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How to Avoid Being Enslaved by Consumerism

How to Avoid Being Enslaved by Consumerism
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    “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Henry David Thoreau

    “Much of our activity these days is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life.” – Unknown

    “The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden in Fight Club

    Beyond a minimum threshold of poverty, money doesn’t buy happiness. Wealth may seem like a solution to your problems, but often it simply replaces the ones it solves. As paychecks increase, lifestyles usually match those increases. This results in the same financial worries and budgeting problems, just with more stuff.

    A preoccupation with owning things is a poor attempt to fill a vacuum. Occasionally stuff can fill that vacuum. Buying that new computer or fancy car might temporarily shrink the hole. But quickly you adapt to the new upgrades and the hole grows, enslaving you to earn higher and higher paychecks with no way out.

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    The Problem Isn’t Out There

    Stuff isn’t really the problem. I’m not a monk living in a temple, forsaking all consumer goods and taking a vow of poverty. I work to earn money and I have a fair number of possessions. Not owning things is not better than owning things, since they simply different manifestations of the same crisis.

    That crisis is the dualistic reasoning that says you can own stuff. My car, my clothes, my girlfriend, my husband, my friends, my anything. By knifing the world into what you have and what you do not, you commit a fatal error in understanding.

    Ownership is an invention. It’s something that doesn’t exist in nature, but a societal construct. In some ways it is a very useful construct. It allows groups to function and interact with each other. The error happens when you focus on this myth so much that it becomes real, and you can’t see any alternative.

    The Lonely Man and the Myth of Ownership

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    Pretend you were the only person on earth. You were born from unknown origins and have always lived alone. Let’s say that you are also completely self-sufficient and can survive complete isolation.

    Now tell me, what would you own?

    You wouldn’t be able to answer that because the concept doesn’t make sense to you. Without other people to compare, trade, boast and compete with ownership is an illusion. There is no stuff that is yours and not yours, just the world.

    This is why forsaking all goods doesn’t free you from the tight chains of consumerism. You are falling for the myth of ownership and fighting against it. But the person truly free of this grasp will realize you can’t fight something that doesn’texist. Canceling the dualistic reasoning of mine and not mine, is the first step.

    Replacing Consumerism

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    You can’t simply deny ownership. There is a mental space that the concept of ownership fills in the human mind. This is a space that can’t contain a vacuum. You can’t simply remove the consumerism and expect that something good will automatically fill its place.

    Some people, in the fight against our preoccupation with stuff, say that this void should be filled with spirituality, people or principles. This is where I disagree. All of those things are great, but they are specific answers for a general problem.

    An equivalent piece of advice might be to tell a man to play the violin after retirement when he has more free time. The advice may work, but it is too specific to be meaningful for everyone. The man might not like the violin, or may not want to play it all the time. Better advice would be a general recipe such as finding a hobby.

    Constructing the Inner World of the Mind

    The general solution to the consumerism abyss is building a stable inner world. Spirituality, relationships, philosophy, learning, ethics are all facets of this bigger idea. This inner world isn’t entirely detached from the material one, instead it’s a new lens for viewing what happens in it.

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    A person with a solid inner world won’t obsess over buying things or forsake the objects she owns. Instead she can view it as a person playing a game would look at the tokens on the board. Seeing past the ownership illusion, she can put all her effort into experiencing the game.

    How do you build this inner world? Throughout time people have come up with many different answers to this question. I think that the answer is so difficult to arrive upon not because it is too hard or complicated. But because of it’s simplicity and intangibility, it is tricky to communicate.

    Simply I believe the answer is learning. Not just the sub-branch of activities that has to do with education, but actually improving your understanding. This comes from a combination of experience, education and thought.

    Experience builds this mental world most directly by showing you reality upfront and unaltered. Education constructs the inner world by expanding the capacity of your thoughts. Finally, thinking sculpts the basic forms presented in experience and education.

    This sculpted internal world is difficult to describe. Many great philosophical thinkers have touched upon it but only from a passing glance rather than direct contact. I don’t believe I’ve managed to describe it directly either, but the idea remains the same. The way to break the bonds of consumerism and see past the mirage of ownership is in building a mind capable of doing this.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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