I just recently watched a documentary about fast fashion and where the out-of-fashion products ended up. It struck a nerve with me.
|Did you know?|
Only 0.1% percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fibre.
Newsweek – 2016
Everywhere you turn, and that includes the digital world, there’d be advertisements. Some are so big and bright like those neon billboards at strategic junctions that there is no escape for you. Others are subtly nestled in a web page that you browse, and yeah, they know your online habits so well that these advertisements are tailor made for you.
So whether you are on your way to work, or listening to the radio, or checking your email when you get sidetracked by an e-mail from Lazada / Shopee about this week’s hot deals, they are all part of subtle and not so subtle marketing by companies with one sole aim – to make you consume their products. By the looks of worldwide consumer spendings, they are succeeding.
What is consumerism?
Consumerism simply put, is a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever increasing amounts. We have always “consumed”, right from the beginning of humanity. I remember learning in my Commerce lessons the earliest consumer goods the necessities of life – food, a roof over our heads, clothing. To get those, we had to work to get them. I think, life was much simpler back then. People of the 20th century generally consumed what they needed.
My parents are baby boomers. Even their generation only had a pair of school shoes. I am a millennial and I remember having 2 pairs. As their economic standing improved over my grandparents’ generation, spares became a norm for me. My generation, on the hand I think has gone ballistic where shopping is concerned, unless you are an accountant like me (pun intended). But seriously, my doctor friends have money but no time to go shopping.
|Did you know?|
The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water, generating around 20 percent of the world’s wastewater and releasing half a million tons of synthetic microfibers into the ocean annually. The average consumer buys 60 percent more pieces of clothing than 15 years ago. Each item is only kept for half as long.
UN Environmental Program – 2019
How do companies get us hooked?
Let’s take the annual iPhone launch every September for an example (which was just yesterday, yay for the new iPhone 13). There’s the build up and the speculation of what new features will be out sometimes feel surreal to me, kind of like the sort of suspense build up that you get in a movie. Then, it’s the actual event itself and finally pre-order and maybe stand in line for hours at your local retailer to get it. The entire process is very exciting and effective in getting people to spend.
This cycle repeats year after year. Sure, technological advances are great, but is there a need to get the latest smartphone? Does our survival dependent on it? In a way, I feel, it dulls our senses. Why do I say so?
Since businesses are deciding what, how and when we consume their products, everything becomes one dimensional. What we receive becomes formulaic, bringing not much surprises or additional value to our lives. We become beings who crave material objects. I find that creates social trappings and removes the real sense of connection that used to be the fabric of our society.
The iPhone is just a simplistic example. It applies to anything really, shoes, clothes, etc.
Breaking free and stopping consumerism
1. Success and consumerism are not synonymous
We have been told that by having more means you’re more successful. The media subtly ingrains that into us. Glossy magazines overexpose the details of the rich and famous and make us desire their lifestyles. Social media champions consumeristic influencers. Reality television applauds the lifestyle of those who live in luxury. And to top it all, shopping for new things is always portrayed as fun.
But is what you’re getting really what you need? For me, I think we need to pause a moment and think beyond the keeping up with the Joneses. Material possessions that we flaunt very often does not portray the real picture. In the past 2 years, there have been many anecdotal accounts of those in the T20 dropping to M40, even B40. That’s how fragile success of that sort can be.
2. Less debt
By wanting less things, you’ll have lesser bills to pay. Excess consumerism is often rarely the wisest use of your money. Just because you have the resources to buy something new and shiny doesn’t mean you should. Most of your things become excess and after gathering dust in some dark corner of your house, they reappear only to head to the landfill.
3. It makes a positive impact to the environment
Did you know that by keeping or repairing that sweater actually makes a big difference to the environment rather than buying a new one? A garment can take up to 200 years to decompose depending on what it was made of. Even then, as that poly-blend sweater decomposes, it releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, that pollutes the environment even further.
I think most of us know that climate change is due to excessive release of toxic gases. What I think many of us fail to take note is, our habits as consumer is another factor too. Our unending demands for goods and services lead to deforestation and pollute the environment with all kinds of hazardous stuff too. Think this doesn’t make the news the way methane gases from the cows or gases from fossil fuels do.
|Did you know?|
It takes 3,781 liters of water to make a pair of jeans, from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the final product to the store. That equates to the emission of around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent.
How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment? – The World Bank
So, by slowing down consumerism, you’ll doing mother nature a great favour.
4. More time for yourself
You didn’t expect this to make it into the list eh? By having lesser things to care for, you’ll spend less time cleaning things, or fixing them. I feel that we often spend too much time caring for things that we don’t need. This drains us physically, emotionally and mentally. The bigger your house, the more space will need maintenance. Maintenance requires time and resources. You pay for helpers, cleaners, gardeners for a house that is empty most of the time.
5. Better you
The culture currently is now built in such a way that consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending. Every year, there’s a new trend to follow, be it in fashion or electronics. They have engineered it in such a way that the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest products when they are released. The alternative, of course, is to leave it all together.
By taking this alternative, you’ll also feel less pressure to impress with material possessions, and perhaps a better night sleep as well. Ever since I adopted the minimalist lifestyle, and started intentionally owning less, I feel more contented. Many people believe that they will find contentment by owning more, but I found the opposite to be true. I think by rejecting excessive consumption, the door to contentment opens.
Read also: The Ultimate Guide to Preparing a Monthly Budget (and sticking to it!) [Malaysian Working Adult Edition]
You’ll also start to realise that there’s more to life than just material goods. You’ll find out about the invisible things of life – love, hope, faith, etc. We become more aware of the things that are happening around in the world.
It is time to sit down, and perhaps evaluate life. I know I have. Perhaps you’ll discover that happiness is not a sale at the store, but was with you all this while.