Lately, I’ve been considering the idea of simple living or, more particularly, the concept of living small with an emphasis on the occupation of a smaller space and minimal possessions for the sake of curtailing the act of accumulation to only those things that I need and love.
I didn’t realize how closely related the “simple” lifestyle was to consumerism until I was on Google searching for documentaries related to “simple living.” While researching the subject, the link to the Wikipedia page for consumerism came up. It says that there has been a massive change in American culture–“a shift away from values of community, spirituality, and integrity, and toward competition, materialism and disconnection.”
It alarms me to think of the long-term effects of embracing this order of consumerism. I am currently enrolled in a Culture and Psychology class, and I have learned that culture not only affects our values and beliefs, but our norms, attitudes, world views, and even our psychological processes.
If consumerism is affecting–and infecting–American culture, it truly is taking away from the essence of life in that our values are shifting away from what has made our society both stable and great. We are becoming more concerned about purchasing goods and services that ultimately have little or no effect on our well-being and, in turn, we are neglecting things that do, like integrity, spirituality and concern for others.
What is the world going to look like when we are more concerned with buying unnecessary items than being good, wholesome individuals? It’s scary to contemplate.
I can see the apparent effects that this materialist mindset has on my generation. In a time where technology is accelerating at warp speed, I notice how consumerism has instilled in us a consumerist demeanor.
Without even noticing it, we are tempted to purchase goods, not merely for our own amusement but because we know that our peers will be purchasing them as well, harking back to the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses state of mind. We want to be up-to-date on the new technology because everyone around us is up-to-date.
I can attest to this: I have a MacBook, an iPad and an iPhone. I am constantly asked how I like my iPad, and usually I can’t offer an honest, substantial answer. I notice how much I neglect the iPad, because having a laptop and a smartphone are sufficient enough for any person. But when the iPad was new and popular, everyone wanted one so, of course, at the time I felt like it was a necessity.
I can admit that it is convenient on occasion, but the majority of times it is of no real benefit to me since I can do most of what it does on both my MacBook and iPhone.
My recent retreat at a trappist monastery also enlightened me in many ways. In an attempt to receive the most out of my experience, I chose to neglect my phone for two and a half days and attend all the services while I was there. Some may call me crazy considering there were 4:15 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. services, but I wanted to get as close as I could to experiencing the life of a monk.
Returning to school and my apartment after the retreat was interesting. I had plucked myself out of a busy lifestyle and immersed myself in a ultra-serene environment surrounded by nature and with no real obligations. But re-entering a busy schedule after an experience like that can be shocking; the stress of it hits you hard. That feeling in many ways is related to affluenza, the feeling of stress, anxiety and overload correlated with a consumer’s mindset and desire for more.
Even my constant need to check my phone while I had it on “airplane mode” exemplifies my own dependence and addiction to technology and social media.
I am in no way attempting to bash those who adore the accumulation of things, but here’s a question: when does it become enough? The indulgent lifestyle of the consumer is so alluring, with the media constantly hyping so many things we really don’t need, that it’s easy to fall victim.
I have become extremely aware of this recently, yet I still fall into the traps of consumerism. I am hoping to simplify my life by reducing my consumption of irrelevant goods and services. I’m not so much interested in seeing us adopt the lifestyle of a hippie, because that probably goes too far in the other direction, but when you think about it, I believe the hippies saw long ago where the lifestyle of consumerism was heading.
If you look at the core of what they were about–self-sufficiency and simplicity–it is obvious that there is a lot that we should embrace. This is not an attempt to change the world, but my own search for fulfillment, inner peace and liberation through a simplified life of contemplation and contentment.
Jade Miller is a sophomore at George Fox University, the oldest Christian university in Oregon.
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