Our global society is facing a pretty big problem; in fact, it’s potentially the most catastrophic problem that humankind has ever faced. That problem—you guessed it, climate change—has largely been caused by the deeply entrenched consumerist culture we have found ourselves in. Consumerism is woven into the fabric of our society, and is integral to the maintenance of our economic system. The thing is, capitalism only works if consumers buy things. In capitalism, the more we consume the better, because more consumption equals more economic growth. After all, GDP is currently how we measure a country's success.
Here are some disturbing facts for you:
- If everyone on earth lived like the average European, we would need 2.3 earths to support us.
- Even worse, if we lived like the average American, we would need 4.6 earths to support us.
- As the middle class rises around the world, particularly in places like India and China, the consumer class will also grow.
- That may be good news for our economy, but it’s not good news for our planet.
If we want to tackle climate change head on, we need to examine the way we live our lives, and how this impacts the planet and our co-inhabitants. We also need to examine whether being part of this consumerist culture is actually making us happy. Modern society tells us that in order to be happier, better and more successful, we need to have more stuff. However, researchers have found a connection between an excessively materialistic outlook and increased levels of anxiety and depression.
On my journey to more conscious living, I have discovered the benefits of consuming less. For me, learning about the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry triggered my lifestyle change, driven by the desire to reduce my carbon footprint. For others, the lifestyle change might simply be an attempt to save money, or increase their personal wellbeing, which ultimately leads them to examine whether they are buying things they don’t actually need.
Here are the some of the benefits you can experience by buying less and buying better:
You’ll spend less
Well, this one’s obvious. Reducing your consumption in general will save you money and allow you to focus on saving for other things, like experiences or holidays, which are more likely to provide long-term satisfaction than a one-off impulse purchase.
You’ll feel more content
Consuming begets consumption. Likewise, minimalism begets minimalism. Buying more can often lead to dissatisfaction, as the ‘thrill’ of the purchase wears off. Once you cut down on the amount you buy and no longer strive for more, you quickly begin to care less and become content with what you have. You’ll become less concerned with comparing yourself with others, which is often a source of excess consumption and unhappiness.
You’ll reduce your carbon footprint
The western world’s rate of consumption is not sustainable, and we are already living beyond our planet's means to meet the demands of consumers. It takes a huge amount of energy and natural resources (such as wood, metals, water and fossil fuels) and the creation of factories whose operation creates toxic by-products (usually strategically placed in the developing world) to produce the goods we consume. Once we are finished with these goods and products, they usually end up in a landfill as waste. Thus, the less we consume, the less damage we will do to the environment. Reducing your consumption is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and take a political stance by rejecting our consumerist culture.
You’ll experience a mindshift
Rejecting consumerism and the marketing that goes with it really makes one aware of how frequently we are encouraged to consume. Every day, each of us is bombarded with around 1,600 commercial messages. The more you notice it, the more obvious it becomes. Taking a step back from this and becoming an observer, rather than a participant, is an eye-opening experience. It allows you to experience an overall mindshift and focus your energy on other things which give you more satisfaction. For some, this new mindset and decrease in distraction will allow them to discover a new passion or even come up with a business idea.
Consumerism is a powerful cultural force that is wreaking havoc on our planet, our climate and our well-being. It is often overlooked as an environmental problem, presumably because it is the most difficult to change. However, small changes can lead to bigger changes, and there is a growing movement of those who are embracing minimalism and rejecting consumerism.
There are many more benefits associated with consuming less, and everyone’s journey is different. Not only does reducing your level of consumption and refocusing your attention and time towards things that really matter result in an increase your overall wellbeing, it also results in a more sustainable lifestyle. This is good news for our planet and our future generations.
About the author
Fiona is a self-confessed eco-warrior and advocate for social change who works in marketing by day. Born and raised in Scotland, she recently moved to Berlin after living in Australia for four years. She is already loving the range of social enterprises and green scene in Berlin and is looking forward to having easy travel access to the rest of Europe. Fiona runs her own sustainable living and travel blog, Live Conscious.
Originally published July 18, 2017