June 5, 2011

We Are More Than What We Consume

Duane Elgin, one of my favourite writers and thinkers on voluntary simplicity, has said that "since World War II, we’ve seen the most massive experiment that’s ever been undertaken in programming the psyche of a civilization. And it has worked."

He describes how the advertising culture has succeeded in creating identity consumption — a feeling that our meaning in life depends upon what we consume.

Careers and work are another way we build our identity in the present economic model. How you make money, and how you spend money are critical in establishing who we are.

We know we need to learn to live with less, but we are constantly being encouraged to consume more, become more. But if this corporate-sponsored identity is wrapped up in how and what we consume, what happens when we stop consuming for these purposes? What happens to our identity? Who will we be? How will others view us?

These are very real fears that keep the pressure on to stay in jobs we dislike, and continue consuming more when we know we need to stop. If I am identified by what I do, the size of my house, what kind of car I drive, and by holidays in exotic locations, what happens when I give it all up for the simple life?

No full time paid job, no house, no car, and staycations for all holidays. No identity?

In a simplified lifestyle you cease to identify with how you make and spend money. Freed from the burdens of careers, and buying/maintaining a busy life of identity consumption, you have time to discover who you really are. Your meaning begins to come from non-corporate, non-trademarked sources.

As you rebuild your identity from the inside out, rather than the other way around, you are emancipated, freed from the mental and physical drudgery of constantly striving to make more money, to get more stuff, so you can become more of a person in the eyes of everyone else who is doing the same thing.

We do not need to be afraid. Our fears are understandable, but easily overcome. We can stop striving for this artificial identity. We can deprogram ourselves, live more simply, be happier, and live as our true selves, supported by friends, family, and the community. It will be better for us, the planet, and future generations.


  1. American's are now more commonly identified as 'consumers' rather than 'citizens'. Painful evidence of how well selling people on their identity as consumers has taken root in society.

  2. Savoring Servant,

    Yes, consumers is quit a shift from citizens. It disempowers, and distracts the people. I wonder why we have taken on the role of consumers so enthusiastically? We are hypnotized... hooked.

  3. Right, I think we are hypnotized by the constant barrage of advertising that is extremely clever and sophisticated.
    I wrote something for our local Minneapolis/St. Paul newspaper (StartTribune) on 'car sirens'. Not the loud sirens that alert us to potential auto theft, but those alluring sires of quick & easy, comfortable and climate controlled transportation. We easily get sucked into a lifestyle without thinking of the consequences to the environment or our health.


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