Antidote to a Culture of Consumption

Consumerism helps the economy. People spend money, cash flows into businesses, they make a profit, they pay their  employees who pump money into the economy again and again. Our industry helps the economy in that we look to market our clients’ products so that more people will buy the products we try to sell, the client makes more profit, and so on.

We try to sell products to people who are not buyers of the product yet, which expands a brand’s reach, and we try to sell more usages of these products to those who are buyers already, to increase their buy rate. These are the only two strategies. The next steps is to get more people to buy on repeat.

This all sounds great.

The tension in this equation is found in the fact that I grew up in an environment that shunned consumption. Whether it’s excessive spending, entertainment or food, the household in which I was nurtured instilled such discipline that I am viscerally conditioned to feel disgusted with excess. Even as a kid, saving money “in case of emergency” was the ultimate goal.

After college, I had almost no money before I found a full-time job, and I developed a habit of focusing only on the important things. There are so many distractions around us who want to take our money and time away, that I told myself I will only invest my money and time in the things that matter. Traveling is a passion, so I decided to save a lot of money so I can travel whenever I want to. I hate feeling bloated, and having too many material things around me made me feel uncomfortable. Having the minimum amount of material things possible only to continue to survive made me feel at ease not only because I am saving more as a result, but mostly because I know it gives me the added benefit of knowing that I can pack my things in 3 suitcases and hop on a plane to go somewhere. More is less. I don’t want to adopt the habit of thinking that spending is the norm.

I was incredibly disciplined, until all the factors around me converged and attempted to chip away at this discipline. My coworkers and employer encouraged indulgence in the form of dinners, parties, etc, so often and in order to be seen as a team player I would let myself indulge and go to these events. Also, I work in media so consuming is not limited to food– we are expected to know about the clients’ business at all times and to be wide readers of business news. I think I read an average of 20 articles each week. Graduate school is a whole other story; I have to consume coffee at copious amounts, as well as buy dinner after work in order to sustain me through a 3-hour lecture class.

Consuming is easier than producing, but it is something that is unnatural to me because I was never exposed to consumption its possible benefits. In this society, there is an emphasis on “gaining” instead of “giving.” People sabotage each other everywhere. Many think success is a zero-sum game, that only one can win and they want to take everything they can from another in order to survive. We hear people complain about how some others are “too nice,” as if it’s criminal.

I got so exhausted about consuming that I told myself I can keep a balanced life if I producing something (in terms of writing, video or a well-thought out idea). I started with an exercise that every time I read a blog, I will write something about it. Only after than can I read more blogs or news articles if I want to. This helps keep me focused.

What do we do to curb this habit of spending as if it’s a culturally sacred value or the absolute truth?


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