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January 11, 2018

Stuff and the happiness myth

And why it’s time to break the cycle of consumption...

There’s a lot to be said for living simply and the mounting research on decreased well-being as a result of our increased consumption is undeniable. It’s not new news, but we’ve been ignoring it pretty successfully now for over half a century so the message is having some trouble cutting through! But the time has come for change, we can no longer ignore the waste problem that results from all our excess stuff. This mess is our doing, and unless we stop and make some changes, it will be our undoing.

On the feel-good side of things, minimalism is gaining traction and the rising interest in zero waste/low waste living has resulted in some deceleration of consumption, but it’s not enough. This time of year manages to bring out something in people, even those who are normally more mindful, so why do so many of us still think that all this excess stuff makes us happy? Is it the temporary buzz, those retail therapy feels? Have we become so numb that we can’t recognise the holding pattern we are in? They tell us we need their stuff, and we keep buying it all, only to become disenchanted shortly afterwards. We don’t repair, we replace. ‘It’s cheaper’. We hear it all the time. We buy and replace perfectly functional objects, we upgrade early and discard what suddenly seems useless without any thought of the consequences. We don’t invest, we bargain-hunt, and we don’t stop to think about needs because we’re so overstimulated by wants.

It is time to wake up.

Economist and author Tim Jackson believes consumption is an attempt at living a life without shame. He’s not alone in this narcissistic take on consumption, philosopher Jean Baudrillard says we buy things to add to our appeal, to make us appear a particular way to a particular group. He reckons consumption is less about having functional things that help us achieve successes in life, and more about having collections of things that will make us look cooler to others. I don’t know about you folks, but getting deep into the psychology beneath consumption kinda prickles my spine, especially when I think how often I have bought stuff for its cool factor. You know those moments we have when we see something that is cool and then feel that urge of must-have?! I’m getting better at resisting, but I know I’m not alone in this and I’m not afraid to admit that in the past I have struggled with my shopping habit.

A couple of years ago I decided that I needed to change. It was time to stop buying things I didn’t need and to start asking myself why. Why am I browsing at this right now? Did I see an ad for it in the last 72 hours? Do I even need it? And most of the time I didn’t need it, sometimes I didn’t even want it, and a lot of the time I had seen an ad/product placement for it and was browsing because I had let my guard down and let those false desires get implanted! After years of ‘training’ myself to recognise the cues, I’ve decided that I feel stronger about how and why I buy things. In the past year I have bought a lot less, but I’ve invested in better quality items so that they have greater longevity. So now the time has come to let go of some of the things I’ve acquired over the years. The more deeply I connect with the issues of sustainability the more I believe in the intersection of zero waste and minimalism. This is not to say I will only own 11 possessions and 7 outfits, far from it. But the underlying concepts around these simpler ways of living all tread more lightly, and that is what planet earth needs right now. Conscious lightfooted humans. Simplifying my life, growing my own food, making more stuff myself, buying less of everything and only what I need, has also made me feel more calm, and since I’m halfway through writing my doctoral thesis anything that calms me down right now is GREAT!

It is time for change.

It won’t cost a cent. In fact, you’ll save money doing it. It’s time to buy less and think more. This silly season let’s be less silly and think about what we *really* need. Let’s calm down on all the stocking stuffers and over-catering and extra everything and be more grateful for what we already have. Let’s make things. Let’s make memories. Let’s make do. Let’s make a difference. Let’s spend less and smile more.

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