Consumerism – An Age-Old Problem

Consumerism has been around for many years, from the first department store that opened in London in 1796, to the eight-floor department store built on a full city block in New York in 1862, to the mega malls we have today.

In the early 1900s, advertising stepped in, and in the 1920s, we were offered our first credit cards.

During World War II, we were taught, briefly, to be frugal. And when that was over, we were told to buy and consume. Since then, we haven’t stopped.

People that lived before us warned about a society of over-consumption, but we have failed to listen.

Confucius once said, “The Master said, ‘A true gentleman is one who has set his heart upon the Way. A fellow who is ashamed merely of shabby clothing or modest meals is not even worth conversing with.’ ”

Ghandi told us, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

And E.B. White stated, “To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.”

My favorite quote is the following, “I think the enemy is here before us…I think the enemy is simple selfishness and compulsive greed… I think he stole our earth from us, destroyed our wealth, and ravaged and despoiled our land.” –Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t go Home Again, 1949

I think Wolfe is right, the enemy lives among us. He has destroyed our planet, taken our money, turned us into green-eyed monsters. He is sucking the life out of every creature.

Maybe it’s time we listen to the wise words of those who walked before us. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Consumerism won’t go away, after all, we need certain things to survive. But this excessive, compulsive shopping is getting out of hand. It’s time to stop, let go of what we don’t need, and cling to what we do. When we stop the insane spending, the constant consuming, we will find benefits we never knew existed. We will find benefits of a life with less. Like these:

1. Time with family.
2. Time for ourselves.
3. Time to volunteer.
4. Less time cleaning.
5. Less time organizing.
6. Less money spent.
7. More money for vacation.
8. More money for retirement.

Let’s use consumerism for what it was intended – to meet our needs. Let’s cut the shopping, and stop the enemy, before he stops us.

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The Collector’s Daughter, A Dedication to Daddy

He was a simple man who loved simple things, a roadside café, a park by a stream, the scent of a rose. My daddy enjoyed life in its purest form.

But Daddy was not only a lover of nature, he was a collector of stuff, a scavenger of treasures hidden in dark alley-ways. In the middle of the night, he would be hunched over a can in the alley, head deep inside, sifting through bags, resurrecting old tools, and saving dirty hats. My daddy figured as long as it was free, it was his.

My dad was a custodian at an elementary school, a treasure trove of pens and papers inside large dumpsters and beneath teachers’ desks. Papers scribbled on one side were saved, as were mittens without a mate. It never bothered me that my daddy was a collector. In fact, in our home, it provided hours of fun, like the time he brought home a couple of old desks.

But my mom didn’t enjoy it as much. It was a battle between them, my dad constantly dropping treasures in our house, my mom taking them and throwing them away. Even though she buried them deep inside the garbage, beneath chicken bones and wilted lettuce, my dad would find them. By next morning, that treasure was back on our table.

It was an unspoken argument between my parents, one I never fully understood, until my parents divorced, and my dad got really, really sick. I was the eldest, the one designated to clean through his belongings, including a room at the school where he worked.

When the secretary phoned, she sounded annoyed, “We need that room. Come and get his stuff. Tomorrow.”

She was waiting for me that day, beady little eyes staring right through me. She pursed her orange lips and said, “It’s the closet on the right.”

It was more than a closet. It was an 8×10 room with a toilet and sink in the far corner. Large and small boxes were stacked everywhere. Along the wall were tall shelves covered with shoe boxes, hats, boots, and old magazines.

I sat on the floor, sifting through boxes of pencil stubs, crayons, empty chip canisters, old text books, and even a box overflowing with empty pantyhose containers.

I set aside a leather hat, imagining my brother wearing it one day. Then I picked up an old cigar box, caressed its gold lettering, and sniffed it, trying to remember the scent that once covered my dad’s clothes. I opened the box and inside found my own treasure, a pile of brass skeleton keys, just like the ones he used to carry.

My dad loved keys, which is why, I imagine, that he became a custodian. He once told me that keys held the secret behind doors, they were the power in someone’s hands. He rattled his keys, jingling them in his pocket, fingering the ones that hung from his belt. I held them in my hand that day, imagining my dad once holding them in his.

As I set them aside, I looked around the room and saw my dad. In the papers lined on the shelf, in the notes he used to write. In the magazines, the silly cartoons, and the way he laughed. I even saw him in the crayon stubs, and how he brought them home to us kids, and later, to his grandchildren.

I didn’t get to see inside each box that day. Time wouldn’t let me. Treasures were tossed, and with them, a piece of my dad. My dad was in a nursing while I sifted through his things. I never told him what I did, and he never asked.

He is now long gone. Trinkets have been given away, ceramic dogs and kittens, ivory boats bought on distant shores. I no longer own the keys, but every time I hear a jingle, I think of him.

My dad never owned much, other than those things he deemed as treasures, the things I once saw as junk. But he left me something greater than any material item. He left his memory.

Thank you, Dad.

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I have never been fearless. Beneath this layer of tough and confident skin is a little girl filled with fear. Afraid of spiders and bugs with multiple legs, careening off a mountain, or falling off a ledge, I’ve dreamt of every fear imaginable. Some of my fears were illogical (like falling off a mountain, considering I will probably never go mountain climbing). Some are silly (like the spiders). Some fears, like locking the doors at night, and buckling the seatbelt in the car, are practical. But there are other fears, the ones no one wants to talk about, that are downright scary.

They are the fears inside our heads. The ones that wrap around our brains, twist inside our minds. They hold us captive, prevent us from life, keep us tied to jobs we don’t want, stop us from exploring our dreams.

I have had many fears in my life. I hid them behind hurts and scars, let them stop me from forming friendships, and even building a career. My fears stopped me from failure. But they also stopped me from success. I lived in fear, but was I really living?

Not until my accident. Until the worst fear I’d ever known paralyzed me. Until I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer phones and doors, or speak to others. I was afraid of everything, including my own family.

When I began to heal I realized that fear was, and always had been, ruling my life. I realized I needed to conquer my fears. I began, one small step at a time, going to the store, to the doctor by myself, taking classes, talking to others, and eventually, finding my way back to church.

I am still learning about fear, still working on conquering a few demons. Maybe I will be my whole life. But I am further along than I have ever been, and closer to the life I’ve always dreamt of.

I will probably never skydive, or parachute in the big open sky, and I can guarantee you won’t find me holding a handful of spiders anytime soon. But I don’t think any of that matters.

What matters is that I am no longer letting fear rule my life. I am determined to be fearless, to shed the tough skin and let the girl beneath live the life she was intended to live.

What fears are holding you back? Are you ready to live a fearless life?

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Going From 2000 Square Feet to 200

I am so excited! I have a guest this week. With a good sense of humor, and filled with information, Alan Jarrett has put together an article that will have you thinking not only about your home size, but everything you own. Without further ado:

Are You Ready To Go From 2000 Square Feet To 200?

Recently I was asked to write for a couple starting an amazing adventure of homesteading in an unincorporated area of Iowa, beginning on a completely barren piece of property. They had a travel trailer they adapted for the start of their odyssey, which eventually, through scavenging materials from demolishing old homes and buildings, were able to build a structure to help protect them and their trailer from the bitter Iowa cold.

Their determination is to document the experience on video and blog, for others who may be holding back for lack of knowledge, and perhaps their lack of belief that they can do it.

Determined to build everything, from a garage with an apartment to live in, to eventually building their home from lumber made from trees on their lot using a chainsaw mill to cut the wood. One of their projects was building a deck for their spa, which is one of the first things they completed.

Their experience is part of a movement that challenges traditional ideas about what is the American Dream. Homes have gotten bigger, more elaborate, fully furnished, with lots of space that is not always efficiently used. Enter Tiny Homes!

In case you are unaware of Tiny Homes or Tiny Houses, there are over 50 million links on Google along with images and stories. I have to admit it is amazing what you can do with next to what most might consider the same amount of space for a walk-in closet.

An average size would be 100 to 120 square feet, with larger homes still under 300 square feet. Incredible plans account for using every inch of space, providing everything a couple would need, including being mobile. It boggles the mind what you can live with, but not until the decision is made to, in Nike’s words, “just do it.”

This of course is just part of what people are doing, as we have become infatuated with space, things, and accomplishments that don’t necessarily enrich lives, especially when relationships suffer as a consequence.

Consumerism has come to dominate most lives, while sacrificing what materialism can never buy. Minimalism offers health, financial peace, less stress, so much more yet it is as individual as those who opt for this lifestyle.

Looking back 60 years in the United States, new houses were small and bare when delivered to new owners. About the only thing included were light fixtures in the ceilings, but owners had to supply light bulbs. There were no decorations, the landscaping was bare earth, some even opted to paint their homes to keep costs down (In the 60s, government housing was painted to keep costs down.)

Today, it seems a new home owner is not satisfied unless they can have it all now. A mindset that in reality is one of fear, that the so called “American Dream” might not become their reality. If carefully examined, what appeared to be a dream turns into a financial trap for most, loading them with a huge debt and an expensive lifestyle to support that will not support any drastic complications.

Enter 2007 and the economic downturn, and millions of the American Dreams turned into the worst sort of nightmare, as millions of homes went into foreclosure. Bankruptcies overloaded the courts and the American populace was in turmoil. Why? Simply because caution had been thrown to the winds over decades, as credit had become too easy, and the hunger to have it all now overloaded common sense.

While some may measure the minimalist example as extreme, there is a great deal to be said for living within ones means, which minimalists consider form the outset.

Some of the goals for those pursuing this lifestyle are simple.

• Discover peace
• Reclaim time
• Be in the moment
• Pursue passions
• Discover missions
• Know real freedom
• Be more creative
• Consume less
• Health
• Personal growth
• Discover life’s purpose
• Shed excess
• Service to others

As early as 1899 there was awareness of “consumerism,” as it applied to the new middle class that was beginning to emerge. It was seen as a new way of life that was being encouraged globally. It’s interesting to note how as an economic definition the reference about economic policies was placing emphasis on consumption.

However there is an obvious switch when it came to political definition, where it was turned into something entirely different, promoting the idea it was to “protect” consumer interests.

Times in my past recall living in a two bedroom house on a small farm. There were three sisters, me, Mom and Dad. It’s pretty obvious there was no separate bedroom for me. So Dad converted a tool shed attached to a garage for my bedroom.

It was barely big enough for a bed, a closet Dad framed out, and I had a cartable to put things on, and a gas heater for those cold winter nights.

I was 10 years old and had just gotten a morning paper route. Deliveries had to be made by 6 AM, so that meant getting up early, making my way on my bike to satisfy 60 customers 7 days a week. Being outside I could go out any time I wanted, to do whatever came to my mind to do before delivering papers. That usually led to some sort of mischief, but that’s another story.

Point here is I had no fancy bedroom and I was fine with that. No posters on the wall. I barely had two windows, and a radio Dad had built into the plywood wall. No games, no T.V., it was barely a room for sleeping.

Our house was made up of the two bedrooms, a miniature living room, and an eat-in. Can you imagine getting any bathroom time when all four of us were trying to get ready at the same time for school? The point being sure we were crowded, but we didn’t think it was so bad.

We had 10 acres to roam around in right on the edge of town, a river on three sides that provided entertainment during the Spring rains when it overflowed, a woods for me to roam in. Plenty of dead trees to use for wood to create bonfires and invite friends over for hot dogs, marshmallows, and watermelon filled with fresh fruits from our farm and the surrounding area. We thought we had it pretty good, and so did all our friends who repeatedly came for more such occasions.

Again the point is where is all the consumerism in all this? It’s not there. If we had pizza we made them, and often. BBQ pork was made by my Mom. She canned all sorts of vegetables and froze others. When T.V. dinners came out they used metal or aluminum trays. Mom would save them and make our own T.V. dinners. The time was during the mid ‘50s and early ‘60s.

To bring this into perspective, when was the last time you made a pizza from scratch, including making the dough and not buying dough already made?

Have you ever done the preparation to can vegetables, freeze corn off the cob, shelled peas to freeze? Have you ever planted a vegetable garden and cared for the plants? How about going on a picnic where the fried chicken came from home and not KFC?

Can you see how far we have come, and dependent on items that today we might actually think we can’t do without? We have been driven to consumerism to such a degree, that it became necessary to have a two income family to support all the items that were now necessary to buy, rather than provide for ourselves.

Two short years ago we made our retirement move back to Ecuador. In doing so it obviously required looking at everything we had accumulated to determine what we would sell, give to charity, and finally take with us.

The number of things we hadn’t used in years was first of all staggering. Items collected for unknown purposes, broken things kept for that eventual repair that never happened. Clothes either outgrown, or just put aside.

At the time we were in a home of 1800 square feet, just the two of us. The things we sold at a garage sale, gave to family, and the 10 trips to Salvation Army, Goodwill, and churches to give things away possibly reduced our belongings by half…no exaggeration. What is the point?

We didn’t need it. Truthfully, we just wanted it, perhaps because it gave us some sense of security. When we got to Ecuador, we ended up in an apartment of 1100 square feet. We have had stuff in storage under the beds, and in storage facilities now for two years. Curt entry we are waiting for our home to be completed, which will be another year. We have survived without all those things in storage quite nicely, depending on who you ask!

As we contemplate moving into our new home, we have far more than we need, but convincing my better half that we need to get rid of things rather than take them and keep them in storage is just finally beginning to be heard.

We have too much stuff! Getting to the place of being minimalists may be a stretch for us, after so many years of consumption, but it does not alter the fact that we are finally becoming conscious that we have too much.

While we may not downsize our home, or get rid of our transportation, there are a multitude of other things we can do to gain back our time, be of more service, discover opportunities previously overlooked, as we learn to focus less on ourselves and those perceived, inflated needs, while being more aware of what’s going on around us.

In doing so, perhaps the greatest benefit to be derived from all this, are the relationships which will gain some much needed attention. Now that’s something to look forward to!

*Alan is retired and resides in Quito, Ecuador. Writing is a passion which has resulted in two eBooks thus far, with more in the works. Married 46 years with four sons and 13 grandchildren, provides potential grist for the mill!

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