Simple Living Series: Buy only what you need

con·sum·er·ism

noun

1. the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.

2. the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

It’s that second definition that hits me in the gut every time…because it is absolutely true.  Our society absolutely has a preoccupation with getting more stuff.  And there are lots of reasons for this preoccupation.  We think we need it.  We think we deserve it.  We think everyone else has it.  We think it will make us happy.  And despite the fact that 99% of the time none of these things are true we still persist in clinging to these flimsy reasons as an excuse to acquire more and more stuff.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these scary numbers.

Over $250– How much each individual plans to spend on Halloween this year

$350 Million– How much Americans spend on pet Halloween costumes.

$2 Billion– How much Americans spend on Halloween candy.

Frankly we are just lucky today is Halloween and not Christmas because you don’t want to see the scary numbers that come down for that holiday.  Do we really think we need to spend $2,000,000,000 on…candy?  Does this not seem crazy to you?

If you’ve been keeping up with the the Simple Living Series you know what happens to the majority of the stuff we buy (if not check it out here).  We trash it and it populates landfills for years and years.  We are always going to have trash and until some genius invents a way to reuse every single piece of our trash, we are going to have landfills.  On the previous post of this series we talked about some alternative approaches to dealing with the things that we accumulate.  But the truth is that we need to be concerned about the fact that we are constantly and actively accumulating all these things that will have to be dealt with later.  Instead of having to declutter every so often, we need to look at why we are accumulating useless possessions in the first place.

We need to unplug from the consumerism machine.

Make no mistake, it is a machine and we are totally plugged in.  Like…Neo plugged into the matrix plugged in.  Because the consumerism machine is creating a false life for us that really only exists in our heads and all the while it is draining the life from us. (I’m sorry if you haven’t seen The Matrix because you won’t understand how truly brilliant that analogy is.  Go watch it now…I’ll wait here.)  The consumerism machine has us convinced that it is feeding us, making our lives better, happier, and fuller, when in reality it is slowly killing us and stealing our joy.

Here’s how it works.  You are at home after a long day at work just watching some TV and a commercial break comes on.  3 minutes later you are back to watching your show and chances are good you can’t even remember the commercials you just watched.  But later in the week you recognize a song on the radio and can’t remember where you have heard it before until you realize it was an advertisement for a particular thing.  Now you’ve got the jingle stuck in your head.  That weekend you get bored, so you decide to go to the mall.  You don’t need anything specifically but you’ve been wanting a new pair of shoes and you’ll just walk around the mall.  You end up spending 4 hours at the mall trying on clothes and shoes and looking at other stuff.  You buy a thing here or there and walk out with 3 shopping bags of stuff.  Stuff you now have to find a place for in your home. 

Confession:  The absolute most dangerous place for me in my battle with consumerism is Target.  I go in for a legitimate reason- like toilet paper or dog food- and leave with a new shirt (it was on sale!), new shoes or pjs, and that new Threshold household thingy (their new line of Threshold stuff is the cutest, most adorable bane of my existence). 

We buy things we don’t need and didn’t know we wanted 10 minutes before we saw it because we are programmed to do it.  We are programmed to believe that buying things will make us happier and fix the problems that we have in our lives.  If only we had that kind of mascara, our eyes would look bigger and more beautiful and we would finally meet a great guy!  If only we had that new fishing gear then we would be catching all the fish!  For every need we have there is a device, outfit, piece of equipment, or general thingy that will fill that need!  One problem:  most of these needs are manufactured.  We don’t need 100 pairs of shoes.  We don’t need a bunch of different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks.  Our kids don’t need every educational toy in a toy store.  Need isn’t the correct word for any of this stuff.  The word is want.  We want it.  And living a simple lifestyle means realizing the difference between need and want.

Need:  things we must have for survival.  Food, water, shelter. I would say we also need love and loved ones that we can trust.  We need some sense of security and safety.  We need some kind of purpose for our lives and we need work that fulfills us.  We need to be in relationship to God.  In fact there are lots of Bible verses that deal with what we need because this struggle of want vs. need is not a new problem.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.
~Psalms 23

If God is our shepherd we won’t want for anything. This is not to say that everything will be easy and wonderful in the way that we would like it to be.  But we will be provided for in the way that we truly need.  Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”.  Not give me a big Costco so that I can go buy stuff in bulk.  Instead, give me what I need to survive, and serve, just today.  We don’t need as much as the consumerism machine wants us to believe we do.  And recognizing that fact is the first step to freeing yourself from it.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 

~William Morris

I love this quote because I think it speaks so directly to helping us determine whether or not we really need the things we accumulate in our homes.  And we have to be ruthless when deciding if our possible purchases fit these qualifications.  A thing may be useful but not useful enough for us to give it a place in our home.  A personal example of this is a stationary KitchenAid mixer.  These are beautiful pieces of kitchen equipment and many baking recipes do require a mixer.  But, even though I like to bake, I have learned from experience that I really only use a mixer about 4 or 5 times a month (with a few exceptions for holidays).  So a better tool for me is my small hand-held mixer that I can store easily in a cabinet or drawer.  Maybe you bake all the time and you would use this mixer every day or several times a week.  By all means buy yourself a beautiful mixer!  But just because something has the potential to be useful doesn’t mean it deserves a place in your home.  In the same way, you can think something is pretty or cute but if it is not so uniquely beautiful that it greatly inspires or motivates you then it doesn’t deserve any of the coveted space on your counters or walls.

Before you put another thing in your cart or click Submit Order on Amazon or Etsy (obviously talking to myself there) ask yourself 4 questions.

Is this thing useful?
Do I already have something that will fulfill the same function?
Is this thing uniquely beautiful? 
Will I use/enjoy this thing for many years?

It’s that easy.  4 questions with real, honest answers.  Don’t be controlled by the consumerism machine.  You have the power to unplug and determine what your true needs are for yourself.  Be discerning and ruthless as you determine what you will let in to your home! Instead buy only what you need.

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