As an American, I feel like most of my life has been surrounded by the notion that consumerism was a good thing. The signs of you being able to buy more things was a sign of progress or prosperity.
Personally growing up we weren’t wealthy and many times we weren’t really middle class. There were periods of time we were homeless and when we weren’t in that situation, we didn’t have much. I think as a child being in that situation you appreciate what you have but you also want more. Having the ability to get something because you wanted it and you had the money to do it feels powerful in some ways.
I started working when I was 15 but by time I was 18 I was consistently working and had my first brand new car that I was financing. This is when I really started to pour money into cars with appearance and performance modifications. I put every spare dollar I had into cars. This was my consumerism at full flex. I’d have a car for 2 or 3 years and trade it in, never paying it off and rolling over debt into more debt. When I look back at it, no one really ever scolded me for it. I was congratulated actually with words of “ Nice car” rather than “Wait, didn’t you just get a car a few years ago?”.
Over time I changed jobs and made a bit more money and the more money I made, the more I spent. Primarily on cars but I got a bigger apartment and I bought more stuff that I ultimately didn’t need. There was only one time someone actually said something to me and it was my mother who said “Are you sure you can afford this place?” and I assured her that I could, which was half true. I could afford it but I had nothing left over.
Enter my early 30’s and I was completely burnt out on cars. I had nothing to show for it. My bottom was taking on a $700 a month car loan and then losing my job which you can guess what happened after that. I started questioning why I was lost in this world of cars and consumerism but then I started a relationship with someone who was hard into consumerism and I had to follow suit reluctantly. I got 2 credit cards to help pay for things, I put money aside for her to buy things that she wanted and she pressured me into signing up for online schooling, which gave me useless debt (thankfully only did a couple of classes). I remember talking to her about wedding rings and her idea of a wedding ring was to spend at least $5,000 but I only made 40k a year and we’re just scraping by. At the lowest point in that relationship I considered getting a second full time job just to achieve the things that she wanted. She would tell me how someone she knows would do anything to give his girlfriend what she wanted (like getting a second job) so by proxy, if you’re not doing that, then you’re not a good boyfriend. The last months of that relationship, as it was failing, I felt so much pressure. I felt like I was failing because I was pulling away from being a consumerist but in order to make her happy, I needed to go diving back in.
When that relationship inevitably ended, I moved back home to my mothers. I had to re-evaluate my life. I had no savings. I had no relationship. I was not happy. I realized all of my happiness revolved around things I bought and what other people wanted. Hell, I stayed working at a job that I wanted to leave because my girlfriend said I should stay. I immediately found another job and made more money instantly. I focused on what I always wanted to do and that’s when I started learning German and planned my first trip to Europe.
Traveling has changed my life in many ways but I also changed my life to put traveling as a priority. I gave up things that didn’t matter ultimately. I accidentally became a minimalist. Even though I made more money, I didn’t get this big apartment to fill it with stuff, I rented a room and saved my money for more traveling. As soon as my car was paid off, I didn’t buy another one. I realized the less stuff I had, the happier I was. I stopped chasing things and started chasing experiences. The 2+ Years of traveling and meeting wonderful people has made me happier than the rest of my adult life combined. Having less, experiencing more has become my method of happiness.
Since that job change my career has taken off and I’m doing great. I no longer live pay check to pay check. I don’t have any credit cards. I still have some old debt but I’m working on it. I don’t have the latest and great cell phone. I buy only things I need. I consume less space.
In America we live complex lives and we are told not to question it. It is sheep behavior to follow those in front of you and don’t ask questions. I say we should question everything. Why do we need a new TV every Black Friday? Why do we need a new car every 2 years or 3 years? Why do we need to buy the biggest home possible? No matter what, we consume something, it is inevitable. In our modern society you have to have certain things but all I say is that we question why we are buying what we are buying? Does it fulfill anything for us? I’m not passing judgement on anyone. You want those new sneakers, go ahead and buy them. It’s your money you do what you want. My question is more of life fulfillment. I argue that having less gives you more.
I am now happy and comfortable with myself. I am also in a loving relationship with someone who understands me and my want to have less. I have far less anxiety and more financial stability.