March 6, 2015

Unlearning Consumerism

The beginning of the end. Television offered an injection of consumerism directly into the home,
whether we realized it or not.

For those of us who have spent most of our lives in a shopping-based culture, it is hard to conceive of an entire population whose main focus in life was something other than buying more stuff. What did people do before shopping became the favourite recreational activity?

While consumerism was well under way by the time I came into the world (the year Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space), "consumers" (we called them citizens back then) were not yet as well trained as they are today.

In fact, my parents were such terrible consumers that for most of my childhood we didn't even have a TV, colour or black and white. When we did have a TV in the house, we never, ever had cable. We called it "peasant vision", showing that we were making an important transition that no one even knew was taking place.

What I remember of shopping as a kid is going out only when things were needed - really needed. Like shopping for groceries. Or for new clothes before the start of a school year. Or for a car once every decade or more. Other than that, and a few trips to the hardware store or pharmacy, we didn't go shopping.

By the time I was a teenager "going to the mall" had become something to do. From the crowds there it seems like other people also found something they were looking for in the mall. It might even have been something they needed. Or maybe malls were becoming like a public square, a meeting place, except they were on private property.

Now consumer culture is all-pervasive, as if there is nothing else to do but shop and spend money. But while we are doing that, we are missing out on all the things people did instead in pre-shopping times. Things that made us happier than we are today.

Things like visiting with neighbours. Like playing board games at home with the whole family. Like playing in nature. Like volunteering in our communities. Like walking to the corner store for milk or bread (a store that was owned by a local family). Like meeting in the laundromat. Like joining a club or organization.

Advertisers and the makers of crap want us to believe that we were all unhappy for the tens of thousands of years while waiting for an expensive, soulless way to fill our time. Life in their version of history was nasty, brutish, short and boring right up until the 1950s consumer revolution brought us unlimited shopping fun.

It's fun buying as many material goods as you can, and it doesn't matter that most of it actually makes our lives worse. Fun, fun, fun to work and spend. Borrow and shop. Repeat and repeat over and over and over till you go bankrupt or die.

But fewer and fewer are being fooled here at the end of this little dream of fulfillment by shopping. We are beginning to see that we left the good life behind after we bought in to consumer culture. We are unlearning all the training via advertising over the past decades, and returning to better, more sensible and sustainable ways of living.

It is time to become better at living, and not as adept at mindlessly consuming. Like my parents, we have to become bad consumers. We shop when we NEED to, and enjoy life the rest of the time.


  1. I've been unlearning consumerism for the past several years and I've never been happier. Not "needing" stuff is so liberating. :)

    1. Kamyria,

      From personal experience happiness is indeed a byproduct of living simply. The System certainly does not want more people to make this same discovery for themselves. Congratulations on freeing yourself from all the consumer bindings and chains.

  2. This is so true! Clothes only at school time (and were often hand-me-downs in my case) and gifts only on your birthday and Christmas. I fight my own battles in this arena and am continually striving to be a very bad consumer. At least shopping is no longer my greatest hobby, but I still do have a long way to go.

    1. Melodee,

      You are headed in the right direction by trying to be the worst consumer you can be. There is always more to be done, but it is a most satisfying pursuit.

  3. Francesca, Australia3/06/2015

    The best mantra I found to help me stop the madness was to say over and over to myself ' why am I working every day of my life to make other people rich?'

    This really helped me, I am a teacher with a huge and difficult, stressful and high needs clientele. It exhausts me. There was no way I was going to work at this job and give all my HARD EARNED cash to someone else. As a result I have financial peace, mental peace and can pay for our needs when they arise. Once in this place, my stressful job seems so much less of a challenge.

    1. Francesca,

      Before I quit full time work I too was a teacher. It does seem like a poor payoff to work so hard only to spend earned money on crap you don't need while making more billionaires.

      Linda and I were able to save a lot of money while we were both working because we just quit buying stuff. It turned out to be our saving grace since now Linda can't work due to her multiple sclerosis, and I can't work because she needs someone to care for her.

      What a relief that we made the decisions we did back then. Living simply has allowed us to be prepared for whatever happens with Linda's health. I miss being with the kids, but I can't think of a better job than caring for my best friend full time.

      I am happy to hear that you have achieved peace within your job, and that you are tuned in enough to not give your hard earned cash away easily. There is nothing that I have found as satisfying as teaching when everything else is in place.

  4. Thank you for this posting. It resonated with me because I am often left wondering where I can walk with my daughter in the winter other than the mall. I prefer to consume less and would rather not be at the mall three times a week pushing the stroller (I don't even bring a wallet with me). Unfortunately, I can't safely walk outside with 7 feet of snow, no cleared paths, and an infant. I have noticed that usually young families and elderly people are walking in the mall on mornings. I wish there were more options in my area. As soon as the snow melts, we will be trekking outside! I cannot wait!

    1. Nadya,

      I like the idea of using the mall for your own purposes, but not buying anything while there. Winter is a difficult time, as Linda and I know. There are times she can't get out and it can be hard to take. Our town is so small that we don't even have a mall. We live rural, so no sidewalks or places that I can push Linda in her wheelchair even in good weather.

      However, there something we like about hibernating for a while, and we manage to keep busy and happy in our accessible home. But, spring is coming... I think! Another winter storm is forecasted for this weekend.

  5. Maybe as people realise that as they consume less, they will need to work less and have time to do other things, it will speed the anti-consumerism movement. This morning we visited our neighbour (who had offered us pancakes!) and yesterday we walked in the local hills and went to the local shop where I know the is good and you cannot buy more days to tack onto the end of it!

    1. Charlotte,

      After Linda and I stopped buying anything we realized that we were making more money than we needed. So we saved like crazy, and then eventually were able to retire early. I was 40 and Linda was 35 when we decided to see if we could make it without jobs. That was 14 years ago, and we are still OK.

      But it means making sacrifices and being ultra-frugal. Fortunately we like living like that, and realize it has so many benefits for us and the environment.

      You are right - time is wealth. I would rather be free than have lots of money.

  6. Anonymous3/07/2015

    Television is BAD news. We recently got rid of it and are much better for it. Who wants constant bad news and awful adverts all day anyway. Cut back the internet as well as this is full of clickbait.


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