mnmlist: consumerism vs. minimalism

There is in most of us an underlying desire to buy cool stuff.

It stems from fears and insecurities, I think, but it is exploited by corporations and advertising. Advertising is designed to get us to desire more, to want to buy, and because it works so well, we end up buying way, way more than we need.

Minimalism is the exact counter to this phenomenon, and for some of us, it’s the answer.

Think of tribal societies, unexposed to consumerism or advertising. They don’t have urges to go out and buy cool new clothes or gadgets or cars or shoes. It’s not that they don’t have desires, but it’s not at the same scale as in our society.

Even in the days before advertising, these kinds of desires for more were not as prevalent. It is advertising and consumerism that have created the desires, or at least magnified them to a hugely exaggerated level. It is extremely effective.

Unfortunately, it means we are always wanting to buy more, and always spending more. Which means we must either get into debt, or work more to earn more. Or both. And today, families must have two wage earners — as opposed to only 50-60 years ago, when there was only one wage earner necessary — in part because we are trying to support a more expensive lifestyle (also because we’re being paid less in real dollars). We’re also more in debt than ever before.

We need to stop and ask ourselves — what is it all for? Why are we working so hard in order to buy so much, to have so much, to be burdened and cluttered by so much?

It’s just too much. Minimalists say, “I’m getting off this merry-go-round. I opt out.”

The minimalist first looks at needs vs. wants — is this a real need, or is it just a desire created by advertising? And if it’s a want, a desire, she doesn’t buy it.

The minimalist slowly learns to let go of desires. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen, gradually, with a conscious effort.

Here’s how I do it:

  • Learn to be more conscious of my impulses when I’m ready to buy something.
  • Learn to pause, and to breathe, to let the physical desire wane.
  • Force myself to wait, if the purchase isn’t an absolute necessity.
  • Let myself think about it, and analyze whether it’s something I really need to buy. Often the answer is no.
  • Slowly improve upon this, over time, as I always make mistakes.

The minimalist lets go of desires, slowly, so that she buys less and spends less, gets into less debt (or none at all), and as a result, needs to earn less and work less.