To go against the flow of people who are buying too much requires conscious determination. (And it’s so worth it!)
Anyone who knows me knows I am trying to live a minimalist life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t own stuff. My family of four still owns three beds, two couches, two recliners, a table with eight chairs, a desk, plates, bowls, glasses, and coats. My kids use toys, books, and sporting goods. My wife sews. I read, play sports, and care for the house.
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We may be seeking to live a minimalist life, but we are still consumers. Indeed, to live is to consume. It is in the very nature of living.
Yes, I still consume material goods—but I have worked hard to escape excessive consumerism. And there is a big difference.
Consumerism becomes excessive when it extends beyond what is needed. Think about it: personal credit allows us to make purchases above our income level; advertisements reshape our desires around material possessions; our consumption culture makes greedy accumulation appear natural; and ever-growing home sizes and storage units remove normal physical boundaries. None of this is needed. Or helpful.
Excessive consumption leads to bigger houses, more expensive cars, trendier clothes, fancier technology, and overfilled drawers. It promises happiness…but never delivers. It results only in a desire for more, and it slowly begins robbing us of life. It redirects our God-given passions to things that can never fulfill at the same time that it burns through our limited resources.
It is time to escape the vicious effects of our own unnecessary acquisition.
Ten Reasons Why
Consider this list of practical benefits of escaping excessive consumerism in your life:
1. Less debt
Just under half of Americans are unable to pay off their monthly credit card balance—carrying debt from one month to another. On average, the monthly balance carried forward is $6,929 per household, totaling $420 billion in consumer debt. 
This debt causes stress in our lives and may force us to work jobs we don’t enjoy. We have sought life in department stores and gambled our future on the empty promises of their advertisements. We have lost.
2. Less time caring for possessions
The never-ending need to care for the things we own drains our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things we do not need. Surely our lives are too valuable to waste in caring for excess possessions.
3. Less desire to upscale lifestyle norms
Television and the Internet have brought lifestyle envy into our lives at a level never before experienced in human history. Prior to the advent of the digital age, we were left envying the Joneses living next to us—but at least we had a few things in common with them (such as living in the same neighborhood). But today’s media, especially Instagram and other kinds of social media, have caused us to envy (and expect) lifestyles well beyond our incomes.
Only an intentional rejection of excessive consumerism can silence the call to constantly upscale lifestyle norms.
4. Less environmental impact
Our earth produces enough resources to meet all of our needs, but it does not produce enough resources to meet all of our wants. And whether you consider yourself an environmentalist or not, it is tough to argue with the fact that consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is not a healthy trend, especially when it is completely unnecessary.
5. Less need to keep up with evolving trends
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.” Recently, I have been struck by the wisdom and practical applicability of that thought, whether relating to fashion, decoration, or design.
A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. Every year (or even season), a new line of fashion is released as the newest, must-have trend. The only way to keep up is to purchase the latest products when they are released.
Of course, another option is to remove yourself from the pursuit altogether. I recommend this choice.
6. Less pressure to impress with material possessions
Social scientist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase conspicuous consumption to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, this term describes the behavior of a limited social class. And although the behavior has been around since the beginning of time, today’s credit culture has allowed it to permeate nearly every social class in today’s society. As a result, no human being is exempt from its temptation.
7. More generosity
Rejecting excessive consumerism always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values. When we begin rejecting the temptation to spend our limited resources on ourselves, our hearts are opened to the joy and fulfillment found in giving our personal resources to others. Generosity finds space to emerge in our life (and in our checkbooks).
8. More contentment
Many people believe if they find (or achieve) contentment in their lives, their desire for excessive consumption will wane. But I have found the opposite to be true. I have found that the intentional rejection of excessive consumption opens the door for contentment to take root.
When I began pursuing minimalism and started intentionally owning less, I discovered greater contentment than ever before. Once I stopped wanting all the things I didn’t have, I was able to better appreciate the blessings I already had.
9. Greater ability to see through empty claims
Fulfillment is not on sale at your local department store. Neither is happiness. They never have been and never will be.
We all know this to be true. We know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought in to the message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise.
10. Greater realization that this world is not just material
True life is found in the invisible things of life: love, hope, and faith. We know there are things in this world more important than what we own. But if one were to research our actions, intentions, and receipts, would they reach the same conclusion? Or have we been too busy seeking happiness in all the wrong places?
Ten Examples of How
Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, people would achieve it more often. But it is definitely a battle worth fighting.
Here are some ways to begin making changes in your life and family:
1. Stop and reevaluate.
Look at the life you have created. Are you finding time, money, and energy for the things that matter most? Have your possessions become a burden in any way?
Slow down long enough to honestly evaluate the whole picture: your income, your mortgage, your car payment, your spending habits, your day-to-day pursuits. Are you happy? Or are you experiencing some of the negative effects of excess consumerism?
2. Stop copying other people.
Just because your neighbors, classmates, and friends are chasing a certain style of life does not mean you need to as well. Your life is too important to live like everyone else. And if you think you’ll be happier by following all the latest trends in society, you are wrong. Just ask anybody who has stopped.
3. Understand your weaknesses.
Recognize your trigger points. Are there certain stores that prompt you to make unnecessary purchases? Are there products, addictions, or pricing patterns (such as clearance sales) that evoke an automatic response from you? Do specific emotions (sadness, loneliness, grief, or boredom, perhaps) give rise to mindless consumption? Identify, recognize, and understand these weaknesses.
4. Look deep into your motivations.
Advertisers play on our motivations by appealing to our desires in subtle ways. They don’t communicate facts about a product; they seek to stir up emotions. They promise adventure, reputation, esteem, joy, fulfillment, and sex.
What inner motivations are subconsciously guiding your purchases? What unhealthy motivations do you need to root out? And what motivations (such as meaning and significance) do you need to fulfill elsewhere?
5. Seek contribution with your life and usefulness in your purchases.
We are more than consumers; we are contributors. Our presence on this earth ought to bring value to the people around us.
Purchase only what you need to more effectively accomplish your unique role in this world. Everything else is a distraction.
6. Count the hidden cost of each purchase.
Too often, when we purchase an item, we only look at the sticker price. But this is rarely the full cost. Our purchases always cost more. They require time, energy, and focus (cleaning, organizing, maintaining, fixing, replacing, removing). They prompt worry, stress, and attachment.
Henry David Thoreau, quoted above, also said this: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
7. Test your limits.
Experiment with a no-shopping challenge. Go 30 days with no consumer purchases, 60 days without visiting the mall, or 120 days without buying clothes. You set the specific challenge based on your needs. You will break the cycle of shopping in the short term and lay the groundwork for greater victory in the long term.
8. Give more things away.
Your life will feel lighter. Your heart will feel warmer. The world will be better. And you will be reminded that shopping is not the answer.
9. Do more of what makes you happy.
Your possessions are not making you happy. So find what brings you happiness each day and do more of it. I find my happiness in my faith, my family, my friends, and my contribution to the world around me. Your list may differ slightly. But doing more of what makes you happy and less of what distracts you from it is always a winning equation.
It is time to rethink our spending habits, rediscover thoughtfulness and intentionality in our purchases, and remind ourselves that happiness is not on sale at the department store.
. . .
Joshua Becker is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that inspires 1 million readers each month to own less and live more. He is also the best-selling author of The More of Less and The Minimalist Home.