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. Make getting out of debt a priority.
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)
Interesting comments from 7 years ago
Vanessa Tarcak says
I have no social media and I barely watch TV
Social media/media overall just bombards you with items that you don’t really need and will not upgrade your life in any way – just an illusion.
If you’re investing money into items that are in link with your passions such as a new surf board, or a new bike, painting supplies, by all means
But so important to always ask yourself if that item will truly improve the quality of your life
So true about Social Media and TV ads. I took a DECA class my senior year of high school and they taught us how marketing works, and how to “see thru” the message. It has been very helpful to me to avoid the consumerism bandwagon. I look at ads today and “see through” them and ignore the message now. Minimalism has really been a blessing in my life.
Terri Scharn says
Please remove my email.
I think comment captures the farcical nature of this post. The haughtiness, the class and religious privilege, this article is drenched in it. We seek an escape from this tumultuous cycle of corporate enforced pseudoculture, only to be slapped with this. I urge the poster to write with empathy (and remove Terri from the mailing list).
One of the measures I have taken to reduce consumption is to minimize the amount of new clothing that I buy. I get mine used from thrift stores and roadkill. It’s amazing how much decent clothing is lying around. If it looks decent I pick it up. If I don’t want it, I wash it and take it to a homeless shelter or thrift store.
My sibling’s small-town shop was recently broken into and robbed-grand theft. In the past, while living in larger cities, members of my family have come home to the same bewildering realization…theft. It’s had me thinking tonight, about how home minimalism holds the benefit of avoiding such a painful experience (yeah, I’m guessing if thieves didn’t find anything to take they’d likely just trash the house…motivation to remodel?) but at the same time, when you own next to nothing to begin with, it’s just that much less that can be taken away from you.
Thanks for such an inspiring article.I have been in my way to minimalism for a few years, I started by making my own 100% natural shampoo without any soap , based on sodium bicarbonate,clay, pure alcohol….also my own deodorant,toothpaste etc I have not bought any new clothes for ages, instead I buy them used from charity shops & secondhand markets, same goes for furniture ,car & most things.Now I am trying to reduce that kind of shopping too, as I can get carried away, so I am declatering my home from all things which I do not really need & will just keep the necessary things.I am also learning how to make my own shoes & would love to give up my selfemployed ( non satisfactory job) & go live in the country side in an earth bag house ( Nader Khalily style) have my own veg & fruit gardens & live life to the full,Now I feel enslaved to the system,but can not see a way out just yet…I also eat minimally, once per day or two at most, trying to follow a clean organic veg diet, avoiding as much as poss, the use of car, plastics,tv ….I believe this will bring me a lot of joy & freedom besides reducing my carbon foot print….love to all of you out there , I wish you success in your way to minimalism…Crusty ( Spain)
Stephen Cowley says
I think the older one gets, the less material objects mean. I’m just turning 60, and for the sake of my mental well-being walked out of my job. My income is such that I’ve been forced to think about a minimalist life. I’m already happier.
Christmas is a great time to start. I’ve told my family no presents, and have backed this up with the rationale that would they rather me go into debt or have gifts. No contest. Everyone is fine with this.
What is more important is spending quality time with those you love, rather than showering each other with stuff they don’t need.
Truly, 2017 is going to be the year I lead a minimalist existence. I will buy only what I need, rather than what I want.
Thank you for the article.
Maëva Rodrigues says
Hello, I admire the way you live and think and how you worked hard to have this minimalist life. You give me the motivation to change some things my way to life and to consume. As a girl, I love make up and clothes. From now, I think and I’m asking to myself this question :” Do I really need this lipstick?”.
I’ll do an effort in my way to consume, for the environment, for my purse (of course), and for my self-fulfillment. Thanks a lot to share your point of view, I hope it will touch the most people possible!
I have been on a journey this past year to stop needless spending and clear out the things in my life that I don’t need. I personally consider this to be material possessions as well as people/activities/other energies that are no longer suiting me. I used to think being debt free was good enough but it isn’t for me. I set up a budget with a strong focus on savings and stick to it with the help of an app (I use Mint but I know there are others). I thought I would hate it but it actually turned into my new little “hobby” and I get a lot of enjoyment out of making a plan and sticking to it. I also LOVE how I pay myself now instead of looking at an empty savings account and a closet full of unworn clothes or nic nacs I don’t need. I also spend my money on memories instead of things. Bonus: hiking, lunch by the lake, a bike ride around the city are fun and cost nothing (or next to nothing as I don’t see anything wrong with biking around and checking out a new brewery or cafe along the way). I used to spend time “shopping” which meant wandering around in shops just to see if there was anything in there that I could buy. This pastime seems ludicrous to me now. These days I buy things after careful consideration. This is all new to me this year so I still make mistakes but I am growing all the time. Just because I am on a new path and crave this minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have a laptop or use a smartphone. Living “minimalist” does not mean you live in blank square space with a cot and a sheet and only wear the clothes on your back! I try to surround myself with only the things I truly love or really need and live my debt free life to its fullest.
Excellent Article! The best things in life aren’t free, they cost time,
love and attention. They are well worth the investment.
S. Shaffer says
I agree, there’s an emptiness that results in being a consumer. I personally reverse this by becoming a “producer”.
I always thought I loved to cook until my daughter moved out and cooking for myself was a chore, not a pleasure. I realized at 43 that I didn’t like cooking, I love feeding people good food. I produce the equivalent of hugs for tummies, food full of love.
I think it’s important for everybody to figure out what they can produce that makes them feel more connected, whether it’s crops, cookies, quilts or a blog. Produce something that helps you connect to the world in a way that creates happiness.
Valuing connection over attachment & producing over consuming brings me joy and fulfillment. Spread warm fuzzies instead of trying to buy them. They’ll come back to you with interest. :)
Media advertising can bamboozle consumers by excerpting words from their original linguistic context in a way that distorts the source’s intended meaning, known as contextomy, which is widespread today. A typical example is the ubiquitous “review blurb” in TV commercials.
The beguilement of media strategy can arise from being “blurbed” by administrators, and thus can impel some critics to write positive reviews of a mediocre product.
The mass media has a strong influence on the inclinations of the pop culture segment of society [gotta have a certain fad because my friends think it’s cool!] This opens a window of opportunity for some to become enmeshed in a subculture that is alien to mainstream society.
Money is a good servant but a bad master.
Many times less is really more.
mariana bileu says
It makes me print those people who pay with credit card everything and anything. Once was interning and a lady asked me scratch when it was to make the payment I came across the card read access denied. I thought the problem was mine and I would have done something bad so I made again.
to do the whole procedure gave the same as before and the lady turned out to not take things.
I was unresponsive and not knowing what to do.
Charice Gwinn says
I have committed to not buying anything i don’t need all year. I have bought 2 item to make freezer jam. Since cleaning out shoes I got carried away and only have 4 pairs so I bought a winter pair. I just have to pack up and donate it. Stuff i look at every day. Lots of glass and crap in small places. I will set timer for 1\2 hour a day and crank music and try to grab stuff I don’t want and keep stuff I need. I have a huge Italian family so kitchen if off limits. Good luck to all.
I just moved this past weekend. I was thrilled to see how much I had downsized over the previous year. I still managed to fill 4 boxes to donate and think there’s opportunity to let go of more (how many pillow cases does one need?). I was able to go from a 2 bedroom apartment plus a storage unit to a 1 bedroom and a corner in the garage.
MORE OR LESS? More or less or is less really more, more or less?
Makes me think of that saying
most people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.
Loved your article. X
Mary Grace says
Terribly sad but it’s true in all sense. No matter how we try to perfect our life in owning what’s just needed we can’t because of the many influences we live by each day. Yes, keeping up with the Jones’s is a true definition of envy that makes us wanting more.
I love this post, all good points – and the comments too. Makes me rethink my lifestyle choices.
I find it difficult in this day and age, to simplify and minimize my lifestyle when it seems that we have been programmed to consume and spend. We are chasing acceptance and constant validation from people, and it feels as though we only achieve these things when we are “keeping up with the Jones’s”, so to speak. Terribly sad but true.
Your statement, “We are chasing acceptance and constant validation from people…” is all so true. I never really thought about like that. As I began my journey as a minimalist with the purging of excessive clothing, purses and shoes, I see how I’ve bought into the fold of wanting more and more, designer items of course, while never feeling like I have what exemplifies a successful single woman. Realizing this is a process that’s going to take more than a weekend to accomplish. I’m excited and visualizing my new minimalist life freeing the stress of this overwhelming expensive clutter.
L.D. Sewell says
All good points and I especially like number 1 – debt is a terrible freedom robbing man made disease. It can and should be eliminated by anyone who wants more freedom and independence in their lives.
I was always taught to never borrow money, wait, pay for it when you have it. We did borrow money to buy our first house, paid it off in 12 years. I borrowed money to buy my first 80 acres of farm ground, it generated its own revenue, paid it off in 12 years also. Look up the Federal Reserve System, they are not a bank nor are they part of the US government, but they print the money. The more borrowed money in the US, the more powerful they become, they control our finances and we let them.
Great post, you have renewed my thoughts on going minimalist.
Do you know of any good documentaries about minimalism or conspicuous consumption or how advertisements influence us. I googled but couldn’t find any.
Check out Alain De Botton, Status Anxiety. Most of his other work is also great.
Another good one is a great Christmas doco called ‘What would Jesus buy?’ I think that’s what it’s called????
The “story of stuff” video posted below details how after WWII, the manufacturers were keen to continue with the expansion of consumption so got the marketers to engineer desires for consumption.
nancy dimauro says
There is a documentary on netflix titled minimalism. I’ve watched i twice very good -a bit extreme for me, however what’s important to one is different from another. The two fellas were high earners in the corporate world and fell into consumerism. That all the products the purchased loses their joy and into something else.
I love the way you simplify things. In regards to having 8 of each in the kitchen what do you do when you have people over? We entertain a lot and what if I need extra dishes?
When we have people over we just buy throw away plates and silverware so we save time cleaning dishes and spend more time having fun and enjoying our friends. More eco friendly recycled material is a go to ofcours.
Very true and I thank you for article like this from you because it reminded me to empty my cabinets, give away things that are not needed anymore.
I like your post a lot as I think all of us should think a little more before buying yet again something new…
…I still have decluttering my wardrobe on my to do list…the thing is I like the clothes and kid self that instead of buying new trends I shall endeavour to go wardrobe shopping in my existing closet and simply create new outfits with old clothes…sometimes this even happens ;-)
Jim potts says
A laptop or smart phone is not a need. Yet without those your message is lost in space. You use the very tools you deride.
joshua becker says
I would argue then, for my work, they are a need. Just as a fancy camera may be essential for a photographer, but not for me.
Agreed with Josh
Laptop and iphone or any other “things” can be used as “a means to an end”, unless one becomes “obssessed” with it…then it “becomes an end itself…”
To drive a car as a necessity or drive it as a luxury
The choice is for one to make!
Being a minimalist in this fast paced consumer world is refreshing and inspiring as it can help in delayed gratification and signals a new way of justification by self reflection…
“do I really need that.”
“Can I live without that?”
Michael Burridge says
As an industrial designer my job is to design new products and I greatly lament the obscene excess. —a mad race to the landfill.
True. We moved from California to the Philippines and from then on started the thought of becoming a minimalist. Thank you for this blog to constantly remind us to keep on doing to make our world a happier place to live.
Sally Harloff says
I caught that also.
I consider my smart phone a means to be able to live without a car, without unnecessary complications and frustration. With google maps I can catch a bus to anywhere I want whenever I want. Or as a backup, I can request a ride from Uber. My smartphone actually simplifies my life. Try it, you’ll be amazed at how freeing it is! And it’s cheaper and easier than owning a car. Or if you’re a 2 car family, it may enable you to do with one car. But it takes a change of thinking, as do other minimalist ways.
You dont fight men with guns with spears and swords either.
A laptop and smartphone are not a need on the same level as food, water, and shelter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be minimalist and still own these things, if you use them for a specific purpose. What it does mean is that you don’t need to replace your laptop every year; you don’t need to run out and buy the latest iPhone as soon as it is on the market.
I would say that owning a laptop, computer or smart is perfectly acceptable as a minimalist. Its not about getting rid of everything you own, its about keeping what is necessary for you, and what adds value to your life.
My computer is where I store all my family photos, its where I do work as a photographer.
My smart phone is my map, my information centre, my connection to people, my camera with which I capture my families life. Its not the centre of my world however. It is a tool that I use not the other way around.
Being minimalist is different for each person, about living with what is necessary and of value to each person. Not about living on the bare essentials for life.
Of course they are if your business depends on them.
somebody missed the message
Maritza Bacca says
The following post is an plagiarism in spanish of your post “10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism”
jack mckinley says
how very true but it seems every new generation feels they deserve more i feel like we are slaves
Wilma Huff says
I think so too! We are slaves to greediness!
Thank you for the reminders i have downsized a lot a few years back when we had our auction sale and moved into this small apartment but it seems i brought more along to my new place than was really needed.
I still like the reminders cause sometimes i get stumped and think maybe i should save this maybe i will need it later and your emails remind me to let go
deniz karahan says
Sikerim sizi biji biji kurdistan hrsn. picolodeniz #prayfordeniz
Terri Richardson says
Great article! We traveled around the world for twenty years while serving in the Air Force and collected so many things. With every move we needed a bigger house, more bathrooms, etc…It took three moving trucks to move all of our belongings into our retirement home. Now we are empty nesters with unused rooms filled with stuff that I’m sure out kids won’t want. It would be nice to get rid of it all and be free is the hassle of taking care of things.
Coupons often trap customers. I hear people say that if they get a coupon, they HAVE to use it!!! IF I need something, I will check to see if I have a coupon. Otherwise, I am more than happy to toss it. Also, how often shoppers will open a charge account with a department store just to save 15%!!! Every situation is different, but a lot of people can’t handle credit cards and rack up huge bills. I am happy to stay away from stores. I get only what I need and then I am out. No desire to browse.— Yes, the holidays are coming. It is only Sept. yet stores have Christmas decorations set up already. I plan to give cash and gift-cards to those I exchange with this year. I don’t want to do the shopping, and trust me…cash is always a welcome gift. I refuse to shop over the Black Friday 4 day weekend (it starts on Thanksgiving now). I don’t want to be a sheeple consumer. I absolutely refuse. No deal is that good for me. I hope to stay focused and enjoy the beautiful season in honor of our Savior and with a heart of compassion and love to those around me. The true meaning of Christmas isn’t found at the mall.
What saddens me, is that I do not spend necessarely, or I do spend a few pennies, but the amount of stuff I get… is staggering. I hoard stuff, especially, when I dont pay anything for it. sometimes the purpose is to resell it, but it hardly happens, maybe, 5% goes re-sold. I have found no solution yet ahah
Hoarding stuff Marco is a specific problem for some people – talk to someone about why you hoard and use that a way to find out how you can de-clutter. I find it hard to throw things away if I think the item can be used even if I don’t need or want it because I have a problem with seeing waste. I used to do garage sales but that just creates another type of clutter. Mostly I give stuff to charity shops these days. Other people get emotional attachments to ‘things’ as a replacement for emotional relationships, or because those things are linked to past relationships and events. Sometimes we need help in letting go.
Thank you for your post. Pope Francis gave an excellent argument in his recent encyclida Laudato Si’ for the environment and said that consumerism is at the root of climate change. Check out this quote from the book:
Consumerism makes the world less rich and beautiful
Harsh Tripathy says
Your blog strikes me because this is about getting a minimal lifestyle and still be happy. I can relate it to my daily life. I never purchase branded clothes or branded stuff. I don’t go on shopping often, except procuring grocery items. I try to be healthy and lean and focus on writing, which I love the most. One thing I want to mention is, I love to buy stuff for my loved ones. Would it be counted as excessive consumerism or just a way of showing my love to the people whom I care for?
G G says
My mom is constantly buying me and my children things we don’t need.
Her money would be better spent saving for college.
Christina Brown says
And suggest she give “experiences” instead. Tell her that her gift as a Geandparent is far more valuable.
Plus start her a college fund.
Well there you have it – even the Pope agrees that consumerism is something we need to escape from!
I personally think that reducing your exposure to advertising is the key. Commercial television, commercial radio, newspapers and junk mail are the worst culprits, and if you escape them then the job is just about done with no real side effects (quite surprising really).
I personally made this change about 12 months ago and it has helped my budget (not to mention my state of mind) enormously!
Larry Augenstein says
We haven’t had a TV since 1996 and don’t listen to commercial radio stations. In addition to limited exposure to advertising our lives are also less stressful because we avoid the manufactured hysteria in all news media – from right wing cable news to NPR.
I have been trying to slowly limit my exposure to commercials and social media. I have realized, at least for myself, Facebook induces envy. People post their “bests” on Facebook and I constantly compare their bests to my everyday.
This post and everyone’s comments confirm my thoughts that I need to find contentment; happiness and joy cannot truly happen without contentment. Escaping the consumer driven world/culture is one of the most important steps.
Thank you so much for this post and the replies
This! So this!!! I stopped watching TV about a year ago after the series I followed either ended (House) or I got bored of reruns (CSI Miami) and I noticed I was watching TV for the sake of watching rather than because there was anything I enjoyed watching. I decided to stop and NEVER turn on the TV now, and I have no idea what the latest gimmicks that I ABSOLUTELY NEED are, what the latest cars’ features are, how many blades they’re up to on a razor now.
I have more time to enjoy listening to and playing music (my passion) and more money because my desires aren’t shaped by corporate ad campaigns. When some relatives were visiting for Thanksgiving and had the TV on for hours in the background, I caught a few glimpses of the insanity that is commercials and the TV could not be shut off soon enough!