Consumerism; alluring us in like a moth to a dancing flame. From eye-capturing brand names to the relentless advertisement of retailed goods, there’s no escaping the unceasing demand for us to dig deep inside our pockets and SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!
“We are a generation of consumers, raised by consumers, giving birth to consumers”.
It sounds extreme, but it’s true.
Global marketing perfidiously keeps us wanting more. The flickering flame entices us, and we can’t help but fall vulnerably into the perils of consumerism. Each generation is instinctively becoming more and more dependent on consumed goods as the global market both manipulates and brainwashes us into believing materialism not only makes us look good, but it makes us feel good too.
Bombarded with advertisements from every imaginable medium, it’s clear to see why we are fast becoming a generation of shopaholics. The more we consume, the better our lives will be, right?
And so we find ourselves driving cars we re-mortgage the house to buy, wearing clothes we are yet to pay for and crying despairingly into our pillows as loan sharks haunt our dreams.
Consumerism; it has us chasing style over substance, choosing image over reality, and working jobs we hate just so we can fund our superficial lifestyles.
But who is to blame? Consumerism for hauling us in, or the consumer for rising to the bait?
It’s time to pull our head from out of the sand and see consumerism for what it really is…
A load of CRAP!
Seriously, why do we buy half of the stuff we buy? Out of necessity or greed?
It’s time to ask ourselves; do we really need another cutlery set? Is it really life-threatening not to buy those new shoes? We only have one set of hands and one pair of feet, so why do we surround ourselves with so much useless CRAP? Useless crap that – two weeks down the line – will be collecting dust on top of a pile of other useless crap.
We all feel that flutter of excitement when we buy something new. We put it on the table, we open it up and we even find a place of honour for our new arrival. We read the instructions, fill out the registration card and we might even join the club of other mugs who have this AMAZING piece of junk. Times goes by, and it dawns on us, that maybe this Limited Edition Troll from Taiwan wasn’t so ‘wicked awesome’ as we originally anticipated.
It gets demoted from pride of place to a cupboard under the stairs or worst still, an under-bed drawer. It collects dust for a while until it is downgraded once again to the attic. Months later it ends up in the garage until finally, we put it up on eBay for some other Taiwan-Troll loving individual to buy. And so the cycle spins on. Because one person’s crap is another person’s treasure, right?
Yes, if we can get it past the door…
A woman enters her house and closes the door without a sound. She is aware her husband is nearby, so without so much as a “Honey, I’m home!” she sneaks upstairs, step by gentle step, with shopping bags hanging from her arms, nose and ears. “And where do you think you’re going?” A deep voice calls from below. “And more to the point, how many bloody shopping bags have you got there?” he continues, an impatience in his voice. Busted! The woman thinks to herself, avoiding eye-contact with her husband at all costs. “Okay, okay! Hand over the shopping bags!” The husband demands. The wife opens her shopping bags to reveal an array of home improvements and other completely worthwhile gadgets, from floral teapots (because you can never have enough teapots, right?) to slippers that glow in the dark!
“A bird less birdcage? Do you have a pet bird you’re keeping a secret from me too?!” the husband questions, despairingly. “It’s ornamental!” The wife sighs. “You just wouldn’t understand!” and with those words, the wife takes her new possessions and finds pretty places to home them.
How many of you could relate to the previous scenario? And how many of you are the proud owner of a bird less birdcage? I own five (Not bragging or anything!)
For ladies, shopping feels a little bit like sex. It’s all about the process and not so much the end result. We hit the shops, we caress the fabrics and we even try them on for size. Sometimes they fit like a glove, other times we know they aren’t “the one”. When we DO find “the one”, we will fight to the death for it, taking down anyone who dares to stand in our way! Clinging to our garments for dear life, we swiftly hand over the funds and happy dance our way out of the shop. We will most probably wear said garment once, it will feel as good as sex, and then it will get flung into the closet, never to be worn again.
“See you later, my love!” The loving wife calls, as her husband heads out of the door. “Oh Love, you couldn’t wait in the entire day, I’ve got another parcel coming!” the husband pleads. “Whaaaaaaaat?! Are you telling me I have to wait in all day for yet another parcel to come?” The wife snaps angrily. “Yes, my dear. It’s just, I spotted a bargain and I just had to have it!” the husband reasons. “Okay, what is it?” the wife asks curiously. “It’s an air-guitar…” The husband beams, excitedly. “Oh great, just great! An air-guitar to go with the imaginary bongo drums you bought last week? Because they weren’t a massive waste of money!” The wife snaps, sarcastically.
“Yes, but it’s not just any air-guitar, it’s an autographed air-guitar!” the husband boasts, as the wife finds a nearby wall to slam her head repeatedly into.
The fed-ex truck arrives for the 5th day in a row. The driver even knows our name. Yet another bubble wrapped delight enters our house and is begging to be opened! Our hearts beat excitedly, our eyes grow wide with excitement and there’s no hiding the sheer joy on our child-at-Christmas face. Two minutes later, the euphoria has withered away and spender’s remorse gives us that familiar tap on our shoulder.
Online shopping, it’s the ‘wham, bam and thank you ma’am’ of the shopping world. In one click of a button, we can buy anything our hearts desire. Shopping has never been so easy! Gone are the days of traipsing around busy shopping centres, getting in a flap and thinking “Screw this, I’m going home!”
But I can’t help but question; is online shopping further fueling the consumer-breeding Fire? It’s becoming uncontrollable. The inferno of spenders euphoria is spreading like wildfire, burning holes into the pockets of billions of people around the world. We might think Paypal is our pal, but we are sadly mistaken. Would a friend allow us to make irrational on-a-whim purchases like that used pink bathrobe we bought last week, or worst still, the rare penguin snow globe we just had to have? Would a real friend let us believe buying a Raccoon’s Penis Bone was ever a good idea? The answer is no, and yet will still put our trust in our little blue friend. As we begin to regret the 52 beanie babies we bought, new with tags, it suddenly dawns on us that we have become that moth, and our spending, the flickering flame. We fall for it every damn time, “Ooooo, but it looks so pretty!” and BOOsh! We are bankrupt.
What type of consumer are you?
Compulsive shoppers are not only drawn to shopping, but they are also hooked on the feelings that derive from their every purchase. Like taking a drug, the sound of their items being scanned and bagged creates a rush of euphoria which soon turns into regret as they come face-to-face with their credit card bills. An innocent splurge often develops into a vicious cycle of wanting, buying and regretting. With regret on their shoulders they do what they do best – hit the shops, and so the cycle spins precariously on. Every credit card bill stabs a little bit deeper. They become fully entangled in a sea of debt, with nowhere to hide and nowhere to turn to.
For the Trophy shopper, only high-class items will do. As they browse the shops and online stores, their main prerogative is to find the perfect accessory to compliment; an often already existing purchase, be it a vintage couch or the outfit of their dreams. Finding the perfect bag or antique chair isn’t as easy as one may assume – It takes time, patience and generally a hefty bill. Similar to the compulsive shopper, the adrenaline will be ephemeral and almost always lead to a moment of anti-climax as the chair becomes vacant and the once perfect outfit collects dust in a drawer. Once again, the cycle spins on as the bank balance plunges from healthy to non-existent.
The image shopper is like the ‘Buy now, regret later’ of the shopping world. They like to display their wealth in a sea of “Hey, look at my trainers!”, “My car is bigger than yours!”, “I’m wearing 100% designer!”, “Just put that on my tab” and the list goes on.
To the outsider, the image shopper seems to have it all – smart clothes, a lavish lifestyle, a thriving social life. When in reality, they are drowning in their ever-growing piles of debt.
That’s right. Beneath the luxurious layers lies the sad truth; a lady filling a hole with her love for designer handbags. A man buying his child love because he’s too afraid to show it. A child thinking love derives from material goods… the record spins on, the cycle unbroken.
The bargain shopper will rationalise their habitual spending by generally buying things that are on special offer, or at reduced price. Sale signs give these penny-pinching purchasers the ‘go ahead’ to continue on with their buying frenzy, minus the weight of guilt hanging stubbornly upon their shoulders. Surrounded by clothes they’ve never worn and once-used gadgets, it’s safe to say that perhaps a bargain is only a bargain if we actually NEED it.
The Collector; Sounds like the title of some box hit horror movie, doesn’t it? The reality is just as shocking. The obsessive compulsive of the shopping world is only truly satisfied when they have complete sets of things in different colours and styles. From the clothes hanging in their wardrobes to the invasion of gnomes taking over their gardens, the collector shopper doesn’t feel ‘complete’ until their collections are complete.
We have to admit, we all – at one time or another – have experienced spenders remorse. Suddenly those shoes don’t feel as good as when we stared adoringly at them through the shop window, and that chair we paid 3 months’ worth of rent money for, stands as a constant aide-mémoire of our frivolous spending. Shopping might be equated with enjoyment, fulfilment and self-identity, but underneath the glossy packaging and bubble wrapped delights lurks a darker shade of reality.
A Darker Shade of Green: The Psychology
“Money makes the world go round”, or so we are told. We are conditioned from an early age to believe money is fundamental to our existence. During those early years, we model our behaviour on our parents, but as we mature, we begin to find our own paths as consumers. We learn that we need to earn money in order to support our shopping habits, large homes and two cars (All of which, make us happy, right?) We believe that consumption solves all. We feel stressed, we go shopping. We feel sad, we buy our happiness in the form of a new pair of shoes or lavish nights out. And when the money runs out, what do we do? We dive carelessly into another loan, or we take out a second mortgage. We are slaves to corporations, doing work we loathe to buy stuff we don’t even need. We are shackled to the idealism that money equals happiness. In reality, consuming more and more things is a harmful way to try to achieve happiness and fulfillment, because the sad truth is, you can NEVER have enough in this consumer-obsessed society we live in.
Take a seat on my chaise lounge, and tell me…
Why do you really shop?
I mean, surely it goes deeper than a satisfactory hobby?
Make you feel good? A quick fix? Filling in the voids? Or maybe you really do need that glow in the dark cheese-grater?
In some cases, shopping is much more than a pleasurable pastime, it is a real and destructive addiction that can not only turn into financial adversity but can also wreak havoc in people’s lives and the relationships around them.
Some people shop because they were emotionally deprived during their childhood, filling inner voids by purchasing objects of their desire. As we know, this can only ever be a temporary fix – and if prolonged – this can not only lead to bankruptcy, but it can also become psychologically damaging.
Others may have developed an inability to tolerate negative feelings, and thus, fill their time with temporary confidence boosts i.e. buying a new outfit or a new car. But as the bank balance plummets, so does their capacity to take control of their lives. Suddenly they find themselves riding that tiresome carousel; they buy, they regret, they stress, they buy and so the cycle spins on.
For some individuals, shopping gives them the ability to gain control. Author of ‘Decoding Advertisement’, Judith Williamson, describes this accurately when she wrote “Shopping gives you a sense of control and power which is absent to the rest of your life” To walk into a shop, choose an item of choice and purchase it, gives us a sense of freedom – we are in control. But are we?
Whether it is approval we are seeking, we are genuinely impulsive or we are driven by plain old materialism, there is no denying that spending makes us feel good, if only temporarily. This mini rush of endorphin’s and dopamine as the cashier passes us our goods is ultimately what has us coming back for more. It’s only human nature to chase after those happy feelings. Only, a chase is all it becomes; a pursuit to meet a need that has become so engrained into our culture that we believe that we simply can’t function without it.
But are we really to blame?
What is it that makes us humans behave in this illogical manner? Is it human nature, or is it mass marketing and advertising that makes us believe we simply cannot live without stuff?
Is commercialization to blame?
Is advertising pulling its tantalising cashmere wool over our eyes? Take for example the beauty industry, we only have to open our eyes and we are engulfed in a sea of “You must have white teeth!”, “You must have clear skin!”, “You must have plump lips!”, “Long lashes”, “Golden skin”, “Shiny hair” … the list is relentless.
And so I find my finger hovering over a £80 lip pump because the media tells me I need plumper lips. I find myself spending a weeks’ worth of food shopping on a miracle cream because society forbids me to grow old. I find myself setting fire to my money and watching it incinerate into flames. As picture-perfect billboard posters wrap themselves around me, I can’t help but fall victim to the beauty industry trap. Beauty ideals dangle invitingly and I fall for them hook, line and sinker. But sadly, I’m not the only one to fall vulnerably into those devious advertising ploys. To some degree, we are all victims.
Victims to consumerism?
We’ve all been there; we spot the ornamental must-have of our dreams and in the basket it goes. We walk into the supermarket to buy food and we wheel out half the homeware department. We go into a shop looking for a pair of shoes and we come out with TEN!
I mean, why have one pair of shoes when we could have ten times as many? The last time we checked we only had two feet, but they look so good gracing the shelves of our walk-in-wardrobes. And how could we resist a half-price toaster in ruby red? We already have one that works perfectly fine, but we can ‘always’ make room for another! And that ornamental birdcage would look just divine… collecting dust on the top of yet another abandoned shelf.
We might think those glow in the dark slippers were the bargain of the century, but we are sadly mistaken. As they get tossed into a dusky cupboard – never to see the light of day again – the true darkness of our spending habits come to light.
People borrow money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need. Why? Because mass marketing and advertising persuasively tells them they do NEED those things. While the mass media persistently shoves lifestyle and beauty ideals down our throats, the big advertisers hook us in with their eye-catching logos and price cut signs. Everywhere we go, we are lured in by temptation. That homeware section in the supermarket, it’s strategically placed as soon as we walk through the door, right?
But irrespective of the mass of temptation, no one is making us buy things, we choose to do so. It is our choice to delve deep inside our pockets and splurge our cash. It is our decision to place those items into our basket. It is down to our own poor judgement to agree to take out yet another loan.
But before we toss our credit cards on the blazing inferno, let’s flip the coin over.
Does consumerism make the world go round?
Economists will argue that consumerism is essential to this ever-growing capitalistic world we live in. Without an increase in consumption each year, many economies will either decline or worst still, collapse altogether. Without consumption, it is most likely we couldn’t support the 7 billion plus people living on our planet. We might not know it, but every time we dig into our pockets we are helping economies to grow. We are lining pockets of the assistants working at our local fast-food chains to multi-millionaire moguls. Our money is placed into the hands of factory workers in China to high-flying bankers driving around in cars as expensive as the average person’s yearly salary.
Without consumption growth, the fuel behind our economies will slowly die out. This will not only mark the end of an entrepreneurs triumph, but this could have devastating effects on the poor factory worker trying to provide for his/her family. We would become a world of broken dreams and troubling realities.
“We work, we buy, we consume and we die”
It sounds a little morbid, doesn’t it? Surely there must be more to life than filling up our baskets and splashing our cash? But as the flickering flame hypnotically dances in front of our very eyes, we can’t help but glide towards it. Everywhere we go, a magnetic force sucks us in. From the shopping channel to unrelenting advertisements, even the products on the shelves are calling out our names. Is there any wonder why consumerism has become so embedded into our society? But how can we change something so ingrained into our psyche?
As we pull out that credit card once again, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves, do I need this or do I just want it?
It’s a simple question with a simple answer, right?
Consumerism might be embedded in us all, but we are people, NOT consumers! That’s right, the beautiful truth is…
We DO have a choice!
We don’t have to be confined to the shackles of consumerism.
As much as the art of consumerism promises happiness and fulfillment, more often than desired, it fails to deliver and, consequently, we are left feeling as deflated as our bank balances. The reality is, happiness doesn’t lurk inside our purses or our pockets, happiness is a state of mind. In the adrenaline rush of our shopping purges, it’s easy to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something, but rather the recognition and appreciation of what we DO have.
Someone once said, “Without money, we’d all be rich”. I laughed at the very thought. But perhaps this statement isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds?
Let’s just think about it. Owning less could potentially bring great benefits; less stress, less debt, more time, more freedom. Just imagine, we could spend our evenings communicating with our families, rather than wasting hours bidding on eBay. We could collect moments, rather than mementos. We could invest in time, rather than pointless trinkets. We could value the simple things in life, rather than our possessions.
It’s time to jump off the consumption carousel, chop up those plastic cards and step away from those
birdless birdcages tantalizing flames.
Gandhi famously said: “There is enough on earth for everybody’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
Consumerism might make the world go round, but it isn’t the answer to a path of long lasting happiness and fulfillment. There is so much more to life.