Consumerism inhibits happiness: Choose experiences over materialism

Julia Sexton, News Director

A 2014 study found that the average teenager spends over $9,500 a year, and that 62 percent of this money comes from their parents. According to the New York Times, one out of every 10 Americans owns so much stuff that they rent off-site storage units to store the clutter that is just too important to throw out. According to the book Affluenza, shopping malls officially outnumber high schools, and 93 percent of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite pastime.
This information might be jarring, but shows that the excessive consumer urges of the United States are out of control. We consume, consume, consume, yet do not realize the consequences that come with a lifestyle of reckless consumerism that has been promoted by the media and society. I had a ‘lightbulb moment’ while watching a Netflix documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things, which changed my outlook on life for the better.
“Imagine a life with less stuff. Imagine a life with less clutter, less stuff, fewer distractions. What would it look like? Imagine your life with less—less stress, less debt, less discontent. What would it feel like? Now imagine your life with more—more time, more contribution, more elation. Imagine creating more than you consume. Imagine giving more than you take.” This is the message of self proclaimed minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn who has traveled the country promoting his “recipe” to living a meaningful life.
Minimalism is not just a style of art or a way to describe a simplistic concept. It has become a philosophical movement started by discontented millennials looking for a way out of a hectic lifestyle that allows people to indulge in the “pleasures of life” while making them more unhappy than ever before. The philosophy spread by word of mouth at first, and then funneled through the channels of social media, reaching people on a deeper level of meaning that resonates with the human soul.
“It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly,” pioneer minimalist Leo Babauta said.
Why do we have so much stuff? Our obsession with material possessions is only getting worse. The average American today has roughly $16,000 in credit card debt, $173,000 in mortgage debt, and $30,000 in auto loans. Last year, Americans spent $10.7 trillion shopping. Frankly, we have a problem. However, this material crisis is something we buy into. The media and business concerns have been feeding this addiction since the 1950s, with images of cookie cutter houses with “perfect” families and two car garages. Every commercial on your television, iPhone, or tablet is trying to either directly or subconsciously sell you something and make you think you need their product. As Millburn said in his memoir Everything that Remains, we are all playing “the role of the moth, lured by the flame of consumerism, pop culture’s beautiful conflagration, a firestorm of lust and greed and wanting.” Minimalism is the individual’s solution to this exponentially growing pandemic.
While I have yet to establish a line of credit, take out student loans, or put a down payment on a hefty mortgage, I am not exempt from this consumer sickness that has been programed in us since we were little. When I really think about everything I own, I find it troublesome, and often times stressful. Do I really need that many pairs of shoes, that much makeup overflowing from my shelf, or all of the clothes stored in my closet that I’ve only worn a couple of times? What about the way we glorify Black Friday and getting presents at Christmas? We put things above experiences, relationships, and sometimes our own well being. In America, success is unfortunately measured by money and ownership, but ownership is merely a social construct which we have wholeheartedly embraced and prioritized. We simply use and borrow things during our time here on earth. Why let bills or success in a career take over one’s life? How we judge success should be not be tied to money.
The benefits of consuming and owning less are endless. Because you are saving money, you feel less stressed out financially, and in time you will actually be happier and more content with less. Financial freedom can lead to more time to travel and create experiences, follow and perfect passions and talents, and mend relationships by putting genuine and priceless time into friends and family. Despite the everyday temptations that encourage “quantity over quality,” we must resist the consumer urges that would deplete our financial and emotional resources.
People can tailor minimalism to their lifestyle by being more aware, consuming less excessively, and being less wasteful in their routines. Treat everyday like spring cleaning, and don’t dwell too much on the next fashion trend that may cost half of the paycheck for which you worked hard. We all crave something meaningful, but we won’t find it in getting more stuff. Meaning will fly past us if we do not shed our material shell and start truly living through experiences and relationships.