We are all in search of more contentment from our lives. For some, that comes by reducing excessive consumption and living a minimalist lifestyle. For others, that make come from buying the latest iPhone and investing in even fancier technology.
There are those that say “excessive consumerism leads to all the wrong places“. We’re going to look at the difference between the two, and how they differ from one another.
Consumerism vs. Minimalism
You just bought something super awesome and you’re very excited about it! You get in the car and all you can think about is getting home to open it and try it out. You get inside, free it from the bag, and your enthusiasm only grows as you unpack it and look it over. You can’t imagine how you lived without this awesome thing before now.
There’s actually an economic principle behind this experience. The effects of consumerism are not only apparent, but we confront them every single day. Commercials and advertisements, billboard displays, brand names plastered on the sides of buses. We’re almost always being tempted to buy something.
Living in a largely consumerist society is equally why people choose to turn to minimalism and what makes minimalism so hard to fully achieve. There is, admittedly, some awesome stuff out there. But, as the consumerist principle implies, there will always be awesome stuff out there. Before we go any further, let’s put a definition to consumerism.
What is consumerism?
Consumerism is a (prevalent) theory that consists of two ideas: 1) people love things, and acquisition of more and more material possessions is essential, at a base level, to a person’s wellness and happiness and 2) increasing the amount that people buy is a good thing because it keeps the economy running vigorously, and should be promoted above anything else. We want to buy more and they want us to buy more.
We’ve been trained to be consumers since we were children. A growing number of franchises offer tiny shopping carts for kids. Toy commercials are brighter and more energetic than cartoons. They experience the joys of having a new thing basically from the time they’re old enough to comprehend what a toy is, especially considering holidays and birthdays (because we as parents enjoy buying them new things). Therefore, by the time we’re able to earn our own money, it’s only natural for us to use it to amass things.
Not only that, but it’s natural for us to idolize people who have lots of nice things simply because they have lots of nice things (because nice things are good, right?). We’ve synonymized possessions with happiness and status. The more you have, the better your life must be. So the natural course of action would be to acquire more things.
Minimalism and consumerism are polar opposites, both with their own pros and cons – minimalism is often called the best way to escape excessive consumerism. Let’s have a look at them side by side to help you come to a conclusion about which has the most desirable outcome.
Consumerism vs. Minimalism: Pros
Consumerism serves several important functions of our society. It gives the people (with the money) the power to determine what items and services they want available to them in their markets. Unpopular and unreliable concepts naturally die out from poor profit flow.
Competition between companies also plays out in the people’s favor. Franchises feverishly vying for our money usually manifests as sales, promotions, deals, or even free merchandise—which means big savings on our part!
As long as there is a demand, there will always be a need for people to fill that demand. Meaning, there will always be jobs. The more we consume a product, the more product needs to be generated and, consequently, more people need to be hired to keep up.
High demand not only means more, but better. Companies pay people to come in every single day and take what they know people like, conceptualize it, and present it in a way that will drive as many sales as possible.
And they’re constantly breaking new ground this way concerning the quality and variety of new products. That not only means we get a wider variety of products to choose from, but when the quality of the products and services are better the quality of life is better.
The quality of life is better because it makes life easier and more convenient. Why vacuum? Let the Roomba run while you get into a new book. Need a new book to read? Just download one on your Kindle. There’s satisfaction in getting what you want with the least work possible. With these tools, we have access to abilities we wouldn’t naturally have.
It’s definitely useful for parenting. Entertainment devices and an abundance of different toys allow you to keep your kids busy while you work, clean, or just take a moment to yourself. You can
Consumerism also drives small businesses. Our society encourages entrepreneurialism and has an abundance of programs and services dedicated to cultivation of businesses. This promotes the free flow and pursuit of ideas, which opens the door for innovation and better.
The reality is stuff does make us feel good. If we have a problem, inside or outside, we can buy something to fix it. Our possessions afford us comfort, entertainment, and productivity—and admiration.
Minimalism makes us more independent of outside influences. When we detach from trends and popular opinions, we’re able to think more clearly for ourselves. People do things simply because other people are doing them and not particularly because it’s what’s best for them. Thinking like a minimalist will allow you to more accurately judge what’s right for you and what aligns more with your needs and values.
When you detach from these trends, you also detach from the impulse to compare yourself to others. When we’re all doing the same thing, the only thing left to note is whose doing it better. Everyday people are constantly judging and comparing. But when you set your priority to being a valuable person rather than just appearing as one, your confidence and self image can’t be so easily affected.
You’d have a valid reason to be confident with all the money you’ll save! Minimalism decreases your living expenses unimaginably. Instead of trying to “keep up with the Joneses” you can put it towards self-care, traveling, helping others, and obtaining financial freedom. Materials are fleeting—the impact you have on people’s lives and the wonderful memories you create last much longer.
Minimalists also experience less stress and anxiety from having less to deal with. They don’t have to work as hard to keep their homes clean, their lives uncluttered, or their priorities in order. They don’t have to deal with the frustration of keeping all those things clean and intact, searching wildly for misplaced items, or tripping over a stray XBox controller on the way to the bathroom at 3:00 a.m. Because they don’t have to spend time keeping organized and they keep their planners minimized, they tend to have a lot more free time.
They’re able to maintain more genuine relationships as well. Minimalists don’t have to worry nearly as much about opportunists, leeches, or people who only like them for their things and status. They’re more connected with the world and other people because that’s where they place value. They don’t have to deal with as much drama and toxicity because that connection naturally attracts meaningful and authentic relationships into their lives.
Minimalists experience more happiness and peace of mind. Since they are the source of their own positivity and confidence, they tend to live in those feelings. They’re also not as exposed to all the negativity and violence presented in the media which, whether we notice or not, negatively affects our world view and confidence.
When you use less, you’re putting less waste back into the environment. The Earth is being corroded and filled with trash which causes irreparable damage every day. Minimalists use only as much as they need and are inherently, by agreeing to live with less, contributing less pollution.
If you’re interested in a minimalist lifestyle, then check out our Minimalist Decluttering Checklist to get started.
Consumerism vs. Minimalism: Cons
Consumerism doesn’t just create competition between companies, but between individuals as well. We’re constantly, yet passively, comparing ourselves and passing judgement on other people. The integration of social media into society showed that to be true even moreso. Now that admiration has been conceptualized into “likes”, we see people doing increasingly violent and dangerous things in the hopes of going viral.
As the race for possessions grows alongside our need for validation, people are more willing to go to dangerous heights to acquire “more”. People who can’t afford these luxuries are left looking for illegal means of acquiring the money to (seemingly) heal their circumstances. In the pursuit of “more”, people guiltlessly endeavor to take from others every day via theft and scams.
Youth are primarily affected. Kids are constantly going to want things they see on T.V. or that other kids have. Social media leaves teenagers with body image and confidence issues. Our youth grows up valuing the things that effects their mental health and growth.
People are not living their own truths, they’re living how they think they should. In essence, a lot of us are just copying popular faces and trends. This negates any reason for us to give thought into who we really are and what we really want. So many of us don’t have a proper sense of self—we’re just a small part of a bigger creature.
People are also going into debt trying to keep up. This is another one of those instances where appearing affluent is more important than actually being so. As long as we can convince others that we’re living the life, we’re satisfied. So if we have to go outside our resources to accomplish that, we readily will.
The modern generation has garnered the infamous reputation of being “lazy”. Our technology has made life so convenient, that nobody has to work too hard to do anything. The aforementioned Roomba is a great example. Today, if you need something done, there’s a great chance that there’s something on Amazon that can do it for you.
There are distractions everywhere. We carry one around with us everywhere we go. You’ve just sat down and started an important paper when your phone buzzes. You can’t not pick it up, even if just to check what it might be. From work to school, people are engaging with their smartphones, unable to ignore its allure and stay on task.
Economically, when increased demand can’t be met by companies they will take short cuts. They ignore work safety protocols, cut corners on the quality of the product, or increase work hours for employees. These factors work against the best interest of the people, yet align with the central goal of consumerism: put out as much product as possible so people can consume as much product as possible.
The endeavor to constantly churn out consumables uses up natural resources. Not only that, but these huge corporations and factories are taking an immense toll on the environment. Consumerism is at the core of the grand majority of all environmental issues.
The fact that minimalism has no straightforward definition can cause people confusion and stress. With no strict parameters, it’s hard to know if you’re doing enough (or doing too much, in this case) to accurately lead a minimalist lifestyle. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing it wrong and get discouraged.
It’s not unusual to experience serious FOMO (fear of missing out), especially at first. Consumerist society doesn’t stop because you do. In the pursuit of minimizing your life, you’re bound to miss out on some things that you otherwise never would have. The feeling of social exclusion can be hard to overcome for quite a while.
People are going to make judgments about you, too. We’re going to face backlash from somebody no matter what we do! People may make assumptions about your financial or living situation because you choose to live differently.
Minimalism may be infeasible for people who genuinely can’t afford to get rid of things. Throwing away clothes you can’t fit wouldn’t be good advice for whom that’s the only clothes they have and don’t have the means to replace them. This gives minimalism an air of exclusivity where people who can’t reasonably afford to make certain changes are excluded.
Plus, there are also different types of minimalism that you should probably be aware of too. But overall, it’s drastically different to consumerism.
Consumerism, though rampant, is not for everyone. Escaping excessive consumerism can lead to more money, zero consumer debt and much more. However, occasional lavish spending can feel great, and there are practical benefits to spending money too, like improved personal credit.
Minimalism is quite a challenge and requires a bit of discipline to execute. They both have their own stresses and joys, but a minimalist lifestyle likely has more benefits for both humans and the planet – the environmental impact of excess consumer culture can be huge.
Your own personal preference, and nobody else’s, should dictate from where you derive happiness. No matter what you choose to indulge in, there will be someone who doesn’t approve. Do what aligns with your spirit and contributes most to your health, wellness, and efficiency.