A helpful reframing of consumerism

Today is Black Friday, which means there’s even more messaging than usual reminding us of how much we “need” and pressuring us to buy. I’ve definitely seen a lot of ads on social media that put me into a scarcity mindset and make me feel stressed out!

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve been grappling a bit with consumerism and my place in the capitalist economy. One internal move that I’ve been trying to cultivate in response to these ads (this week and before) was to remind myself of how the products being advertised to me were just fixtures aimed at making me feel dependent on my job and thus trapping me in the loop of consumption and exploitation. However, on many levels, this wasn’t actually a helpful thought.

People have many reasons for wanting to do something. When it comes to consumption, there are external reasons (e.g., advertising, social pressures) and internal reasons. Often the external reasons will create/feed into the internal reasons, but I think the core of all the internal reasons is that: We are all suffering. And we think that buying that one thing will make our lives better and thus make us feel happier. A lot of marketing has to do with facilitating the construction of that narrative in your head for the given product, but I think there is some truth to those thoughts and no longer want to act as if materialism is a purely negative capitalist mindset.

For instance, I was talking to my friend Sofia-Jeanne about accessories and clothing when I visited New York a few weeks ago. She said something that really resonated with me, about how, for a long time, she tried to not care about her appearance, because how she looks shouldn’t matter. But she stopped resisting when she realized that, even if she wanted to believe that her external state shouldn’t affect her internal state, it did—and expressing herself through her dress contributed to her confidence and the way she carried herself.

With that in mind, I think that, while it’s true that there are many things that we don’t need that are marketed to us as though we do, there are also a lot of things that we want that we genuinely believe will make our lives better somehow. (How accurate that belief is is something that may be best learned through trial and error. Life is short! And most places offer free returns anyways.)

After identifying the internal reason(s) for why I want something, it’s been really helpful for me to think, “I’m doing this because I want to help myself.” This thought is a gentle reminder that the externally-induced scarcity mindset and anxiety are not(!!) helping me, and allows me to maintain a healthier outlook towards consumerism and my consumption.