Consumerism, Clearance, and Clarity

During my journey into minimalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about my role as a consumer lately. Actually, I’ve been thinking about everybody’s role as a consumer. The amount of stuff we purchase is astounding. I wonder what percentage of it is stuff we actually need; not things we think we need, or that promise to make life easier or better, I mean NEED. Like, if I don’t have this _____, I will most likely get injured, sick, or perhaps die. I bet those things are a tiny fraction of our purchases.

Now I’m not suggesting that we all give up everything but water, food, and shelter (unless that’s what you want to do). And I’m not trying to be the Grinch: “Oh, the avarice!” I’m merely suggesting that maybe, just maybe we spend to much time, energy and resources consuming things we don’t need.

sale price

I was shopping with my daughter the other day, in preparation for her upcoming trip to England, and I overheard a conversation between two clerks at the store. (Keep in mind that this is a store that primarily sells undergarments.) One girl said to the other, “Well, we’ve had$1300 in sales today and we only have to make $2000 to reach our goal.” Two thousand dollars spent at ONE store in ONE day, on underwear! I was a bit surprised, and then when I started multiplying that by the number of stores in the mall, it was quite shocking. I’m going to go out on a limb and say almost zero percent of those purchases were true needs. The mall doesn’t really deal in “basic necessities”.

As I said before, I’m not suggesting that we stop purchasing things at the mall. (I made a small purchase that day, it wasn’t a need but it was a practical item for my daughters vacation.) It’s just that I’m beginning to realize how much time, energy and stuff goes to waste. Many of the items that were purchased in the mall that day will probably hang in a closet with the tags still attached; never to be worn by the person who bought them. A lot of them were probably purchased on credit by people who are already deeply in debt. Some of them were probably purchased in a misguided attempt to find happiness or to feed an addiction. All of them could have been left on the shelves and no one’s life would have been negatively impacted.

That last idea got me thinking about all of the stuff that does stay on the shelves. First, it goes on sale. If that doesn’t move it, it’s put on clearance; when that doesn’t work it’s marked down over and over, until it’s not worth it’s space on the sales floor anymore. Once things get to that point, it often goes to a charity like Goodwill. If the thrift store can’t sell it; I don’t know where it goes. Perhaps it is recycled and ends up back at the mall in it’s new form. It just never ends. There is always more and more and more.

Pondering all of this has brought some clarity into my life, shining a light on my habits. I have consumed too much. It has been robbing me of the life I want to live. I don’t want to spend so much time choosing my stuff, taking care of my stuff and working to pay for stuff. I want a much better life than that.

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