Consumerism is wrecking our lives.
We consume, so we can forget about our boring 9-to-5 lives. Buying stuff is how we kick back. But this in turn further chains us to our jobs.
It’s the perfect vicious cycle.
Fortunately, there is a way you out. By learning how to want less, you can break free from the cycle. Minimalism will become your gateway to a more exciting life.
- The Disease of More
- The Problem With “More”
- What “Less” Does and Doesn’t Mean
- How To Want Less — A Step-by-Step Guide
The Disease of More
Most of us suffer from the disease of more. We want bigger houses, faster cars, and finer clothes.
There are two reasons for that.
1. The Shopping High
The first reason is what I call the “shopping high.”
It’s the euphoria you experience when you drive that new car off the dealership or unbox your new iPhone. It’s wearing a new dress for the first time or putting on your new designer sneakers.
These things make you feel giddy with pleasure.
Unfortunately, just like any high, the shopping high wears off. The longer you own the thing, the less you get excited about it. Around the two-week mark is usually when things start to feel dull again. Now you need another fix.
2. Status Signaling
As a society, we judge the success of an individual by how many costly things they own. The guy in the Jaguar is respected. The bum is despised.
There are strong sexual undertones to this.
Men use wealth to attract women. Riches say, “Look, I am resourceful. Get with me, and my resources will be your resources.”
Women use luxury goods to signal their expectations. Here, riches say, “I am something of high value. To get with me, you better deliver.”
These behaviors are not necessarily conscious. We might really think we like Jaguars or Louis Vuitton handbags.
But what we truly like is to be desired.
The Problem With “More”
So, you enjoy shopping. What’s the big deal?
It is a big deal. On a global level, consumerism is killing us. The production of consumer goods accounts for about 42 percent of greenhouse gases. We are cooking up the planet, so we can order more stuff on Amazon.
On a societal level, consumerism keeps us in place. Buying stuff makes our boring 9 to 5 existences more bearable. But when we treat ourselves, we become even more dependent on our jobs. Credit cards don’t pay themselves off.
On an individual level, consumerism is a massive time-sink. We spend weeks researching what computer or car we are going to buy. We drive to outlet stores in different states. And all the things we own, we have to store, dust off, and repair.
Consumerism is a disaster. Thus, we must learn how to want less.
What “Less” Does and Doesn’t Mean
“How to want less” will mean different things to different people:
- It can be used as an excuse
- It can be a tool for better productivity
- It can be your exit from the rat race
Let’s untangle this.
1. “Less” as an Excuse
“Less” is sometimes turned into an excuse.
Some people, to cover up their own laziness, will say, “I am already enough. I don’t need to become more.”
But this is not the real meaning of “Less.” It is not about rationalizing your lack of drive. When it comes to personal growth, you always want to shoot for “more.”
2. “Less” as a Productivity Tool
We only get so much energy to spend in one day — or in one lifetime, for that matter.
Thus, it makes sense to pick one area of life and zoom in on that. With that type of focus, you are bound to succeed.
But try to juggle too many projects, and you will accomplish nothing.
“Less” in this sense is a strategic concession. To excel in one area of life, we must reduce our energy expenditure in other areas.
3. “Less” as an Exit
When you consume next to nothing, you can work less or quit your 9 to 5 altogether. It means more time for reading, hobbies, and loved ones.
In short — more, better experiences.
Experiences are where it’s at. They determine if your life was spent well.
By curtailing consumerism, life can come into its own. That is the most profound meaning of less.
How To Want Less — A Step-by-Step Guide
You can learn how to want less without feeling like you are missing out. Here is how to go about it.
1. Think About Past Purchases
Whenever you are about to make a buying decision, remind yourself of past buying decisions.
The excitement that you felt back then about a certain item — do still feel that today? Of course not. It never lasts.
Once that realization sinks in, saying “No” to your next purchase becomes much easier.
2. Shut It All Out
Consuming is all about opportunity.
For example, if fast food is readily available, chances are, I will end up eating fast food. But if there is no fast food around, I won’t eat it.
Therefore, rid your environment of temptations:
- Get rid of your internet at home and your mobile internet, so you can’t order stuff online.
- Stop consuming media, so you won’t be exposed to advertisements.
- Hang out with other minimalists, and avoid consumer types.
- Try monk mode.
- Move from a temptation-rich environment like a big city to a less tempting environment, e.g., a mountain hut.
3. Put Things Into Perspective
Sometimes, when you are feeling greedy, you should remind yourself of what really matters.
For me, this works best with relationships. When I imagine what it would feel like to lose a loved one, my desire for “more” goes away quickly.
4. Despise Status
In the eyes of the world, you are what you own.
You don’t really want that house in the Hamptons. You want the social status that comes with it.
The best way to overcome this fixation is to observe this status dependency in others.
The middle-aged guy in the Porsche, trying to impress the girls. The trophy wife flaunting her jewelry. The cool kids at school all wearing the same $300 sneakers.
Come to abhor this mindlessness (the principle, not the people). You will soon want to have nothing to do with it.
5. Study the Rich
I know people who make less than $30,000 a year but absolutely love what they are doing. And I’ve met people who make $ 3,000,000 but are miserable.
To drive this point home, start hanging out with rich people. Observing their misery firsthand will help you get your priorities straight.
6. Throw Stuff Out
Once you warm to the idea of living with less, you should start throwing stuff out.
Here is an easy process:
- Make a list of the few things that you want to keep. This is less overwhelming than picking up every item you own and asking yourself if you want to keep it.
- Put all the stuff you would throw away in moving boxes. Then try out living like a minimalist for a month. If you like it, get rid of your stuff. If not, no harm done.
- Prefer dumping stuff over selling or donating it. The latter two quickly turn into excuses to postpone action, as they require more preparation.
If you would like to learn more, check out my article on extreme minimalism.
7. Understand That the Desire Will Pass
Whatever thing you want so badly right now, it will pass.
Today you want a guitar. Tomorrow you will want an iPad. The day after tomorrow you will want a designer leather jacket.
Our material desires are like clouds — they come and go. Wait for long enough, and the desire will dissipate.
8. Remember Your Mortality
We pretend that we have all the time in the world. Hence, we don’t mind wasting it on petty things.
But the opposite is true. Life flies by. Wasting your time on toys and gadgets will one day soon make you weep with regret.
Save yourself that pain.
9. Enjoy the Process
Status addiction is outcome addiction.
When I started training in BJJ, I soon realized there were types of fighters — those who wanted to get to the next belt or stand on a podium; and those who loved the game, the act of training itself.
If you obsess over the result, nothing will ever be enough. But if learn to enjoy the process, every day will be filled with joy.