Consumerism On Steroids

by marin mikulic
A woman, in her 30’s, steps into her new apartment for the first time. It’s a spacious, eighty square meters two-bedroom living space with her own walk-in closet which she’s had installed because she’s a woman. It’s what she’s supposed to do.

She takes off her new high heeled shoes and walks into the aforementioned walk-in closet and places the shoes among the stoic ranks of her other shoes. Or, well, she tries to. There doesn’t seem to be enough space. The shelves are full, just as they had been in her old apartment.

With the keen eye of a thing-owner, she surveys her walk-in closet and, after only about a month of living in the new, bigger, and improved apartment, she concludes she needs more space. She picks up the phone and calls a storage company which promises her a good deal for renting storage space. Now, if you aren’t acquainted with the concept, storage space is essentially enclosed air. Someone rents out to you for a monthly sum, like an apartment. Only you aren’t allowed to live in it. Or work in it. Or, well, you aren’t allowed to do anything in it or with it.

After a brief conversation, the woman agrees to rent out 4 square meters. Next Saturday, she moves a bunch of her stuff, locks the storage area, and drives back to her apartment. Even though she’s glad she’s moved some of the stuff, the apparent emptiness of the apartment unnerves her.

What does she do?

If your thought was something along the lines of she buys more stuff, then read on. There might be something for you in this article, as there was for me in writing it.

shopping" Painting by Catherine Cascio | Artmajeur
Painting by Catherine Cascio

Now, let’s remove the gender from the story and settle on the fact that the main protagonist is your average human being. Look through the window and, when you see one, you’ll get the picture. Oddly strange creatures, but what can you do.

Let’s also remove the characteristics of all the stuff in the above story and settle on the fact that it is just that — stuff. Things. Inanimate objects. This rewritten story would go something like this:

A human being has an unsustainable amount of things in the storage space it tries to live in. The human being decides to enlarge this storage/living space or rent more of it, but soon finds itself in a similar situation, thus beginning the buy-stuff-have-no-space cycle again.

I like the second story better. I think it’s truer than the first. Not because the first is untrue, but because it doesn’t cast a wide enough net. It is not that women have an obsession with shoes. That’s a stereotype. Rather, it is that both women and men have an obsession with inanimate objects made of various materials.

That’s a fact.

“We have a greed to which we have agreed.” Eddie Vedder

The curious thing about this obsession is that it is neither utilitarian nor hedonistic anymore. We do not own to use. We don’t even own to enjoy. We are past that phase. Now we own to own. We own to show we own. We own to fuel the sense of having accomplished something. How much of the stuff you own do you use on a daily basis? Monthly? How much of it doesn’t see the light of day in an entire year? How much of it, hand-on-the-Holy-Book-of-your-choosing, do you honestly care about?

There’s a story about a snail who loved to collect stones. In his slow travels, he’d always pray for rain because he liked the glistening stones best. The mansion he carried on his back got heavy over time but our little snail didn’t think much about it. Then, one day, a magnificent summer rain fell. All the ground was afire with beauty. Out of the corner of his strange, stalk-eyes, the snail spotted a gorgeous quartzite stone. The crowning jewel to his collection. Its size wouldn’t quite fit the diminishing space in the snail’s mansion, but he wasn’t willing to get rid of any of the older stones. So, feeling brilliant, he stepped out of his own house and made room for the quartzite. His eyes were teary with joy at seeing such a fine collection as his. Then, a blackbird swooped from a branch and swallowed the houseless, defenceless snail.

Photo by Fernanda Prado

We store things in our living spaces and then live in those storage spaces. Why? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an attempt to fill up some kind of an internal emptiness, or if it’s the industrialization, or the grossly underpriced products that don’t reflect the real cost of production because they’re manufactured in shitty conditions in mainland China. What matters it that we’re buying. As long as we are, there exists a demand, and as long as there’s demand, there’s supply to that demand.

The worst thing with this reckless ownership is that it is unconscious. You, like me, have never explicitly decided to stuff your apartment with stuff you never use. You just kind of grew up thinking you need this inanimate object. And this one, that one, that one over there, this one over here, another one of those, six more of those, a few of these, and here we are again — reaching for the phone to call the storage company. Or a real estate agent to search for a new apartment. Or any of the other options that don’t involve getting rid of stuff, ceasing to purchase, or needing less.

Our culture, the kind of society we’ve built, is uncomfortable with the concept of needing less, even though there has not been a time in our entire history where we’ve had so much. The sheer magnitude of the things we own is stupendous. Have you ever thought about the fact that you probably only use between 20–50% of your wardrobe? [1] You haven’t. Neither have I, until this very moment. What about the stuff in your garage? What about your garage in general?

This kind of ownership is in line with the spirit of the times — needing more. How much of a salary do you need? More. Gadgets? More. Food? More. Living space? More. Choice? More. Well, how much more? More. If you doubt this, just look at your standard, run-of-the-mill clickbait headlines:

“101 Cool Things to Buy Right Now — The only list you’ll need!” [2]

“What Should I Buy? Making a Statement for $30,000 or Less.” [3]

Need? Make a statement? To whom? What for? Who gives a f***?

There are other measures of progress than just owning more things. One of the most precious is the realization that the way to truly have more is needing less. That freedom does not come from more and bigger, but from an understanding that you really only need the skin on your back, breath in your lungs, food in your belly, shelter, and other people. And even those you can have too much of. More is not the answer. More is too much. More is much too much.

We were born naked. Fidget spinners weren’t included in the package. Neither was anything else you own. Slow down. Look around before you whip out The Credit Card. Ask yourself whether you need everything you own.

Have some room for your thoughts.

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