How many of you guys are currently wearing Birkenstocks, Patagonia, Nike, Lululemon, or Forever21? From clothes, to technology, to decor, the world offer us an endless selection of material items to invest in. While consumerism is a necessary part of life, we've gotten to the point where you can't go a day without seeing at least one advertisement for a product. Cue minimalism.
We seldom go a day without relying on some form of technology. Consumption in itself is not the problem; what becomes a problem is when we over-consume and clutter our lives with stuff we don't need. Knowing that consumerism can keep us distracted from more important things in life — such as family, friends, and your passions — what can we do about it?
The Concept of Minimalism
Having searched for the answer to this question for a while now, my current beliefs on consumerism was formed after watching a Netflix documentary called Minimalism. While minimalism is often used to refer to styles of architecture and art, minimalism in this context holds a slightly different meaning.
Minimalism follows the journey of two guys, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who gradually become happier, more authentic versions of themselves by focusing on consuming less stuff. I know what you're thinking — how can simply getting rid of things make me happier?
I had my doubts initially, but I slowly began to view minimalism as more of a mindset and philosophy rather than purely an act of physically decluttering your life.
The key to minimalism is to be more deliberate, with less. Human beings are wired to be continuously dissatisfied with their possessions, the result of a concept known as autocraving. While autocraving kept us alert back when we had to scavenge for food, nowadays autocraving just makes us constantly desire the next new product.
Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the guys from Minimalism, began embracing minimalism after going through a divorce and losing his mom in the same month. These events made him realize he wanted more out of life than status and material wealth.
One thing that especially struck me was a question he asked himself while shopping: "Which espresso maker will define me as a man?" (cue the disillusionment of the opening scene of Fight Club, one of my favorite movies). The scariest effect of his question is the realization that we all are defined by our material possessions, to some extent.
The Hedonic Treadmill
When we're constantly searching to buy the newest clothes, utilities, or technology, we get lost in a cycle of consumption known as the hedonic treadmill, where we never remain satisfied with our current possessions for long.
The message that Joshua and Ryan want to spread is not that consumption is bad — just that mindless, compulsory consumption is. In the era of social media perpetuated by millennials (myself included), material consumption often creates superficial appearances of being put-together, trendy, or unique. And while social media is beneficial in connecting individuals and aiding in self-expression, life shouldn't revolve around displaying material goods to virtual friends and followers.
So, what can we do? As someone who's always been mindful of over-consuming, I agree that the first step involves getting rid of the things you own that don't hold real value or utility, and donating them to charity.
From there, I've discovered some lifestyle choices that have helped me find genuine meaning in life. Some of my favorites include thrift-shopping, upcycling (check out self-upholstering your furniture or making DIY home decor), recycling everything I possibly can, buying food products in bulk to reduce waste, and even cutting down on shower time and air-conditioner use.
Some may call it a hippie, crunchy, or alternative lifestyle, but I personally believe that it's simply the most practical way to live. It's also a lifestyle that brings me true happiness and does the most good for the environment.
After traveling the country, giving talks, and speaking to individuals such as Colin Wright, a man who spent the last four years of his life traveling the world with only a backpack, Joshua and Ryan seem to have it figured out. Hopefully, what I've done so far is simply the beginning of a life-long journey of discovering the truth for myself.
Find Your Balance
When we realize that life is enriched by — but does not revolve around — material consumption, we free ourselves from material superficiality. Additionally, as we move away from our preoccupation with self-image and material acquisitions, we are able to devote more time and energy to the people and passions that give each life its meaning.
Remember, balance is key in life, and we owe it to ourselves to find the perfect balance between consumption and excess that will restore a deeper meaning to our lives, on our own terms.