Are you a conditioned consumer?

I, until very recently was (and probably somewhat still am).

Imagine that you were born in a completely different time and place. Ancient Rome. 19th century England. Or that you lived now somewhere in Africa or the Amazon rainforest. You would have a completely different worldview, set of beliefs, and method of interacting and operating.

So consider that your own mentality and behaviors are not necessarily ‘reality’ or ‘right’; they are partly a result of your immediate environment, the time and place you were born, and your upbringing.

I was raised as a typical upper middle class American, Generation Y. Being such, I was raised to shop, to acquire, and to always want more. We lived in a big house with multiple cars, and we were always (or at least the females in the family; the males concentrated on dirtbikes, boats, model planes and the like) seeking out new decor items, new dishes, and most of all new clothes, shoes, purses and beauty products. IT WAS OUR DRUG.

We are trained to believe we need, on some level, all of these things. And that, therefore, money, and credit, is paramount in life. The scary thing was, none of it was ever enough. Like an addict, it was difficult for me to walk by a storefront display or set foot inside the mall or Target without greedily surveying the wares. Once seen, I had to touch and try on. And if it met my approval, I had to have it.

I had bought completely into planned obsolescence. Last semester’s clothes were not good enough. There was still an empty corner yet to fill, a new lipstick to try, the latest accessory to have.

Not to disparage, at all, my hardworking and generous parents. My mother was the daughter of a much-absent, paycheck-to-paycheck single mother and my father was a Cuban immigrant who also came from a low-income household. They worked their way up and achieved much; the children of Boomers, they came of age in the ’70s and became¬† young parents in the ’80s. Before the ’50s, people lived much differently. Cheap mass production had yet to fuel the economic boom. And my parents, as I said, worked for years to amass what they had and would give me anything they could, which I deeply appreciate.

But over the past couple years — first out of financial necessity, and now out of greater understanding — I have broken the cycle, shattered the spell, and have seen the whole situation with a new perspective. Now stuff just clutters up the small space I have, rapidly depreciates in value (headed for Craigslist, the trash or the Salvation army), or, worse yet, costs me money to store in a storage unit.

Feng shui teaches us that you are in the best state of mind with minimal clutter, your house filled with only that is useful or truly beautiful. Who hasn’t faced a closet, box or garage filled with ‘crap’ that was once a necessity, and cringed at the overwhelming mess and disorder? Oh, and moving time! Oh, the cumulative crush!

Beyond being expensive, frivolous, distracting and wasteful, this sort of behavior/mentality is downright destructive. Destructive because it destroys natural resources to create all these silly products, and destructive because many of them end up in landfills or garbage patches in the ocean; plastic can last infinitely, by decomposing only into tiny pieces which then can be consumed by sea creatures — and then by us.

It also just feels so much better to live simpler, cleaner and smarter. To not buy into all the advertising (you need far less beauty products than you think!) To mend and repair instead of to throw away and buy new. To say ‘F U’ to the system, the crazed crowds trampling into Best Buy on Black Friday. To do more with less. To be frugal. Your mind is more clear, your pride and identity more intact, your time more free, your house more clean, your transitions that much easier, and your conscience that much more calm.

Could you be just as happy or happier with less? What experiences would you trade for the things you now own? Do you regret going into debt? Can you imagine yourself living in a tiny cottage if it, though humble, had a beautiful view and a garden and your life was filled with meaning and fulfillment? Would you choose to work less hours, be less “well off” but enjoy your precious time more? Do you feel the need to compete with the Joneses?

Watch The Lightbulb Conspiracy to learn more about how we are manipulated by the system into buying more, more, more (this focuses on planned obsolescence, but mass advertising, which is omnipresent, is its partner in crime).

And consider the words of a Romantic, William Wordsworth. Imagine his lament if he were to see the state of things today!


          THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
          Little we see in Nature that is ours;
          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
          The winds that will be howling at all hours,
          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
          It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                         10
          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

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