There is a difference between buying things and consumerism. Whether we like it or not we all buy things and we all consume things. We buy the food we eat. There is no shame in that. For the sake of those around us, we buy attire to clothe ourselves. Trust me, no one faults you for covering your unmentionables. Consumerism is not the act of purchasing what you need, or even want. Consumerism is the preoccupation with it. It is the insatiable feeling of desire that arises when someone sees something they don’t have yet. It is the ever-moving finish line. A sense of contentment will never be realized by a person trapped in consumerism. There are varying degrees of this ailment but the good news is, once it is diagnosed, there is a cure.
The obvious first thought would be to stop buying “extra” things. But like any addiction, easier said than done. You can certainly start becoming more conscious of what you’re buying, how often, and why. You can even start purchasing from sustainable manufacturers or buy second hand items. These small shifts will undoubtedly decrease your environmental footprint as well as the dent your purchases make on your wallet. And as much as I recommend adopting these practices, I do not believe these methods to be the cure for consumerism. Lord knows it is just as possible to overspend on an obscene number of cardigans from Poshmark as it it as Nordstrom—not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
You could also make a complete lifestyle change and relocation to explore the off-grid or homesteading approaches. Right now there’s a big push in that direction by people who are tired of being lured into consumerism by the constant barrage from the media and culture that life in the city or suburbs provides by going rural. However, in addition to the potential lack of skill set necessary to pursue this grand adventure, you may also be in need of some big purchase items to even get started, such as a huge lot of land to do all of your sustainable/organic farming, farm equipment that you are currently unlikely to own, livestock and silos for their feed—and the list goes on. That is whole heap of purchasing. And while, in the long game these will all be contributing to get you to that place of zero waste, green living you’ve always (or just recently) dreamt of, may I challenge you with some self-reflection? Is homesteading just your new obsession? Are you simply shifting your discontentment to something that gives you a brand new laundry list of possessions to acquire?
Gratitude is the ultimate and unwavering cure for consumerism. Look at it this way, if the marked difference between buying things and consumerism can be boiled down to contentment, then what better way to stave off the beast of unquenchable material desire than to be grateful for what you already have? Gratitude, like consumerism, can become an entire way of life if you let it. It can become a new lens through which you view, not only your belongings, but the world. It takes practice, intention, and most importantly a decision.
What does being grateful look like as a discipline? Ultimately, I think it is a very personal endeavor that is going to take some soul searching and introspection to find what works for you. But here are some of the practices which have helped support my decision to be grateful in all things. These are some everyday acts that build my feelings of contentment. 1) I begin each day with some slow, deep breaths before I hit the ground running. Sometimes getting caught in the chaos of our day prevents us from living in it. The people we pass by. The cloud display on our commute. All of the little life-giving moments can be overlooked if we’re rushing from one thing to the next. These breaths help me set the pace for the rest of my day. 2) I end each day in my gratitude journal. I have a special notebook just to celebrate the small bits, the extraordinary surprises, even the beautiful, albeit mundane, tasks have a spot sometimes. I number 1-5 and write just a few words. My goal is not to create an overwhelming essay assignment, just to get the ideas down. 3) I say thank you more: to people, to myself, and to God all throughout the day. I don’t mean metaphorically, or in your head. I mean I literally SAY thank you more. It helps me notice all of things that surround me worthy of my attention and appreciation.
You can certainly start small and still make a huge difference. And I don’t pretend a shift this great is something that happens overnight. But remember, every step you take in the direction of gratitude is a step away from consumerism.