Curb Your Consumerism

When you’re next at home take a few moments to look around.

Why have you got so much stuff ?

If your home is anything like mine, you’ll have many many items you’ve acquired over the years which now comprise your ‘stuff’.

Why ?

Why do we buy so much ‘stuff’, fill our lives with it and keep so much of it around ? We don’t really need it all, surely ?

Many of us will also have yet more ‘stuff’ hidden away in cupboards, drawers, attics and garages . . . why ?

We’ve all got our own reasons of course, but applied to society as a whole this is not a trivial question.

The increasing rise of consumerism now largely drives the world economy – consuming energy and resources, and is both directly and indirectly responsible for many of the most urgent environmental and social problems in the world today.

It’s not even as if we’e any happier as a result. Survey after survey across the world shows that once our basic needs and sense of security have been met, having additional wealth and owning ‘stuff’ makes relatively little difference to our happiness.

Not to mention of course, that most of us are having to work harder and harder in order to afford our lifestyles, with stress, anxiety, depression, consumer debt, detachment, fragmented communities, weakening of societal institutions and even societal breakdown all potential consequences – so called affluenza, the societal symptoms of overload caused by the endless pursuit of more.

If we want to reduce the extent of consumerism in society, perhaps a bit more introspection and understanding of our own buying habits might be a good place to start ?

Psychologists tell us we buy for a variety of reasons, including: utility and usefulness, to indicate social status to others, to reinforce social status and identity to ourselves, and because buying stuff is enjoyable.

Many of us will appreciate the emotional rewards of shopping –  retail therapy. These are very real, and in some cases shopping, may develop into addictive behaviour – so called oniomania (literally ‘for sale’ madness), often driven by underlying feelings of status anxiety, lonliness and disconnection, lack or purpose or unfulfillment in other areas of life, for which the emotional highs of shopping substitute.

How can we curb our own consumerism ?

A few ideas:

1 – Avoid Temptation – Stop endlessly browsing the internet for the latest releases, fashions, models, gadgets. Try to avoid the adverts, product reviews, glossy magazine promotions. Don’t go window shopping along the High Street and avoid shopping trips with friends. Stop viewing shopping as a leisure activity.

2 – Substitute Other Activities for Shopping – Take some exercise instead, visit a friend, do something creative, go for a walk or watch a film/play a game/listen to music. Getting outside into nature, away from man made environments, can be particularly effective.

3 – Question Yourself - Ask yourself will it really make that much of a difference to my life ? What would happen if I didn’t buy it ? Am I buying this to make myself look good to others ? Am I buying this to make myself feel better ? Do I already have something similar ? Can I fix my old one ?

4 – Build in Delay – If you’re tempted to buy something, force yourself to immediately walk away from it – you’ll only tend to make the effort to walk back if you really want it. Tell yourself if you still want it in a day, a week or a month’s time then you’ll buy it then. Go window shopping without money or cards, so you can’t be tempted by impulse purchases.

5 – Remind Yourself - Try keeping a list of things you need, or really want, whether in the super market shopping lists or online wish lists – and stick to them. If money is tight take a copy of your bank balance to help disuade you from spending. Write yourself a pledge not to buy anything for a week, and keep it in your pocket or your wallet – or stick a reminder on your credit card!

6 – Timing is Everything – Don’t go food shopping when hungry and don’t go shopping for gifts for yourself when feeling a bit down and in need of a ‘pick me up’. Don’t leave gift shopping for others till the last minute. If you’ve decided to go to the shops to buy something, arrange another appointment shortly afterwards, so you won’t be tempted to shop for longer.

7 – Listen to Your Emotions - Be mindful of any emotional conflict you feel when shopping – desire versus guilt. We can sometimes struggle to resolve this conflict by still buying, but compromising on what we buy, perhaps getting something cheaper than the thing we really want. It might be better to buy the thing you really want, and make a deal with yourself you’ll really look appreciate it, use it and look after it, and not buy anything else for a while.

8 – Combat Your Status Anxiety – The more you learn about status anxiety, how it affects us all, and how we often compensate by ‘purchasing a ‘lifestyle or persona’ – the more self aware and empowered we’ll become.

9 – Compare Your Life with the Poor, Instead of the Rich – It’s easy to compare our lives with those of the rich and famous, convincing ourselves we need the latest look, style, gadgets, holidays etc. Perhaps if we were more familiar with the lives of the poor, both in our own country and around the world, we’d be more appreciative of what we already have, and want less.

10 – Consume Collaboratively – If you still absolutely have to have it, perhaps a better alternative is to buy it collectively and share it. Buy and assemble a toolkit with your neighbours, buy films/games/books with family or work colleagues and share them. Perhaps try one of the many online collaborative consumption websites.

Similar articles – Top 10 Anti-Consumerist Must Haves, The Year of Anti-Consumerist LivingThe Art of Giving UpCan Christmas Still Really Change the World ?Buy Nothing Day, Cleaning Out My Closet

Photo by uberculture, via Flickr


  1. Cello Mom – I think temptation affects us all more than we probably realise. Resisting it will only ever be so effective – better to try to avoid it altogether . . . difficult though, we still need to live in the real world !

    Thanks so much for nominating me for the Sunshine award – very much appreciated :o)

    I’ll give it a mention over the weekend.

  2. Consumerism is such an important issue and glad you have addressed it. We just can’t keep on using up the world’s resources and getting (literally) bogged down with stuff. I think many buy things to fill up a hole inside. It’s only a temporary ‘high’, so back out shopping they go. Instead, we need to look at how to fill up on the inside – strengthening individual and community connections, focusing on the greater good, etc.

    Living in impoverished countries it never ceased to amaze me the spirit of life and happiness they exuded. Clearly buying stuff doesn’t bring this. As Mother Teresa said, we suffer from a ‘spiritual poverty’ that is much more difficult to satisfy than a material poverty.

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