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Posts Tagged consumerism

Things That Shouldn’t Impress Us Anymore

Recently I came across a great article from Joshua Becker (read it here) which captured a set of ideas that had been swirling around my head for a while.  The article was called 7 things that shouldn’t impress us anymore.  It talked about status symbols and how they shouldn’t be held up to such a high importance for us.

organizational-debtI think what struck me about most of the list is that ironic thing about the brand name of your clothing, big diamond rings, fancy cars and a big house is that most folks who these things are important to, can’t afford them.  Most – read 90% of Americans – folks achieve these status symbols through accruing debt.  I have a distinct memory of my neighbors who were very concerned with the things on Joshua’s list, one day fell on hard times.

The house of card fell very fast for them, their cars were taken because they were on lease, the home ended up in short sale and my neighbors lamented to me about all the credit card debt calls they got.  While this is just one story about a neighbor, it is really the story for many people today.   The truth is the average American household carries $15,762 (source) and 76% of Americans live pay check to pay check (source).

What is more, conspicuous consumption shouldn’t not impress us any more, but it should evoke a very different reaction – sadness or empathy – because it is almost always done on the back of debt.  People are extending themselves in ways that has been shown to break up marriages, bring massive amounts of stress and leave people in a hole they often can’t get out of.

Think about it, not only should they not impress us, but depress us.  What does it say about the status of our culture when people are willing to take on crippling debt just to impress a stranger?

Obviously I’m preaching to the choir here, tiny house folks focus on small spaces to get out of debt, we re-evaluate our spending choices and have taken steps to shed our consumer culture.  Inherently having nice things isn’t bad, even having brand names, nice cars etc isn’t a bad thing; we just need to know the why behind all of it.  The trap is when people say “that’s what I thought I was ‘supposed’ to do.”

Live your life with intention, with purpose behind each decision, each choice.  That choice could be living in a tiny house or it could be a 1,200 square foot house with a fancy car.

Your Turn!

  • What things do you think we shouldn’t be impressed about anymore?


There Are No Joneses.


Back in March when I was interviewing potential volunteers for the 2016 Tiny House Conference, I asked a married couple why they were interested in downsizing into a tiny house, and why they wanted to help run our event.

“We used to be so concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, until we realized one day that our lifestyle had gotten out of hand,” they said. “Turns out there aren’t any Joneses.”

We hear the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” so much in society that it’s completely lost its meaning. I find that I pick up on it more often now that I’m involved in the tiny house movement, and it’s almost jarring to hear how flippantly people use it in conversation. Even more often, I hear something and I can tell that this insidious, invisible “Jones” character is behind it:

“We bought a house in a nice neighborhood in the suburbs, because that’s what adults are supposed to do.”

“Real men drive pickup trucks.”

“Oof, you still only have an iPhone 4? You should upgrade. Like, yesterday.”

“Buy one of our luxury Swiss timepieces for only $199 per month!”

The idea of constantly upgrading our clothing, our houses, our cars, our adornments, and our job titles reminds me of a race. There’s an urgency to spend every shred of time and money to strive for the next shiny toy, the next symbol of adulthood, the next proof to the world that you’re buying the things you should because you have your life together. You’re racing against everyone else who is trying to do the same thing. No one seems to ask why you’re doing it.

Then, when you approach the finish line, after leaving the losers in the dust behind you, the anonymous Mr. Jones will finally appear in his impeccably tailored suit, give a slow clap and say, “Well done. You’ve beaten me. Have some cake.”

But that’s not what’s actually beyond the finish line.


There is no finish line. There are no Joneses.

(The cake is a lie.)

Your time is your most precious and limited resource. Are you using it to spend time with loved ones? Help improve people’s lives? Create new things? Discover new places? Learn new skills?

Or are you endlessly consuming stuff you don’t need to impress people whose opinions don’t matter?

It’s perfectly fine to want and enjoy material items. We’re human – we use things in order to carry out our work and our daily routines comfortably. Sometimes we even get nice things for ourselves or from people we care about. No one is saying you should shed all material possessions to become a nudist and live in the woods (although if that’s your thing, that’s cool too).

But if you look up and realize you’re in the middle of the race, it’s not your fault. Businesses and marketers have spent billions of dollars to convince you and everyone around you that you’re right where you should be. If you’ve started noticing that you’re doing something ridiculous just because everyone else is too, it’s time to drop out of the race and start living your life. Don’t wait until you get to the end to realize that things could have been different.

Your Turn!

  • What have you done to step out of the race?

The Religion Of Stuff

It occurred to me the other day that consumerism has reached a level of socially ingrained fanaticism. This isn’t by accident, marketers have gotten us here on purpose.  For many of us or those we know, we simply lust after ______ consumer good.  It pervades our country, politics, social interactions, and economics.

Here is the definition of consumerism:

A social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts.

The entire premise of consumerism is that we must consume, but more importantly we must do so at a constantly growing rate.  This seems to be at odds in a finite world, but many people don’t concern themselves with it.  I wanted to break down this word a bit more, because the ending -ism struck me as interesting, it was something I never considered before really, what does -ism really mean?

Looking up the definition of the ending -ism I found these four possible meanings:

  • a political belief or religion based on a particular principle or the ideas
  • the action or process of doing something
  • illness caused by too much of something
  • the practice of treating people unfairly because of something

If you think about political issues or stances on religion you will quick notice they are really contentious issues.  They often define a line which many fight over.  You find that many people choose friends, business partners, and other large decisions on the parameters of their political and religious stances. One of the largest lines is to consume or not.  Think about it, essentially there is a hard line drawn that many don’t cross, but those who do are subject to great social pressure!  Essentially society discriminates against those who don’t consume.  Don’t buy lots of clothes, you don’t get a job or a date.  Don’t feel the need to buy things when what you have is working just fine or even, you don’t want a huge house; you are seen as cheap, lazy, poor, etc.

I had to simply laugh when I looked at the third bullet point, an illness cause by too much of something, the irony of that when considering consumerism is astounding.  What if we really could get people to treat this behavior like a disease?

It certainly is interesting the implication of this word, how it has such a tight hold on us and defends itself through strong social pressures.

It All Goes Back In The Box

Our good friend Michael over at TinyHouseDesign.com posted this great video on his Facebook page and it just really hit home on some really key truths.  I have talked about how when you downsize to a Tiny House, you actually gain.  You gain freedom from debt, you gain time, you gain deeper relationships, you gain insights to what is important.

How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 4

Now many of you who are looking to actually live in a Tiny House have some level of awareness of this cultural phenomenon we know as consumerism.  It essentially functions by creating social pressures to buy more stuff, our culture has an instilled mentality that we need more stuff to be happy.

The more stuff, the more happiness right?  Wrong.  Studies have actually shown that the purchase of stuff gives us a quick high, but ultimately leaves us even more unhappy.  Buying more stuff means we need to work more to pay for it, we incur more debt.  All of these things bring stress, give us less time to relax, time away from family and friends and when we do have free time, we are hounded by collection agencies.   When we move into a Tiny House, we need to reduce the amount of things we need to fit in, this actually reduces stress, focuses us on what is important and create greater value for what little we do have.

I encourage you to have some time set aside to do some introspection.  During that time consider what you have purchased over the last month using receipts and a spreadsheet.   I have seen it a million times, people who don’t track it, don’t realize how bad the problem is.  This is a pretty well document phenomenon.  Studies have shown that when people track things, they typically spend 1/3 less, just by tracking it!

It has taken me a long time to really weed through my subconscious to get to a point where I can realize when these deep rooted influences are pushing me to buy something.  I have been on this journey now for 2 years and still am struggling with it.  I do intentionally strike a balance between separation of consumer culture and still staying generally socially acceptable.  Clothing for example is a big societal function, fashions and trends drive us to buy more and I think many have a hard time breaking this cycle.

Now it is true, men’s clothing is easier to do this with, but I still believe anyone can do it.  My clothes literally can fit in a big suitcase, all of them.  I own 1 suit, 3 pairs of pants, 2 shorts, 10 shirts, 15 undershirts, 30 pairs of socks, 30 pairs of underwear, 3 work shirts, 3 shirt that get dirty, 2 pajama pants, a hat, rain jacket, winter jacket, one pair of dress shoes, one pair of running shoes, and one pair of garden shoes.   I have also worked to be able to work from home or a job that I can dress casually, this drastically reduces the amount of clothes and limits social pressures.

So today start looking at what you have spent, take some time to think about how these cultural norms influence you behavior and check out the story of stuff to help understand these mechanisms.

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