Do possessions bring happiness or the opposite? NOTE: Not a scientific chart by any measure, except my own experience to this point.
Recently I was in a store killing time while I waited to meet up with someone and I took stock of all the items that were available to purchase.
This store wasn’t special. In fact, the most striking thing about it was its lack of speciality. It was a type of general store and offered anything and everything it could get on the shelves in case someone wanted to purchase anything at all.
There were many tempting things to purchase, but I left the store buying only one: a package of air fresheners for my automobile. The package cost $2 and I purchased it because I thought it would add value to my traveling life.
Most everything else in the store? It was crap — disposable, low value, low priced, crap.
As I make this journey to minimalism, I’ve reached a mental state where I start giving a conscious thought to how I spend every dollar. It is starting to shape every buying purchase, and is helping to curb new items from coming into my life that don’t need to be there.
I call this state of mind peak consumerism.
Our local library recently re-opened after a major renovation. On opening day my wife and I went to check out the new digs. The building is stunning. It’s equipped with video games (presumably for the teens but they might have to fight me for it), video and music rentals, meeting rooms, a small concert hall, books (of course), and even soundproof rooms equipped with computers and recording equipment for those who would like to try their hand at making an audible creation.
While walking through the library, I had what should have been an obvious thought: libraries are a minimalist’s best friend. You don’t need to own books, you can rent them for the price of your taxpayer contributions. The more modern libraries (like ours) takes that a step further with even more items you can use without purchasing.
Because of this, I’m working on getting rid of the last of my books and the bookshelf along with it. I’ll keep the few books I deem important, read the ones I want to finish before I donate them, and be done with collecting bound trophies.
A change is already upon us
While at a conference earlier this year, I saw a car with a pink mustache attached to its bumper. My curiosity got the best of me, so I approached the driver to ask what it was all about.
She was a driver with Lyft, a service where people use their own automobiles to act as a taxi to others for a fee. Other services are getting into this game as well. Uber and Zipcar also offer alternatives to owning a car. In nearby Kansas City, Bike Share KC lets you rent bicycles to ride around the city. I saw a similar service at that same conference where I saw the Lyft car.
This summer has been filled with little projects, one of which was building up the foundation of my house with dirt to provide a better grade for water to drain away from the foundation. I found a company to deliver two tons of soil to my house, but I needed a way to move it from the delivery spot in my front yard to various points on my property. I went to the hardware store to purchase a wheelbarrow, but the thought of paying at least $40 for something I’d likely only use once and then need to store it didn’t set well with me. And then I remembered that only a few more blocks away was a place that rented all sorts of tools.
I rented a wheelbarrow for the day and didn’t even have to find a place to store it. Total cost to me: $12.
There was an age where I put a lot of time into building up my music collection. I made my entire collection digital and donated or sold the CDs, but what was I to do about new music? The library is certainly one option, but recent changes in the music industry has led to another option for those who don’t care to own the files: streaming music. Spotify, Pandora, and Beats Music have made this perfect for someone like me.
Movies are no different. Netflix has allowed me to watch movies and TV shows without a single box having to enter my home. Amazon’s Prime Instant Video and Hulu are other options. And if you want to purchase something and can live with the walled garden of DRM’d movies, buying movies for download from Apple, Google, or Amazon are fine alternatives as well.
That’s not to say you can do all of this for free. But it certainly can be much cheaper. My Netflix subscription is pennies for what I get and Spotify offers ad-supported listening, for example.
But what these new offerings bring us are alternatives to the need to have an abundance of space solely so we can store physical items. If you think about it, that does factor into cost when you consider the price of needing to buy a bigger home or renting a bigger place to accommodate storing your possessions. How many dollars per square foot are you willing to pay to store your movie collection, or in my case, your empty DVD cases?
What other changes will peak consumerism bring?
I am unsure if peak consumerism will occur on a wide scale. A majority of people love to purchase and own things. But I do think that individuals reach peak consumerism, and that can translate to a trend over time.
For example, one thing that has captured my attention recently is the tiny house movement, where people build customized, intentionally small houses. Many cities have building codes that require a minimum size that exceeds what these buildings end up being, so workarounds are made by building the homes on trailer frames and parking them on land somewhere.
Of course, to live in a tiny house means you have to sacrifice a lot of your possessions, which turns the occupants into forced (or desired) minimalists. I have some doubts that I could pull it off with a four (soon to be five) member family, but you never know … it’s all about thinking outside the box you’ll be living in.
But if peak consumerism becomes more widespread, change will occur. City codes will need to be altered or traditional home ownership will decline. Laws created to favor tax services will need to change to allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate legally in some areas.
But ultimately, the buyer has the power to simply say, “no.” Consumption is not the only option. We can choose to resist the urge to mindlessly consume and instead be thoughtful about each and every purchase.
We can achieve peak consumerism as individuals, or we can reach it en masse, but I believe a sea change is happening.