How To Live With Less In A Consumer Culture

Daily Thoughts

We are all consumers in one way or another. Whether that may be in materials, books, films, art, food, electricity, water, social media, news, internet, advertisements and so forth. How much and how often we consume things over another varies depending on our behaviour, habits, lifestyle and interests. The power of marketing and advertising is immense as it creates the illusion of needing more. The need for intimacy and meaning in our lives is often clouded by the illusion that we need more stuff to be happy. When I browse thrift stores in an ocean of clothes, the reality sinks in that there is a vicious cycle of the production, consumption and disposal of clothes.

I strive to live by the philosophy and mentality that less is more. As we live in a consumer culture, we are encouraged to buy more, even when we have more than enough. Advertising sells us a lifestyle, status, and identity. In terms of clothing, it is one of the top polluters in the world. If we consume less, we also lessen our carbon footprint, and we contribute less waste towards the earth. However, the power of advertising covers it with the glamour of a certain lifestyle. But, the truth is, we don’t need a lot to be happy.

Fill your spaces with love and purpose. Living with less means only having materials that will be used for years to come. Advertising tells us that we are lacking in our lives and that we need to fill our spaces with materials to feel a sense of fulfilment. However, many of us have more than we need.

Buy good quality materials. Purchasing good quality clothing gives it longevity. Many things can last a long time. As I mentioned above, there are many second hand clothing that are good quality. But, the fast fashion industry is constantly moving in and out with trends that are having a heavy impact on the environment.

Money and materials cannot buy true happiness. Consumer culture means that we spend so much on material items that don’t bring us long term happiness. We live in a capitalist system that rewards us for our perceived efforts and productivity. Yet, the definition of success tells us that we are always in need of more. Living with less reminds us of what’s important.

Borrow more books. I must say that if I had my own house, I’d love to be able to fill it up with shelves of books. However, as someone who is always moving suitcases to somewhere every year or so, the library has been a blessing. I remember having to donate dozens of books over the years as they can take up a significant amount of space.

Saving money. If you are saving up for something, whether that be a car or a house, you can save money from the smallest things. For example, if you like to drink a cup of coffee everyday. You could start making your own at home everyday, and perhaps in one year you could save 365 x $3.50 = $1,277.50.

Do it for yourself and for the planet. Consumerism really costs the Earth. The more we buy, the more that is disposed of, and the more rubbish we create in the world. An example would be consuming less meat and dairy. Where we spend our money is essentially who we are supporting.

Living with less is not only in materials. In a consumer culture, we are told we need more friends, more money, more travel and more things. The focus is on having a better future, but it’s important to embrace the present and be grateful for everything you have. Advertising focuses too much on ourselves, whereas long term happiness focuses on aspects such as helping others and forming strong relationships.

What is my intention for buying this? I used to have handbags that end up only getting worn a few times during the year, whereas my black handbag would be worn every day. My trainers and school backpack are worn almost every single day. Minimalism may not be for everyone, but it really helps in having a clearer mind and appreciating what you already have.

What are some of your tips for buying less?

I highly recommend reading the article A Helpful Guide to Overcoming Consumerism

Art by Alessandra De Cristofaro

The Art Of Slow Consumption

Culture

The psychology of sales, discounts and promotions tend to convince the need to buy in order to feel a sense of satisfaction through saving. This is a powerful marketing tactic as it encourages consumers to buy and therefore increases production demands. The use of special offers and a strong favourable brand image deliver a lifestyle and a promise of happiness that is attainable through purchasing the product. The cycle boosts the long-term profitability and sales for the company, but it also comes at the price of feeding on our insecurities and telling us that we need materials in our lives to fill up the spaces to attain a certain status, appearance or lifestyle. However, the increase in mass production encourages mass consumption. The increasing consumption cycle is damaging to our environment, well being and mind set.

In our rapidly changing world, we are more impatient due to instant gratification and being bombarded with more choice and opportunities. The gamification of smart phones have also caused a change in socialising, communicating and interactions. The fast paced society has caused an increase in stress, depression and anxiety. It reminds us to take a moment to practice mindful consumption in buying, reading, exercising, cooking, socialising, eating and so forth. We can take time to have a more leisurely approach to life rather than conform to the rush of a busy life. Over-consumption presents an ecological threat to individual, social and global well-being. The ideology that should be shared is that buying less things that are better quality can help us lead a more fulfilled, less wasteful life.

In The stuff of life, Immig writes “What if you piled up all the stuff you’ve ever owned and consumed in your lifetime? Would it make a tall tower reaching into the sky like a high-rise building, or is it more of a discreet mound?” The article is fascinating and creates visualisations of the waste that we have contributed to in a lifetime. It seems as if we can obtain everything we could possibly imagine if we have the financial means to, yet large numbers of people remain deeply unhappy. The chase for personal status and material wealth is built from consumer culture which encourages extrinsic goals that bring an illusion of temporary happiness. We are increasingly obsessed with superficial ideals such as material possessions, wealth, fame and status which is a result of the declining care, empathy and concern for others and for our environment.

The garments we hold tend to lack meaning due to the idea that they’re instantly replaceable or out of trend through the fast-pace cycle of the fashion industry. Adopting the models of slow consumption creates more respect and value for what we have, rather than affording cheap clothing that creates a throwaway culture and encourages the cycle of fashion produced under exploitive work conditions and are environmentally unsustainable. A focus on environmental ethics would help bring the focus on a collective level on the impact and change that can be made for global well-being. If we strive to be conscious consumers, we make the first step in deliberately trying to minimise permanent footprints on the environment. We consider the difference between needs and desires and to purchase and consume slowly and accordingly.

Art by Renée Gouin

Mindless Consumption

Daily Thoughts

The ability to take action, maintain persistence and take time to do difficult things can lead to progress and development. We can consume, listen and read a lot of good advice from people, books and online. However, if we don’t take it into action then the desire and ability for change will never manifest into reality. Fear is something that can take over each and every one of us to varying degrees, depending on the situation or when facing something new. It can be those moments that can enable us to grow tremendously when we face it head front. For example, you may have certain goals that you really want to achieve, but fear can stop you from taking the first step. It’s a matter of taking the first steps out of your comfort zone. It’s important not to rush, as the delay in a reward can make us work more carefully and use our time wisely, and when we do receive it it can be far more satisfying.

Mindless Consumption The action of scrolling down your phone, watching anything on the television, eating food without much thought or buying clothes that you won’t wear are forms of consumption that have the lack of being present and are simply an action taken for passing time. They don’t necessarily add certain value in our lives, as we are a passive consumer. This is common, and we are all part of it in some way or another.

Instant Gratification A certain level of comfort and habitual action can come from instant gratification. It can be predictable and desirable and feels good. Food is an obvious example such as a chocolate cake. Although, an example that is increasingly common and infiltrates our daily lives is social media. We have more options, voices, content, feedback and noise online. Our brains are constantly stimulated when we consume digital technology.

Digital Detox Taking time away from your phone and minimising the apps you use can allow you to spend less time using, watching, sharing, posting, reading and looking at notifications. Your time is precious, and using the time to do things that are valuable to you is important. As algorithms, content recommendations and advertisements tend to cater to our interests, it can be good to take time to read, watch or engage in conversations where it challenges our views to look at things from different perspectives.

Chocolate and Carrots After watching this video, it says that the brain will compare the chocolate and carrot, and nine times out of ten the brain will go to the chocolate as the better option. Unless you’re a rabbit like myself and would choose the carrot. However, it shows how the brain will go to the one that gives the bigger dopamine hit and allow us to consume. Consuming is the easier option, and doing is more difficult as you need to move and exert and apply yourself. Which can be more difficult. It takes time and energy.

Art of Slow We are bombarded with an extreme amount of endless options. When options are limited our time to make decisions and choose are immensely lessened. The art of slow is taking a step back to read a book and really absorbing it in. It’s being mindful and present in your daily life. Taking those moments to do nothing. We need time in solitude and peace to recharge and reconnect with ourselves. Take those moments to walk in nature, meditate, learn something new or spend time cooking a meal.

Am I better than I was yesterday? Taking a break from consumer culture can allow us to come back more productive and focused. If you are thinking about something that’s constantly on your mind, just go for it and do it. Take time to also do difficult things, and embrace the frustration. If you experience those moments that feel slow, you learn, become more patient and become more resilient. Am I better than I was yesterday? What did I learn, what can I change, what am I grateful for, and what did I do well and maybe not so well. Where can I improve and what were some of the highlights?

Art by Monica Barengo

Ethical Fashion And The Rise Of Consumer Culture

Fashion

ROH7304.jpgClothes are one of the largest polluters in the world. There is so much we don’t see from the clothes we wear, from the source of the fabric, where the cotton was grown, how much water was used to bring the piece of clothing to life, what environment the worker who sewed the piece of clothing worked in, how much they are paid and many other aspects that are often clouded by heavy advertising that shows the clothing in an attractive manner to grasp our attention. We are all filled with stories, and everything we come across has a story to tell. The smallest pebble may have crossed an ocean, and yet it’s easy to see something and only see the surface of it.

I met a lovely person yesterday with such a passion for ethical fashion, it was truly inspiring and motivating. If you have Netflix then I highly recommend watching the documentaries: The True Cost and Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. A consumer culture is an ideology that tells us that we should acquire more things in order to build a sense of satisfaction within our lives. It encourages spending culture, building a desire for a lifestyle and convinces you that it is a source of happiness. It is a fact that the experiences we have outweigh the materials we own, and that building memories and relationships are far more valuable and will give true happiness that can sustain a lifetime.

What we consume should also reflect the value of long lasting wear and use. The power of advertising and marketing, is that it convinces the consumer that purchasing a particular good will change your life in a certain way. They persuade you that certain products can give your life more meaning or interest. In this interesting conversation I recently had with the person, we talked about how in the documentary there is a scene where there are massive sales in an American store. There are hundreds of shoppers rushing and running around the store, grabbing as fast as they can and even some fighting and pulling for something they have seen first.

The problem with the fashion industry is that many large companies mindset is to earn a huge amount of profit. There are those who are passionate about design, sourcing eco-friendly fabric and will only allow their clothes to be made in a production and manufacturing company that pays its workers a living wage in a safe environment. However, the over saturation of the industry is filled with actions that are corrupted. In an article here, it says The tragically poor and exploited lives of Chinese chip makers and Indian and Bangladeshi seamstresses are gaining worldwide visibility. Recent news concerning the unsafe living and working conditions of great masses of people is likely merely the tip of the exploitation iceberg.

I watched a film last night called The Shape of Water, (spoilers ahead) which delved with an array of themes. The film features an ocean creature, who is viewed as a monster by some of the characters within the film. However, there is a character who really is the monster, who takes advantage of his power and creates fear. He is an example of a capitalist consumer, such as when he is in a Cadillac store, the car salesman tells him that the teal car is driven by 4/5 most successful men in America (or something a long those lines). In the next scene, we see him drive off in one. It’s a clear example of how there is a certain value placed around materials, and how it shows and communicates one’s status, lifestyle and position in society.

Fashion is often viewed as superficial, but we all need clothing to wear, and the reality is that it is a form of comfort and communication. I don’t think Fashion is superficial, but really only certain people who make it superficial. It is those who believe that materials can show that they are better than someone else, that is one of the worst yet most common aspects of consumption. The truly superficial are those who produce clothes without any care for those making it, or the environment. These people in power have a lot of power to make great change, yet many companies only care about earning money. They will create a beautiful image from the advertising of the goods, but behind the scenes may be a sad reality.

It’s important to remind oneself of what are the truly important things in your life. The relationships you have are ultimately the biggest, as well as striving to do our best for the Earth. The character shows that many of us have an inkling of what we should do, but may not do it. An example, is when other’s decide not to recycle, those who litter, don’t try to understand the system or don’t care about the environment. It takes time, but it’s a matter of educating, spreading the message and raising awareness. It’s also a matter of turning it into action in your own life, and making the decision to consume less and support brands that have good ethics, transparent production and honest values.

What are your thoughts on consumer culture? How do you think we can make improvements in the fashion industry?

Art by Monica Rohan