Consumerism & Family

shopping, consumerism, minimalism

High School

My mom and I used to go shopping after I got out of school and she got out of work. It would be a bonding activity. On weekends we would set out with a list of errands that usually included going to CVS, Kohl’s, TJ Maxx, and the bank. We would come back with armfuls of plastic bags that cut into my skin from the weight of all our items.

Every so often she’d clean out some of her clothing and accessories, so trips to Goodwill were semi frequent as well. I’m not sure if she ever realized what kinds of values she was instilling in me. The consumerist cycle of buying things you don’t need and then getting rid of them ultimately caused me a lot of unhappiness. I would look around my room, at all my stuff, and wonder why I wasn’t happy. I had it “all,” in terms of middle class desires. My mom was the same, I presume, because it would never be enough. She would always be looking for a new piece to add to her closet.

College

When I moved into the dorms my freshman year of college, my mom went with me to buy all the essentials- bedding, disposable utensils and plates, decor, and storage solutions. My mom knew where we could get the best deals and she seemed to be looking out for me.

“You don’t want to be worrying about washing dishes in the dorms.”

And she was right. Our dorm room didn’t have an adequate sink or garbage disposal, and we weren’t supposed to throw food away in the bathroom trash cans. We didn’t have a stove either. There are ways around that, like compost bins and “biodegradable” plates, but it would have been a challenge. Also, I was a freshman in college. I had more important worries on my mind.

The Spark

After my grandma’s funeral last November, part of my family gathered at my cousin’s apartment. She was letting me go through clothes that didn’t “spark joy.” My cousin had recently started reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. My mom was awestruck.

“You’re giving that away because it doesn’t spark joy?”

She didn’t understand and choose to make lighthearted jokes instead. Eventually she decided to pick up the book herself. Maybe it will change her outlook, maybe it won’t. (She found the bit about talking to your possessions ridiculous.) I soon picked up the book and started paring down. It didn’t change my life, but it gave me a new perspective on my belongings.

I have been working to influence her just a little bit through my zero waste habits, so maybe she’ll be interested again to find out more about minimalism when she sees my downsized apartment. I’ve found that becoming an example for someone is better than outrightly telling them to change.

Consumerism is everywhere you look. Advertisements bombard our eyes and ears with SALES and COUPONS trying to get us to buy more stuff now. It’s easy to be deceived by their bright, flashy images. It is even harder to regain control when it has taken over your household. The first step is to change yourself because you can’t help other people until you help yourself.

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