Minimalism is everywhere. It’s our newest trend. We are suddenly into Marie Kondo, thanking our stuff and lovingly saying goodbye to it forever.
Or so we think.
The problem is people aren’t really understanding what minimalism means. It isn’t just about getting rid of your stuff and making things look cleaner. Or creating some bare space on your shelves.
Minimalism isn’t a look to try and recreate. It is a lifestyle. It is a change in your way of thinking. It’s realizing that consumerism is eating us alive and minimalism is a way to fight back.
When you start the process of getting rid of clutter without first addressing how the clutter got there you are guaranteed to fail. Why? Once all the clutter is gone and you have a blank pallet it will somehow fill up again. It might take a while but it will slowly creep back in.
It happens when you buy your child a new toy on a whim while grocery shopping. Something they don’t really want or need but you get it anyways.
Or when you pick up a new pair of shoes even though you have no actual need for them. Oh and that cute sweater because it was on sale!
Your friend from work is having one of those Tupperware parties and you don’t want her to think you don’t like her so you buy a thing or two.
Your nephew is doing a fundraiser for his basketball team and you have to support him by buying things, right?
Are you seeing a pattern here?
We buy. Without thinking. Without considering what the consequences are.
Trust me, there are consequences and not just to ourselves, our mental health and our homes. The trickle-down effect is global and if we don’t become more conscious we will be training our children to repeat these same consumptive mistakes we’ve been making all our lives.
What exactly is Consumerism anyway?
Webster says consumerism is “a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods”. Consumerism basically means that we like to buy stuff and that we think about buying stuff a lot.
How did consumerism start?
People have always consumed things. We just haven’t always consumed things on such a commercialized scale. Historically we only consumed the things we needed as we had neither the time or funds to be extravagant. Consumerism on a larger scale was for the extremely wealthy.
The theory is that once industrialization started in the 1800th-century Europen economies began to grow and people who had never had the money for luxuries now had purchasing power. The people began to consume, which led to more demand which furthered the economy by creating jobs.
People began buying things which perhaps made a task easier or life a little better.
There were political, religious, and social standards of consumption which changed over the centuries. Until the 20th century, while consumption was happening, it was not happening on the scale that we know today.
American Consumerism Today
After WWII the US was out of The Great Depression and had money to spend. Now, however, they also had governmental influences to support buying. Spending meant you were a good citizen, and a good American since more money put into the economy made everyone wealthier.
According to PBS “At war’s end, the items people most desired included televisions, cars, washing machines, refrigerators, toasters, and vacuum cleaners: the machines that would help them modernize their lives”.
People didn’t feel quite so guilty about buying these things, or craving, desiring, and purchasing new versions of these things as they were no longer viewed as luxuries. They had become standard of living items.
Obviously this a VERY brief idea of how we as a civilization became the immense consumers we are today. Lots of other factors have happened and continue to happen which allows the consumption of goods and services to grow.
Why do we consume?
While there are a lot of reasons people buy, as a young, 30 something American mother of 3 I really want to highlight the ways that we specifically are targeted in the great consumerist machine.
Well, we, and our children of course.
Wealth Standards and Commercialism
“Keeping up with the Jones” is something we’ve heard over and over our entire lives. As much as it’s meant as a derogatory statement the truth behind it is startling.
The American Dream itself is basically about working hard and becoming your own Mrs. Jones, isn’t it? Work until you are able to achieve everything your heart desires. And what do our hearts desire? All the things that might elevate us to whatever position we have tagged as our dream life.
It’s going to look different from all of us but let me give you an example of what I thought “making it” would look like when I was a child.
A home with a separate, formal dining room. That was is. If you had a formal dining room then you must be successful. A whole room that only gets used for extended family gatherings. If it was at your house you must be more successful then the rest of your family. Otherwise, you would be at their house in their dining room.
What a crazy thing to aspire to. Having a house with a large dining room. To accomplish this dream, one would be required to purchase several important things. A home, apparently a larger one in my case, dining set, matching dishes, probably a buffet, formal china, just for display of course, and the perfect decor.
This was my standard of wealth and it all revolved around how much I could buy and had nothing to do with creating any kind of real, lasting happiness in my life.
Maybe it’s different for you. Maybe your dream is an apartment in Manhattan or a certain type of car. Maybe it’s having a specific wardrobe, a closet with a certain number of shoes. Maybe it’s owning a second home at the beach, or in the mountains. Whatever it is, I guarantee it costs money to get it, and it involves possessing something.
How Social Media Influences Consumerism
Where do these ideas of what we want our lives to look like come from? When we were children I assume it came from what our parents talked about wanting or from seeing the things our friends or peers had.
Today, social media is certainly one of the major driving factors in our purchasing decisions. We cannot get on Facebook or Instagram without comparing ourselves to people we have never met.
Influencers are more popular than ever. The power they wield is incredible and the money they make from just promoting their “lifestyle” is just as amazing.
The thing about a great influencer is you might not even be aware of the influence. It’s the way they decorate or dress. The things their kids play with, the activities they do, the places they visit.
Social Media allows us to compare ourselves to others, based solely on the parts of their lives they chose to show us. We are putting our stock in half-truths and thinking if we can ever reach this dream ideal of a person that we might be happy.
This is not me saying that social media is a bad thing or that “influencers” big or small are wrong. I myself have been paid by or benefited from being considered an influencer. The whole purpose of a blog is to influence you in some way. I mean, just this post is trying to convey my own feelings and perspective and have you be moved in some way by it.
My goal here is not to say you should hop off social media because people everywhere are trying to sell you something. I am only trying to point out that today’s buying trends for 30 something mothers are highly influenced by a culture of perception, not fact.
As if the pressure to keep up with the Jones’ wasn’t enough now we feel the need to keep up with the people we perceive might be the Jones’ too.
Consumerism in Parenting
We buy our children things for many reasons.
We buy them things we feel will benefit or help them live a better life. I bought my daughter several sets of flash-cards the other day because I assumed they would somehow be more effective than something I could make myself.
At the same time, I bought her little plastic counters to learn math with. She already has another toy that helps with counting but obviously spending money to help with her education isn’t frivolous is it? She NEEDS those things to succeed. Right?
We buy our children things because we remember how we didn’t have things when we were kids. We want to make our children’s childhoods better than our own, no matter the cost.
Our children get cheap little trinkets for good behavior at the grocery store. They get little mementos from vacations. They get treats from friends, aunts, grandparents, teachers, daycare workers….
I was told recently “buying things for our kids is how we show them, love, we buy because we love.”
I get it. I do.
I love to see my little ones face light up when they receive something new.
Here’s the thing though. My kids faces light up for a lot of reasons that don’t involve consuming. By essentially training them from birth to consume because it feels good for a moment is such a huge mistake.
What our kids really need are parents who are more interested in knowing who they are and receiving our actual love instead of feeling our love through a monetary purchase. Hard Truth.
If we continue to show our emotions with our wallets we are never going to create emotionally stable adults. They won’t ever learn to express themselves without some sort of monetary crutch.
The thing about living in a consumerist society is we have been groomed to see consumption as a part of reality. AS a MUST do type of action.
When I put my oldest daughter in dance at two and a half for the socialization aspect I found myself in a new world that I myself had never been a part of.
Honestly, I was kind of blown away when recital time came. Other mothers were making dates to take our babies to get their nails and hair professionally done. They were all buying professionally recorded recital tapes and recital T-shirts.
Every other child, remember they are 2 & 3, received bouquets of flowers at the end of their dances. When I say dance what I really mean was a line of little girls swaying back and forth looking terrified.
I put my foot down at the time because it felt so wrong to be buying into such an obvious show of creating entitled children. I can see now I have been creating entitled children all on my own without even realizing it.
Parenting is a hard gig. We are all just doing the best we can. My point here is we don’t have to keep buying our kids’ things to help, love, and teach them. In fact, we should be doing the opposite because consuming and learning to consume is creating a bigger monster then we realize.
Buying because of addiction
I use the term addiction here loosely because there is a huge scale of how addicted people are to consuming and a ton of reasons why.
Addiction can range from a full-blown hoarder style of accumulation to the barely recognizable “I shop when I’m feeling happy, sad, stressed, mad, and any other emotion I might have”.
I myself and so guilty of this one. My husband can judge my mental state by the charges on my credit card. The thing is, no matter how much I buy or accumulate I can never fill whatever void I’m trying to overcome with things.
Upbringing and Consumerism
My family was lower middle class when I was growing up. We weren’t poor, we always had food but my mom always shopped off the clearance rack, we only got new shoes before the first day of school and our vacations consisted of visiting family or camping.
I remember graduating college and my parents got us all a hotel room near campus so we could be there early. Even as a young adult I remember feeling like this was extravagant because it just wasn’t something we did.
Shopping wasn’t really something I did much of as a child or something I remember my parents doing either.
When I started dating my husband I was in awe of the life his family lived. They flew on planes, ate out several times a week and his mom and sister spent the whole day shopping almost every Saturday. Not because they needed anything, just for fun.
Now, I don’t think either family is wrong here. The point I’m trying to make is one daughter was raised with shopping as a pastime and the other was raised with shopping as an extravagance.
I think we both still carry bits of our upbringing with us every time we make a purchase.
Numerous other reasons behind consumption
Obviously, there are many more reasons behind our drive to buy. The American economy is built on consumers. We are a country which is encouraged to buy because that is how we survive. Buying creates jobs. When we stop buying we lose jobs. I won’t bore you with all the economic details but trust me when I say the sign of a good economy in America is relative to the dollars spent on non-essentials.
Now we know the reasons why we buy we can see the complexity behind the “we have too much stuff” problem.
Of course, we have too much stuff. Our entire lives revolve around buying and consuming.
Without taking this into account, addressing it, and making a change getting rid of your stuff will only temporarily solve your problem. With fewer things, you will be right back to square one to begin the buying process once again.
In all honesty, breaking the spending cycle is HARD. Like really, really hard. Especially when its something you have been guided to do, consciously and unconsciously since birth. Especially when it surrounds you, your spouse, and your kids. There is nowhere that you aren’t bombarded by the pressure to buy.
If you want to live a minimalist lifestyle you must start by breaking the cycle of spending.
It’s easy to say “just stop buying stuff” but what kind of a solution is that really?
That is the solution though. We need to recognize the areas where consuming has become second nature and start there.
We need to understand how we got there and why.
Once we have located the where and why we can start building a new foundation. One where minimalism can really take hold, not just this false, trendy, version of minimalism we are being fed in media today.
Are you ready to simplify your life and move towards “minimalism”?
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