Nicki Lisa Cole, in her article, What does Consumerism Mean, states:
While consumption is an activity people engage in, sociologists understand consumerism to be a powerful ideology characteristic of Western society that frames our worldview, values, relationships, identities, and behaviour. Consumer culture drives us to seek happiness and fulfilment through mindless consumption and serves as a necessary component of capitalist society, which demands mass production and unending sales growth.
Most people would agree with this definition of consumerism and how it fits within a capitalist society. What may upset some is the phrase, ‘mindless consumption’, because while we like to believe that everything we purchase has a purpose in our lives, it probably doesn’t and we don’t like to acknowledge that we are part of the problem.
I grew up at a time where shopping was just a normal exercise, as a teenager going to the mall was a past-time. I didn’t think twice about where items came from, or the impact of my consumption. I believed in advertising, I followed fashion trends, I felt the need for ‘things’ so I could be part of the pack. Magazines, movies, TV, all influenced the way I thought, felt, and consumed. Then, when I became a mother, I felt the pressure for my children to have what other children had, and so the consuming continued. However, over the years, I have learned, (as well as most of you), that our purchases matter, and that consumption does have an effect on other people, and the planet.
On learning this and reflecting on my choices I have started to consume less, and I just assumed most people were doing the same. But with record Black Friday sales, Christmas and Boxing Day consumption – is this really the case? Have we reached a consumption tipping point, or are we totally trapped in our consumerism mind-set?
Looking at statistics, we are buying more, not less. For example the total household spending on footwear and clothing in New Zealand has gone from around 2 billion in 1989 to 6 billion in 2019. I know our population has increased, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that even with that increase – we are buying more. This upward trend is global. So we know consumerism is an issue, but we aren’t putting the effort in to make the changes.
It’s tough to make changes, I know – I’m struggling. I’m mainly struggling with the idea that my ONE choice, my One stance, my One decision, won’t make the slightest of differences and that I’m only making this change to ease my conscious. However, and a big however, I need to do it anyway. Full Stop. It’s not about how I feel. We need to do this.
I haven’t shopped as a pass-time for a very long time. I never really had the income for it, and I don’t particularly like shopping. But I’m not innocent. And I struggle with insecurity, which leads me to occasionally purchase clothing or other items I just don’t need.
What I want to suggest, for myself and anyone who is interested, is to replace unneeded consumerism with creativity. Do you need to spend money to feel fulfilled?
It’s so easy to hide our spending habits, now that we can get everything online. And we can also hide the way we feel with the latest… whatever; (clothes, phones, cars, holidays…). But when we pause and get underneath all that stuff, how are we really? Has this consumerism culture striped us of our individuality, our unique way to create and experience life.
When I was I kid, I loved to make presents for people. I just LOVED it. I would spend days on an object, and with satisfaction give my effort to a person that was special to me. Often the gift was made from recycled bits and pieces, as we didn’t have a lot, but I enjoyed the process, found so much satisfaction from it. So this year, I’m going to do it again. No bought gifts, I may have to purchase things to make them but I will do my best to purchase second-hand, recycled or repurposed. And, I guess it’s not just about the present, it’s about spending my creative energy on something I TRULY enjoy. It’s about being MYSELF not what the market expects from me.
I’m not in any way suggesting you do the same. But maybe reflect on something you do LOVE to do. What did you do as a child? Lego? There are adult Lego clubs out there. Did you colour-in? Did you play ball with friends, or sing in your school choir? Or is there something you always wished you’d done? Learnt an instrument, made a model plane from scratch, started a garden? Really you don’t have to look too far to find so much value in the little things, that have nothing to do with shopping.
I know that sustainable shopping or one person cutting down on plastic isn’t an end in itself. The world needs a complete turnaround in its production and consumption cycle. But I also have a life to live. I want to be environmentally and politically active, but I also need to enjoy the human experience when I can.
I started this blog to help me more than anything. Help me to understand what it is to value creativity without a product at the end of it. To try to activate a positive experience of living, and at the same time do everything I can to change ingrained habits that are helping no one, especially not me.
Rud Judkins, in his book, The Art of Creative Thinking: states:
We spend much of our lives not being who we really are. There are huge pressures on everyone to be someone else; to live up to other’s expectations – to be a perfect parent, obedient employee, selfless partner or high-achieving son or daughter. We lose the ability to be good at being ourselves, and we forget who we are. The world is pushing constantly to submerge you in orthodoxy, to make you indistinguishable from everybody else. To fight against it is to be involved in a lifelong struggle.
I think we are also pushed into being the perfect consumer, a person who wants the next trend, a person who looks to consumption as a way of being. Everywhere we are, everywhere we look, there is marketing directed towards us. On our phones, on our computers, on our commute, EVERYWHERE. So we are told that consumption is normal, expected, a way of fitting in, it is part of the western mindset. Our worldview.
e. e. cummings sums up the battle perfectly:
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
The battle is on! I’m going to use creativity to fight, I want to live MY life, not one that is set out for me by marketing agencies or google ads. I know that zero consumption is impossible, but I also don’t want consumption to define me. If you want to be inspired a little bit more, watch Cinzia, on The Personal Philosophy, sum up her experience.
Catch you next week.