Breaking free from consumerism

I was always am a restless guy.

Always in search of better, more and self-gratifying stuff. Like most of you might know already, that is a never-ending search.

Last few months, I have been reading (actually trying to read, rather) Thoreau, esp Walden. And I stumbled upon Richard Proenneke few days back and have managed to read 2 books and watch few videos about him.

I should admit, I truly admire Proenneke now – his craftsmanship, work ethic, simplicity, self-sufficiency and his ability to break free from societal confirmity. Importantly, being at peace with himself all the while, nonchalantly.

Very importantly, he was not running away from anything. He was not an escapist. He was not anti-social. He simply wanted to live a self-sufficient, simple and content life. Unlike Chris McCandless, who we all have come to sympathise with, courtesy “Into the wild“.

Reading about Richard Proenneke was very refreshing and helped me reflect a lot on my own (philosophy of) life.

Now come to think of our own lives these days. Let me know if you think we’re being programmed by things around us – instigated to do stupid things.

I am guilty myself many a time. My Facebook and Twitter feed is excessively narcissistic. These social media tools have made paper-philosophers out of us. We blurt out things and forget it the next moment… continuing to do so without reflecting on what shit we are writing. Fleeting momentary thoughts that we think makes us look nice and cool in front of others.

In reality, we are living empty lives – chasing wrong things. Why? Because we don’t know what we need. And we are chasing stuff driven by peer pressure and societal confirmity.

The society is trying to make you a consumer! A holy effing consumer!

We go to schools and colleges to earn a degree. So that we stand good chances of a high paying job. So that we get the ability to buy more stuff. More consumer power!

We end up doing just that… buy more stuff. Irrespective of whether we are capable of paying for it or not. The society has methods called credit cards and EMI. Buy now, pay later… for many years.

When you are buying something, like Thoreau said, you are exchanging a chunk of your life and time for it. If you are buying a house worth 50 lakhs and if it takes 8 years for you to save 50 lakhs… you are exchanging 8 years of your life for 4 walls around you.

8 years… imagine!

Yes, you need a shelter. Can you do with a smaller one? One that costs maybe half of it? Maybe.., only you can answer for yourself.

Now pile up the fluff… fancy designer clothes, kitchen decor, gadgets, TV, a car, imported cycle, DSLRs… how much of it is a need? And how much is simply externally driven want?

No, I am not questioning your DSLR or Trek bicycle (or any xyz) that you own. I have both and think I really really need them. But there are tons of things I didn’t need, yet purchased. I am just asking you to think how much fluff there is in your life.

I had a ton of fluff that I threw out in 2012… and yet still have quite a bit more of it. We are living in a society where it is easy to simply throw money at stuff without ever appreciating it. Online shopping, huge malls, advertisements, etc encourage us to do just that.

The other day I told my wife how we don’t appreciate the food we eat and the dress we wear. Yes, it only costs a small part of what we earn. So we feel empowered.

Imagine the farmer who took pains to grow the plants that feed us. Those grains of rice! The hardships he went through to make it happen on your plate.

The time it takes to grow them. Time.. can you buy time?

Imagine the same for your dress. The cotton that was woven into thread and eventually into a bit of cloth. If you really understood the value of creating something, would you throw away things? Why not mend it? Or at least, give it to someone who needs it?

We have buying power.. yeah, but does it make us better than the farmer who toiled in the sun? Maybe he’s living a better life than us… our buying power notwithstanding!

There is value in being self-sufficient, simple and frugal. In being a net-producer and not a consumer!

There is value in working on your fitness and overall wellbeing. Good eating habits, good sleep, exercise, creativity, at least some discipline, craftsmanship (what better happiness than in being a good creator of something nice) and deliberate living!

All of it is lopsided.. in our pursuit of more power and wealth. We are turning more and more dependent too.

Yes, we need money to survive in today’s society. I would feel totally insecure without enough money (How much is enough is another debate!). At the same time, it is easy to get lost in that pursuit and devalue the important stuff. It’s easy to get stuck into a life of excess – the society programs you for it.

Now, very important, I feel, is to not be an escapist! I don’t want to be a Chris McCandless and run away from things or run towards things in a fleeting momentary decision. This is something that you have to face head-on, take the time for, live through it and realize what you really need and work towards it… slowly, brick by brick.

Yes, its a painfully slow process.

It is easy to say that you are tired of the society and its consumerism / confirmity and that you will turn your lifestyle into a simple, self-sufficient one. However, if you are not aligned with that type of thinking, you will surely come back… addicted to those even more! I am trying to avoid that.

It’s a slow process of de-addicting yourself from those unnecessary things the society has created.

I am trying. Lets see how it goes!

PS: All references to ‘we’, ‘you’, etc are all intended to be references to point towards only ‘me’. I didn’t write this post for others, but for myself. To come back and read it a few times over the course of next few months and see the changes.

3 thoughts on “Breaking free from consumerism

  1. Thought provoking and true. It’s a painful process but not impossible. Am trying the same too. Being more conscious before pulling out the wallet…sometimes win, sometimes do not- but the process is on 🙂

  2. Prem,

    Very true. During 2006-2008, I use to buy whatever I like/think I need (impluse buying). When I had to re-locate back, I realized what I was doing and stopped doing it. How, I got married 😉 (jokes apart), yes its not easy, it was tough.

    I can’t say I am self-sufficient now. But I will have to try to get there. Nice post btw.

    Regards
    Kesava

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