In the wake of the oncoming holiday season and Black Friday, consumerism is at an all-time high. We’ve seen those Tik Tok videos of a micro influencer who has 50 Stanley water bottles, a wall of Bath and Body Works candles and $500 Shein clothing hauls.
Maybe we as consumers have marveled at these displays, but is this truly the epitome of happiness and fulfillment or does our own accumulation of meaningless possessions serve as a temporary facade concealing our deeper need for sustenance and purpose?
In comparison to the 1950s, modern day Americans have doubled their number of items owned and consumed. However, we have also doubled the amount of unhappiness and anxiety. The act of “Getting and spending” can generate unhappiness due to its ability to take away from the experiences that can nurture one’s happiness.
A 2015 study performed by the Journal of Industrial Ecology also shows that individual household consumption accounts for more than 60% of local greenhouse gas emissions and 50% to 80% of total land, material and water use. This is evident in our ecological footprint and how we transport each of the items that we buy. If every person in the world consumed as much as the average American and social media influencer, we would need over 4 planet Earths to sustain them.
The continuous rise of consumer culture can be attributed to many, if not one large cause: social media. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram have filled us with an overwhelming sense that modern day people need to always be up to date with the latest trends, gadgets or inventions.
This isn’t necessarily true. The entire job of an influencer is to influence you to buy a product, not to look out for your personal wellbeing. You don’t need the newest pair of Christmas slippers, or a $200 jogger set. Our relentless need to pursue materialistic possessions and live up to social expectations can cause extreme amounts of stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction.
So how can we combat these issues during the two highest consumption months of the year? Consider the following steps:
Recognize that there is a problem. Acknowledging that there is a problem of over consumerism can help us recognize and follow the steps we need to combat it.
Reflect on your consumption habits. Before the holiday season, take a few moments to reflect on the impact of your own consumption choices. Examine your own motivations and purchase items that you know can be used more than once.
Stop shopping online. While it may be convenient and provide larger access to a vast array of products at your fingertips, the ease of virtual purchasing can inadvertently contribute to impulsive buying and excessive consumption. Instead shop locally at famers markets, local fairs and small businesses.
Form sustainable habits. This could include buying secondhand items, supporting more eco-friendly brands or even cutting down on single use items.
DIY/ Handmake gifts. Consider creating and giving homemade gifts, such as a hand-knitted scarf, a personalized painting or even baked goods. These types of gifts are not only more sustainable for the environment, but also convey a deeper understanding of the recipient, creating a meaningful connection.
While advocating for mindful consumption, it’s essential to recognize that having possessions is not inherently negative. In fact, having possessions can in fact enhance our lives when we approach them with acute intentions and their own utility.
The key difference between collecting and having items and overconsumption lies in cultivating a balanced relationship with our belongings and finding out how they contribute to our wellbeing. Having the ability to spend your own hard-earned money on experiences and on investments is not only more satisfying, it can also align with a more purpose-driven life.
Before this holiday season, stop and think about the impact of your consumption choices. Reflect on the significance of each purchase, recognizing both its immediate value and its broader impact on the environment. This will empower you to make more powerful and mindful choices, creating a holiday season that is both joyful and sustainable.
Graphic by Kira Thorne.