all think we can buy happiness, when deep down we know we can’t. And I think the answer is in your post, it’s because we are constantly trying to be “sold” the things you mentioned (status, sex, prestige, happiness, appearance, self-esteem, identity, or reputation) through ever-present advertising. I guess it’s really all on us to be the savviest of consumers, and set up those barriers you talked about.
Deb Henderson says
But this problem is written in this approach to minimalism: “Can I find it cheaper elsewhere?” It would be much more conscionable to ask: “Am I getting good value- that is , paying a fair price based on where and how it is produced?”.
“The cost of “cheap” is too high. We must pay for good quality, ecologically sound materials used in the manufacture or creation. But we must also pay a fair wage for honest, safe work being done on our behalf. Other questions like: “Is this something that is helps keep smaller businesses in my town or small city locale rather than made and distributed only in big box stores, far away, and only available in large cities?” are types and depths of questions much more important than a “cheap” price. North America is wealthy enough to pay fairly to all in the neighbourhood, town, country, and yes, world. We must be fair to the world and pay the price…
I totally agree with your opinion “the price of “cheap” is too high”. If you consume fewer, you can consume better. And if you consume goods that are made in a fair way, you will necessarily consume fewer.
We will also have a lot less ” needed” items in our landfills.
Cheaper is not better. It’s Cheaper!
Kate Doster says
Deb Henderson & Eliane-
Great minds think a like. I love your line Eliane “If you consume fewer, you can consume better.”
It’s so true both in consumerism and consumption (eating).
I’ve found since adopting a more minimalistic lifestyle I can now “find the money” to support local business, organic farmer markets instead of big box store. When you buy less crap, you can more spend in places that have bigger impact both on the seller and your health! it’s a win win win!
Drew Loewen says
Absolutely agreed! It’s not just about cost/benefit for our own good! I totally agree that huge factor of responsibly buying anything is being aware of where it came from. It’s a tough road to go down, because getting things from department stores and giant corporate conglomerates is much cheaper, but there’s greater joy in knowing you helped create a better world as opposed to saving a few pennies.
Robert Lyon says
Agreed, Drew. Everybody wants everything for less. Result: We all get less.
Yes!!!!! Cheap can be very nasty.
Tammy Lovell Stone says
Well said. A lot of people don’t think like this. But we need to. Cheaper is usually not better. But a fair price for a fair product is a win for everyone.