Life is really the sum of our experiences over a period of time.
We can add a religious or spiritual dimension to it if we wish. But the reality is we exist, we experience the world and then we die.
We often say that life is precious. Life is short. We need to make the most of every moment, of every day.
But instead of experiencing life – we focus on the buying of stuff. Having has replaced doing, and even being.
Is this a crazy way to live life? I think so. After all, we can’t take our possessions with us when the curtains finally close and that last breath has been taken.
The typical story of stuff.
Now here’s the story of stuff that I’m sure you can relate to:
We work to buy stuff. We collect ideas of what stuff to buy. We go shopping for the stuff. We compare the stuff. We buy the stuff. We make room for the stuff. We clean the stuff. We have to sort through the stuff. We maintain the stuff. We repair the stuff. And when we’re tired of it or feel it has no place in our homes anymore, we get rid of the stuff.
And then the cycle repeats, accelerating more quickly for some depending on how much of their identity is tied to buying and owning stuff.
Do you give a stuff?
Bet you’re wondering, how the heck did we get here?
In his book, ‘Stuffocation‘, author James Wallman explains that the United States needed to find ways to solve the twin problems of overproduction and underconsumption. They found it: encouraging spending on stuff that had inbuilt obsolescence. The modern advertising industry as we know it was also born at this time, for obvious reasons. American industries profited from people buying and discarding stuff. The American economy became a success and would become the envy of countries around the globe:
“Soon, companies, governments, and ordinary people around the world wanted to copy the US’ successes. And so, where once most businesses had made products to last as long as possible, now they built them to last a season. Where once most people had been careful with their money, they, gradually, over the course of the twentieth century, began to use up what they had… they learned to buy new things a little sooner than strictly necessary, and they became wasteful conspicuous consumers.”
Welcome to the Disease of Modern Capitalism. At this point in human history, there is no known cure.
The problem is bigger than just buying stuff.
Instead of the scarcity problem, in the West, we have the opposite problem – instant gratification. That feeling of wanting and having has grown to become a full-blown addiction. We’ve become so concerned with externalities that we’re giving up our precious lives for it.
Related Post: How Advertising Has Contributed to Wasteful Consumption
Because in order to acquire the stuff, we have to give up some of our lives – calculated in time; seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years – to WORK for the MONEY to BUY the STUFF we want.
But it doesn’t end there. We are tied even more to stuff because the success of our economies are measured against it. How much stuff was created and produced? How much of it was exported? How much of it was imported? How much of it was consumed? How much can we create, produce, sell again in the next month, in the next quarter, in the next year?Instant gratification. That feeling of wanting & having has grown to become a full-blown addiction. We've become so concerned with externalities that we're giving up our precious lives for it calculated in the hours we give up to our jobs...Click To Tweet
As it continues; bigger, faster, more hungry, human society has less time for family, recreation, to ponder, be still; so it gets tired, and sick, and illnesses start to pop up, and our families and communities begin to break down.
On top of this, we have also unknowingly transmitted this capitalistic disease to unsuspecting victims – in this case, the third and developing worlds. Soon they too will be caught up in all of this stuff.
This is the economic reality of stuff. Each of us has contributed to it. It’s up to each of us to help humanity have a better relationship with it.
Changing our relationship to stuff.
So here are six questions to ask yourself in your journey to becoming a more mindful consumer:
1. What motivates you to buy?
Are you making purchases for yourself or to impress others? Do you really need it or do you want it? Buying out of need is the ideal rule to follow. While it is not always our reality given how much pressure there is to keep up with the Joneses and how we measure our life’s success with how much we own; questioning our motivation will help us understand why we do what we do. Once we are aware of it, we can take steps to change it.
2. What does success look like to you?
If your idea of success is one grounded in materialism, this would explain why you have such a strong relationship to stuff. If on the other hand, you define success in more intangible ways, such as purposeful work, freedom to travel, loving relationships, joy, healthy children, optimum health; then you won’t have as strong a bond with accumulating possessions.
3. How much stuff do you have?
The average American family owns anywhere from 30,000 – 300,000 items. I was flabbergasted when I learned this, so earlier in the year, I did a stocktake of the stuff I owned. With three rooms down and still three rooms to go (work has taken precedence and haven’t had the chance to continue my experiment but I’ll get there) I counted a total of just over 2600 items. Crazy hey? By doing the experiment I also discovered stuff that I neither valued or used. So I started donating and selling my stuff. My relationship to stuff hasn’t been the same since. In fact, when I move an item out of my home, I feel lighter and freer as my home reflects my minimalist attitude. And I am much more discerning with what I buy, more so than ever before.
4. How often do you use your stuff?
This is a question I regularly ask myself because it helps me to run a tight minimalist ship. I don’t buy anything if I know it will just sit in my home gathering dust. If I buy fashion, you will see me in it over and over, regardless of the season, or year. If you don’t believe me, check out my Instagram account. I do not care one iota if you see me in the same sunglasses, wearing the same pair of jeans, holding the same Dolce & Gabbana bag.
5. Do you choose experiences over stuff?
I spend a lot more of my disposable income on experiences: dining out, entertainment, travel, and even buying food to prepare home-cooked meals. The money and time I spend on these things far outweigh the amount I spend on books (I use the library), fashion (I am a minimalist and also don’t have a wardrobe yet) and household goods (I work long hours, I’m barely at home). I believe life is to be experienced and I derive much more of my purpose by creating, sharing, informing, experiencing, and working, than I do shopping. What about you?
6. How much time and energy do you devote to shopping?
Aside from buying food, perishables and basic household products, how much time and energy do you spend going shopping? Whether you are browsing online stores, window shopping, doing a shopping trip with friends, spending a bored Sunday morning at the shopping centre, or whatever, how much time do you spend doing these things? And then calculate how much time you spend researching, comparing, acquiring and talking about the things you bought and ask yourself if that time was worth it.