Are You a Slave to Consumerism?

by Mark on May 12, 2010 · 2 comments

I want you to do a little exercise. Walk around your home and note all the different things that you never use or almost never use. Walk from room to room. Go through your closets, your garage, your attic, your basement, your storage shed, or wherever else you have anything stored. Even review your computer or smart phone for useless programs or “apps” that you have purchased.

What Did All Your Useless Crap Cost?

Now comes the scary part. Try to add up what it cost you to buy all this stuff that you don’t use or hardly use. I don’t know about you, but I easily have thousands of dollars worth of stuff that I bought that I never use! I would bet that most Americans are in the same situation.

It gets worse. Think about all the things that you have already gotten rid of that you didn’t use. How much would that come up to? For me, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are talking tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

What Do All Your Luxuries and Entertainment Cost?

We aren’t done yet.  Expensive cars? Expensive vacations? Unused gym memberships? Premium cable packages? Costly phone plans? Magazine subscriptions? Netflix? Going out to eat? Drinking expensive coffee? Keeping the heat very high or the air conditioning very low? Cleaning services? Expensive consumer electronics? How much did you spend on expensive gifts for others?

What Does Your Home Cost?

What about the size of your home? The size of the average home has doubled since the 1950s despite the fact that the average family size has decreased. One reason is because we need bigger homes to store all our stuff. Think of all the additional mortgage interest, mortgage insurance, home insurance, real estate taxes, utilities, cleaning, and maintenance that a larger home requires. Do you have a storage space for all the stuff that couldn’t fit in your home? Storage space has been a rapidly growing industry over the last few decades.

Do You Like Your Job?

For most people, the answer is no. Most people look forward to their next vacation and to their retirement. There is a reason that Monday is the most hated day of the week. Few people want to go back to work. If so many people dislike their jobs so much, then why do so many people work so much? The answer is because they are slaves to consumerism. They have to work to maintain their spending on stuff they don’t use and expenses that are not fulfilling.

Who Do You Work For?

If you are working at a job you don’t like, then you don’t work for your boss, and you don’t work for yourself. You are working for your stuff. You are working for your luxuries. Every time you spend money, you are deciding to work more at a job you don’t like. You can even calculate how much time you work to support your consumerism.

Let’s say that your annual compensation is $50,000. Your federal taxes are $7,500 and your state taxes are $1,500. Your net compensation would then be $41,000. How many hours a year do you devote to your job? Let’s say that you devote 50 hours a week (including commuting and any other activities that you wouldn’t need to do if you didn’t work). If you have 2 weeks vacation, then your job would take up about 2,500 hours a year (50 hours/week X 50 weeks). Therefore, your hourly rate would be about $16 an hour.

How Much Time Do You Work for Your Stuff?

You can now begin to use this rate to figure out how much extra work you have to do for various items. Let’s say your bazillion-channel cable TV package costs you an additional $50 per month over and above a cheaper cable package, or an additional $600 per year. That means that you work about 37.5 additional hours ($600 / $16 per hour) – almost a week! – every year to pay for these extra channels.

What about if you buy a $40,000 car instead of a $20,000 car? Then you will have to work an additional 1,250 hours ($20,000 / $16 per hour) – or about 31 weeks – to get the more expensive car.

There Has to Be Another Way.

There is a movement under way that isn’t really new, but it’s picking up steam. It’s the minimalist movement. In a nutshell, minimalism is about eliminating excess. What constitutes “excess” is different for everyone, but the basic concept is the same. The optimal point is the point where either adding something or taking something away would reduce your life fulfillment. In the United States, most people are way beyond the optimal point. Studies show that even the vast majority of people who officially live in the government definition of poverty have a surprising level of material possessions and luxuries.

Minimalists have many different motivations, but one common motivation is the sense of freedom that minimalists have from either having to work very little to support themselves or by having a minimalist business, which is a business that has little or almost no overhead. Minimalism as a movement is growing as a reaction against excessive consumerism that leaves us wondering if being a slave for stuff and luxuries is worth it. For many people, it’s not worth it. I’m quickly becoming one of them.

Minimalists understand that experiences are generally much more fulfilling and enjoyable than things, and the enjoyment is usually much longer lasting. Experiences give us memories that last a lifetime, whereas things end up in a junk pile, and luxuries and services are consumed. The important point to remember is that minimalism isn’t about sacrificing things you love. It’s about eliminating things that you don’t love.

There are plenty of minimalist role models to learn from. It’s a pretty large movement, but here are a few popular ones:

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and mnmlist

Everett Bogue of Far Beyond The Stars

Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle

Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist

Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens

I definitely can’t claim to be a minimalist yet, but it’s a direction that I definitely am moving in. It’s something that I have been increasingly motivated to embrace. I want to begin enjoying the freedom that it allows. It’s not always easy to change our conditioning. It will take some effort, but I think it will be worth it.


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