Opting out of Consumer Culture

Oct 24, 2021 | Conscious Consuming

I’m going to discuss a perhaps controversial and unpopular topic in this post: opting out of consumer culture. I talk a lot about conscious consumption and my belief that ending over-consumption in our society is going to be a key factor in reversing climate change. It is no secret that we are taking more from the Earth than it can sustain. Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier every year.

Looking back on the last decade or so of my life, I can see that I have largely decoupled from consumer culture. I think that has been very helpful for becoming a more conscious consumer.

I am still a consumer. It can’t be avoided. I don’t suggest that we never buy things. I just want us all to bring more consciousness to what we buy and consider where it is possible to avoid buying something. It isn’t always easy. We are confronted from all angles by messages to buy more so if you find that you are struggling to curb your consumption of consumer goods, I hope these tips might help.

Ethical consumerism is still consumerism.


Ethical Consumerism is Still Consumerism

There is a welcome trend toward ethical shopping and the availability of ethical and sustainable goods is rising. It is great to have these options when we need to buy something. However, as with convenient government services that might free us from responsibility for our lifestyle and choices, we still need to be responsible about the goods we consume even if they are ethical.

Similarly, products to support a sustainable lifestyle is a burgeoning category. The irony is that buying these products if you don’t really need them is actually an unsustainable practice. The most sustainable product is usually the one you already have.

In summary, while an ethical and/or sustainable choice is the better one, it is only better if the purchase is necessary and has been made consciously.

Stop Caring About The Joneses

Comparison with others is a very difficult thing to stop. When it comes to what your friends or neighbours have, in terms of physical stuff, I think It comes down to separating your self-worth from material possessions. The true worth of who you are is in what you do, the person you are – not what you own or wear. There is the saying that the only comparison you need to make is to the person you were yesterday. Keeping focussed on that can help to stop worrying about ‘the Joneses’.

Say “No”

What if you were to make the decision right now that you are done with consumer culture? Can you choose to reject the pressure to own certain things? Could you manage to see through the marketing messages suggesting you are inadequate with this or that and not be influenced by them? Can you begin at the very top of the Waste Reducing Principles and REFUSE? Some of the tips below might help.

Shop Less

It sounds simple and obvious but simply not going to the shops will naturally stop you from being seduced by all – the – shiny – things. I know online shopping is an everpresent option too. Perhaps find ways to block your usual shopping sites if this is a big issue.

Avoid Advertising

Another source of seductive ‘buy me’ messages is advertising. That’s is its very purpose of course. We are bombarded by it whether we are reading the news online or driving on the freeway. What you can avoid, avoid. Put a ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker on your letterbox. Unsubscribe from retail email subscriptions. Cut back on commercial television. Put an ad blocker on your web browser. If you don’t see the ads, the brands won’t be able to manipulate you.

Photo by Polina Chistyakova from Pexels

Retail Therapy is Not Therapy

I know we sometimes refer to ‘retail therapy’ in jest. However, if shopping is something you do to feel better, it is worth looking into what need it is fulfilling for you and find more therapeutic ways to meet that need. I suggest that, in the long term, shopping for and spending money on things you don’t need that might also be laden with guilt (ethically, environmentally or financially) won’t help you feel better. Working out what will indeed feed your soul, whether it is catching up with friends or binging a season of Schitt’s Creek, will lead to better outcomes – for you and for the planet.

Find Another Hobby

If shopping is something you do as a pastime, you’ll need to find a different hobby if you are to successfully opt-out of consumer culture. Becoming engrossed in something new (or reviving an old interest) will fill the void that shopping leaves. Your focus might shift to something related, such as upcycling, refurbishing and refashioning secondhand items. Or you might divert your attention to something completely different like a craft or cause. To permanently change established behaviours, it is usually necessary to replace them with something.

Shift Your Mindsets, Values & Beliefs

Mindsets, values and beliefs are deeply embedded but they are possible to change. It will take some reflection but consider whether there are some underlying factors you need to shift to change your attitude to consumption and your buying behaviour. Perhaps you need to work on your thoughts about the value of new versus secondhand. Maybe you believe that status is reflected in possessions. Some people might need to give a higher value to experiences than material goods. Whatever they are for you, interrogate them and consider if they need to change to help you opt-out of consumer culture.

I hope these tips and ideas help you to have a good look at your consumer behaviour and help you to reduce your consumption. I do firmly believe that it is something we’re all going to have to do to save life on our planet. It doesn’t mean going without what we need and in fact, I think we will even enrich our lives by moving our focus to other things besides consuming more stuff.