Consumerism strives to maximize consumption. Consumption incidentally means destruction e.g. “consumed by fire”. Consumption is the opposite of production. Production creates something, consumption destroys it.

Naturally to live, we need to destroy something, like the food we eat, or the clothes we wear out. Destruction is a natural part of life. When we die, we are in turn consumed by insects, worms, and bacteria, thus completing the cycle.

However, consumerism aims to destroy as much as possible under the philosophy that consumption brings happiness. Obviously this idea can only have originated in an environment of scarcity but this is hardly the environment we are in now. This means that excess foods get thrown out, houses have excess rooms, cars are overpowered, people go to college to buy a degree with no real love of the field they’re supposedly studying, they travel for week-long vacations to exotic locales and in the process learn nothing about the local culture and establish no lasting friendships.

Consumerism is simply exogenous (outside the body) gluttony. It is generally observed that in societies where food is scarce being fat is a sign of wealth and it is considered attractive. However, when food is abundant, the opposite holds and being trim is considered more attractive. The former shows that one is a successful provider, the latter shows that one has self-control.

While “thin is in” on a personal level, exogenously speaking, many still find over-buying attractive. However, I simply see consumerism as a lack of self-control and an inability to say when enough is enough and put the wallet (plate) away. I think the reason that I am not into consumerism is that I have been “wealthy” too long, e.g. I have never wanted something that I couldn’t buy, and perhaps consumers have not or perhaps their wants have been inflated by advertising.

During most of my teenage years and my early twenties, I bought everything I wanted. I would work and save up money and when I had enough, I would purchase a $2500 HiFi system, or a $1500 keyboard, or the $2000 SLR camera. I did not get myself into debt, but this may more have been a result of consumer loans not yet being popular in myCountry (e.g. not an Anglo-saxon country, where credit traditionally is more loose) when I lived there. I realized though that all these things were not really providing any lasting happiness, that is, I would buy something, like the keyboard, play around with it enough to get mildly competent at which point I’d lose interest and pick up the next thing as my savings having accumulated to buy it in the meantime. I was always saving money to buy stuff because I thought that is what gave me the greatest happiness(*).

(*) I was always strongly resistant towards buying something with no lasting value e.g. $7/beer in a bar. To give an example, when I bought my Amps (very heavy! … I forget exactly how heavy, but 50lbs+) and paid a couple of thousand bucks, I put them in two sports bags and walked them home because I didn’t want to spend a buck on a bus ticket.

I think the main break came when I got a “real job”, that is, I was on a science grad student stipend and was suddenly earning much more money than I could possibly spend on stuff (although I did my best for about half a year) that I had to figure out if there was not a better way. After all, at that point I could really buy everything I wanted without even waiting for it and where was the challenge in that. The challenge, as it turned out, was not in buying anything and finding ways to make do without. Could I find hobbies that would last longer than a few months and which wouldn’t cost me anything? How long could I make my clothes last? What was the minimum amount of stuff I needed to be happy? This is pretty much how it all started. As I got better and better my savings account started sky-rocketing, while I spent my time trying to figure out if there was a clever way to extend the life of a pair of socks, or learning to play the recorder (a flute slightly bigger than a piccolo) which I picked up at a flea market, and so on. Overall, I found giving up consumerism very rewarding in more ways than one. No, I’m not a millionaire, but who needs that kind of money anyway?

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Originally posted 2009-04-23 10:01:12.