March 2, 2016

Consume Like No One's Watching

Yesterday I had a little solo jam session and sang like no one was listening. I got lost in it. Accompanying myself on guitar I belted out tune after tune like I never have before. The music flowed, bliss followed. It was liberating.

My experience made me think of a popular quote that recommends we do things as if no one was around, relieved of all potential negative social pressures. It made me wonder how people would do things differently if unafraid of being bludgeoned by the hammer of groupthink.

What if we did everything like no one was watching? Would we dress differently? Would we go to work less? Be creative more? Would we travel as much? Would we consume less?

A recent study shows how seeing the "visible assets" (stuff) of others can affect our own consumption habits. Unsurprisingly, conspicuous consumption can be contagious. Once infected, one feels great social pressure to consume, even if a huge debt load and bankruptcy is the result.

The research showed that people feel compelled to increase their own spending when they see physical evidence of exorbitant spending by neighbours with newly acquired wealth. Rather than looking on their neighbours situation as a precautionary tale, we try to "keep up". For a variety of reasons, that is harder to do these days.

Never mind the Jones', most people today are finding it challenge enough to keep up with the Simpsons. But liberation and bliss are only one decision away, and that decision is to consume like no one is watching.

What Jones'? They aren't real, but subtle and not-so-subtle consumer arm twisting definitely is, from grade school to the adults in your very neighbourhood.

Be forewarned - the pressure is massive and opting out of the material competition has always been difficult. In 1899 Thorstein Veblen, American economist and sociologist, stated in The Theory of The Leisure Class that “the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit. This applies particularly to food, drinks, narcotics, shelter and feasting”.

Conversely, the rewards are great.  Liberate yourself like no one's watching.


  1. Gosh, that last quote by Veblen is frightening! Good post, love to hear when people enjoy home made music. -- Mary

    1. Music puts me in the moment like nothing else. It feels right and good.

  2. The pressure is massive. I would add, living in an impressive city to the list of pressures. I live in the Midwest and so many of my peers moved away to "cool" western or eastern coastal cities when they finished college. Staying in the same area definitely wasn't seen as exciting or interesting. But, we stayed anyways. To be by family, to live a simpler life and to live a much more affordable life. My city is a wonderful place to live and my husband and I are in a great financial situation because we stayed. But I certainly feel embarrassed at times that I didn't move away to NYC or Seattle.

    1. Staying close to family and living in an affordable area beats "Cool" any day. I have a niece who lives in NYC, her cost of living is outrageous and she doesn't live in a upscale area. She's had to work 2 or 3 jobs, just to make ends meet. Doesn't make much sense to me. You should be proud that your living a simpler and more rooted life!

    2. Thank you for mentioning this as it is so true now that I think of it. Travel generally is seen as superior to staying put. Does that mean those of us that are keeping it local are less than? Hardly. Staying put has its benefits.

      I would be willing to bet that the majority of humans never make it much farther than their immediate area.

      My whole family (6 people) moved away from the city where we once lived, except my dad (who has since passed away). It is pretty weird. I wish we were all living in the same city rather than be spread across this huge continent.

      Congratulations on your decision. It worked out nicely for you and your family. Others should take note, like those that are in the same position as Miss Marla describes in her comment.

  3. I sing to my rats sometimes, so they listen, but I sing as if no humans are! I enojoy that, hope the rats does too hehe.

    I follow some Zero Waste bloggers and forums and one thing I really dislike about that movement is all the stuff you "have" to buy to be a real zero waster. I fear the whole movement is turning into a scam to get people to buy expensive designer items, tossing their old pots and pans and things away.

    I've pointed this out sometimes, since it really concerns me. Some of these bloggers are very influential and inspirational, they have the opportunity to reach many people, but if it's just to buy new stuff, what is the point? Of course many people in the movement feels like me, but often it's not the bloggers -and I think that has to do with sponsorships and the glittery pictures of that perfect life you can never have, we are so conditioned to aim for. Those who live from selling us stuff, will very fast tap into new movements, so we HAVE to begin by not buying anything. That has to be the starting point, and from there we can get the forever-lovely-design-pot because we don't have any, really need it.

    So Zero Waste risk becoming a movement for the upper middle class, and that is so sad, since it's the lower classes who can really benifit from untying themselves from the need to buy more stuff, or the dream of being able to buy whatever.


    1. The profiteers glom on to every possible thing that can be monitized. All movements WILL be co-opted.

      I am cautious of anyone that tells me that I have to spend money before they can deliver on their promise. I get pretty tired of it being about money all the time. Its boring and unimaginative.

      What is needed is a system that freely benefits all. "Untying... from the need to buy more stuff, or the dream of being able to buy whatever" is one that can do this.

  4. We are a professional couple, but we share a 20 year old car, I make my own clothes, use a clothesline(we don't have an HOA), cook from scratch and do whatever home repairs and upkeep we can. I think people need to take responsibility for themselves. Millions of people are able to go through life without following the Joneses over the cliff or being suckered by advertisers. People need to look within themselves and find out what's driving them to consume and then slay that inner dragon. We've become a society of blamers and yet so many of us are not compulsive eaters, gamblers, consumers and wasters because we have discipline and can think for ourselves. We don't let advertisers and other people pressure us. We can drive past a fast food joint and NEVER stop there. We're able to go to the grocery store and ignore the junk food and buy what's healthy. We can get up and exercise everyday and eat good food because we know that's what makes us feel better. We don't renovate our homes every 5 years to keep up with the latest styles (what!!?). 1st world people have become fat, lazy and depressed and it's not just Americans anymore! It's sad that we have to warn the masses to be careful of the push/pull to consume when doing so should be as easy as breathing. Does not bode well for this world. Please, people, get out of your own way. D

    1. Do we have free will? The philosophers are still debating that one. Either way, we should behave as if we do have free will. The alternative is not somewhere I want to go.

      We have to hold people responsible for their decisions, while understanding that there may be extenuating circumstances.

      Sometimes humans do display the attributes of automatons, and big business, with the help of neuroscientists and MRI imaging, take full advantage of every and all pathways that lead us to consume. Our vulnerabilities are being actively used against us.

      Having said that, I have seen many people make major changes in their lives. Even if the control we feel over our lives is illusory, it is still possible to make better decisions.

      Our rulers do kind of hold a gun to our heads, but it is increasingly shooting blanks. Having discipline feels good, and not buying into all the lies is empowering and self-sustaining.

      Once you have a little freedom, you want more. It sounds like you have found a good measure yourself.

  5. I agree with this post, but it is hard to live a life of less consumption when you come from a family of rabid consumers (as I do.) All of my life (I am now 54), I have been told that I am an underachiever and lazy because I chose a less stressful job that pays less than a higher, more prestigious job would. The fact that I have been able to save money and enjoy things that I feel are important (gardening, reading, sometimes just sitting on my front porch after work) means absolutely nothing to my family. Several years ago, we had a family reunion; we were asked to send in a brief questionnaire about ourselves. When I read mine in the little booklet that was given to everyone, lo and behold, my humble job description had been mightily elevated (not by me) to almost CEO status! Sigh. . .I am still happy that I stayed true to my vision for myself and my lifestyle, but I know firsthand that this can be very, very hard.

    1. The whole rat race has never made sense to me. We emphasize all the wrong things in consumer culture. There is more to life than mindless consumption, and you have discovered that. Sounds ideal.

      Perhaps your family is learning good things from your example. You have integrity. It is a rare and valuable thing. You will be vindicated.

  6. Wow, this post and these comments are point on. So many are figuring out what is so well stated in every Not Buying Anything blog post. I love this blog. It's the only one I engage in. Because like Terese, I've found that many sites may have good supportive simple living information, there is usually a catch. You have to buy the person's book or join something that costs money or pay them to coach you, or send all the crap you have to the thrift store or more often it ends up in the landfill and buy a whole bunch of other crap to be a zero waster and on and on. I got sick and tried of the gimmicks and just unsubscribed to most of those blogs. The community on this blog are serious about living more simply and consuming much less. It's real simple here, just stop buying it. I love it here.

    Much empathy for the Anon commenter whose family is making a different lifestyle choice than the simple one you've chosen. My family doesn't understand me and my more simple life either, but doesn't take it to the extreme in your case. Im surraounded by people who treat me strangely because I don't buy near as much as they do. Some feel sorry for me thinking I can't afford it (which I can't but that is not the reason I don't buy it or don't buy anymore than I need. It is hard, very very hard like you say. You are among friends here on this blog. I hope you find as much support for your values as I have. It's very precious to me.

    Thanks Gregg and Linda for all you freely give on Not Buying Anything.

    Thorstein Veblen was enlightened and such a long time ago. Imagine what he would think 120 years later if he could see what we've become.

    1. Thanks, Terri, for your kind and encouraging words! I have found that, as I grow older, I am less and less influenced by my family and mainstream culture regarding my lifestyle choices. I also believe that, by simply living my beliefs and not preaching them, I may possibly (hopefully)influence others. I do see more people in everyday life situations making more informed choices about their lifestyles and consumerism, so I do think that there is hope for the future!

    2. I am so happy with the way our community here has developed. Thanks, Terri, for being one of our early commenters and getting the conversation started. I love it when I feel like the comments are better than my posts. So many awesome participants.

      It's synergy and it is very exciting to cooperatively build something greater than each of us as individuals. We are getting it out there because this stuff needs to be said. Our continued existence may depend on it.

  7. My mom says that if she spends more money she will help economy. People at work are so excited talking how much they spend on cars, food in restaurants etc. The more they spend the more happy they are! Thats crazy! This is opposite to me, but I was always the weird one.


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