I recently watched a documentary entitled “Minimalism: A Documentary on the Important Things.” This film explored and toyed with the idea of living a minimalist lifestyle; this directly relating to the fact that consumerism, especially in America, has become something of an epidemic with epic consequences. The main characters were Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. They were traveling across the country, spreading their message about cutting down on compulsory consumerism and focusing on the things in life that truly bring fulfillment such as relationships with people and living deliberately.
It resonated with me.
I could not get it out of my head.
What’s the problem here? The problem is that, over the past century, western culture (American’s) have slowly fallen into a cycle of over-consumption. This is to say that we are buying too much for the simple reason of having stuff. People everywhere are being told that they need certain things in order to attain the lifestyle that they desire. We are exposed to hundreds of advertisements daily, most of them subliminal, telling us, no, demanding of us that we go out and spend money. That in order to be happy we must have the current fashion trends, latest technology, and most expensive items that we can afford.
Out of all of the areas explored surrounding minimalism there were three things that really stood out to me.
- We have been taught to believe that if we have the money we must spend it.
For example, if we have $20,000 to spend on a car, then we must maximize this by getting a car that is worth $20,000. But why? Why do we have to buy what we can afford? Why not minimize and stretch what we have in order to cut down on consumerism and avoid the attitude that we must have the best thing offered. This mindset also breeds a mentality that we must make as much money as possible, causing people to go to great lengths in order to do so. People become wrapped up in pointless jobs that strip them of their humanity and joy just so that they can spend as much as possible.
Sounds like a vicious cycle.
2. We have become mindless consumers who blindly buy into the system.
If you walk down the street in any city you will see everyone glued to their devices. They are checking their messages, emails, news feeds or whatever it may be. We are all growing more and more mindless, making us easier targets as consumers. When we see something go out of style or when a new version of the thing we already have is released we immediately scramble to have it, no matter what the cost. What especially struck me was the fashion industry. No longer are there 2-4 seasons of clothing, there are 52. Companies want things to go out of style as fast as possible to maximize the amount of consumption by producers. They work on a week to week basis. This creates an industry where used clothing is completely worthless, creating waste of all kinds. The amount of waste that is produced from this extreme consumerism is sickening, leading to my next point.
3. If we continue on this path there will be dramatic consequences.
With all the consumption there requires production. The system in place is one of mass production and mass shipping. It is all powered by fossil fuels. With the reckless nature that consumerism has taken on, our climate and world is at serious risk. If we continue on the path of compulsory consumerism and mindless adherence to ridiculous standards that we ourselves don’t even set, then we put ourselves at serious risk.
It is disturbing for a multitude of reasons. Not only is our planet in grave danger due to climate change due to over-consumerism, we are at risk of falling deeper into the cycle of mindless consumption. Advertising agencies are spending billions of dollars, not on ads for adults, but for children. Our young generations are being exposed to this lifestyle early and often. We grow up with the idea that the more stuff we have, the more material items that we own, the happier that we will be.
But the irony here is that we have lost sight of what these material goods truly are. We do not consume for quality, but for quantity. It does not matter the function of these material goods but the status that comes along with the ownership of them. With this mindset comes increased consumerism, decreased happiness, and the cycle continues on.
Despite all of this, there is hope. There is a movement of people who are trying to reverse this trend. They are minimizing. Minimizing unnecessary time spent on electronic devices, minimizing spending on extraneous goods, minimizing their homes, and minimizing damage to the environment. At the same time they are maximizing human relationships and fulfillment in life due to a deliberate and self-enriching lifestyle that encourages self-awareness, using as little as possible, and ultimately being happy with the bare minimum (the things that are truly important).
I encourage everyone to watch this documentary and take something away from it. For everyones path of minimalism is different and it is not radical or complex. It is quite the opposite: it is at its essence simplicity. So make a change, be aware, do not be mindless.
Love people and use things.
Not the other way around.