zen habits : breathe

Breaking Free From Consumerist Chains

‘Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.’ ~Henry David Thoreau

Post written by Leo Babauta.

We are not consumers. We are people.

We are not living lives meant to earn money in order to support a shopping habit, or a large home and two cars, or lives of luxury eating and entertainment.

We are not living to support the corporations. And yet, if you were to take an objective, outsider look at our society, it would seem that we are.

We spend our childhoods — precious years that are far too fleeting — in schools geared to give us the best chance at getting a job. We then graduate and are highly pressured to go to college (getting into large debt in the process) so we can have the best chance at getting a good paying job. Then we claw at each other for the coveted but limited good paying jobs, and the winners are rewarded with big homes and SUVs and nice clothes (and lots of debt to go with all that). The losers are stuck in menial jobs they hate, envious of others they see on TV with luxury lives, eating cheap fast food and consigned to shopping at bargain outlets.

Either way, we find our path as consumers. And everything is solved by consumption — when we’re stressed, we shop. When we want to be entertained, we buy the entertainment. We buy our food in packages, we fix our failing health by buying exercise clothes and equipment. We fix our debt by buying personal finance books and taking out a second mortgage.

Our lives are beholden to our shopping habits. We are slaves to corporations, doing work we loathe for stuff we don’t need.

What if we could break out of it?

What’s the alternative?

The funny thing is, there are millions of alternatives. But we’ve been so trained to believe there is only one way, that we can barely imagine something different.

What would life be like without advertising, shopping malls, online shopping, working for large corporations, wearing large logos all over our clothing, having Apple logos over every device we own, watching movies and television shows developed by large corporations and made for the masses?

It would be quieter, maybe, with more free time. Without having to buy so much, we would work less. What a revolutionary concept! And yet it is: developments in technology have not resulted in less work, but more (a must read: Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness).

It would be more focused on people instead of stuff. It would be healthier, as we would (likely) move more, get outdoors more, eat less fast food and more real food.

That’s all idealizing, of course, but it’s an alternative I could see happening. We’d have to break free of the consumerist mindset first.

Steps to Freedom

We must first become more aware of what has been done to our minds. When we watch an ad on TV, in a movie, on the web, what urges does this bring up in us? Why are we watching the ad in the first place? Can we avoid it?

Watch less TV. Avoid malls and shopping. Block ads on the web (and yes, I’ve heard the arguments about stealing money from content producers, and I’m not convinced — I make money without ads).

Buy less. When you have urges to buy, consider whether it’s a true need or just a desire. Learn to be content with life as it is, rather than wanting to buy things to make it better.

If there’s something you truly need, consider borrowing it, or making it yourself, or finding it used. If you buy it new, try to buy it from a real person rather than a corporation — a small businessperson or craftsperson. It might be more expensive but cheap turns out to be the most costly of all.

Get creative. Find free forms of entertainment. Form a cooperative of creatives and workers rather than a corporation. Pool resources, form libraries for everything.

Learn to build things and sew things and cook and grow. It’s ancient technology, but it still works. It’s simple and it’s all we need.

Eschew the values of the corporations, of consumption and desire.

Become free. You deserve it.

‘There must be more to life than having everything!’ ~Maurice Sendak



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