This is the cycle of hyperconsumerism: shop excessively, stockpile clutter, repeat. America is built on this wasteful but effective concept, which causes us to ravage people and the environment yet keeps our economy afloat. How do (and how should) we think about this issue?
For most of my life, I didn’t think twice about my typically-American lifestyle choices. Some of those include:
- Leaving a store with several items I didn’t intend to buy initially
- Buying new things often
- Having piles of clutter throughout my living space
I never questioned these actions because frequent, frivolous shopping is so normalized in our culture. Entire stores exist with the seeming purpose of encouraging us to buy things we don’t need (shooting you a side-eye, Target). Almost every household in a first-world country contains some amount of excess.
Towards the end of 2019, I stumbled across two books which changed my perspective and ripped the blinders from my eyes. Shopping by Michelle Gonzalez is about 100 pages and provides illuminating information on American consumption levels. Gonzalez, a Catholic, spends a portion of the book delving into the spiritual implications of this issue. I also read We Are All Fast Food Workers Now by Annelise Orleck, which pries the shiny veneer off our first-world lives of luxury to reveal a dark underbelly. Our materialistic lifestyles are held up by foreign and domestic workers who are impoverished, mistreated, and miserable.
Now, my lifestyle looks drastically different. I don’t buy things without a lot of critical thought on whether I will REALLY use/need/love it and where I will store it in my home. I almost never leave a store with more than I went to buy. And I consider the conditions around which things are made–what resources did it require? Was it made in a sustainable way? Are the workers who made it getting fair wages?
During the Coronavirus quarantine, I’ve been decluttering, organizing, and cleaning (among other things). I’ve read of and spoken with others who are doing the same. For those going through that process, we are being reminded how much junk we own. And for all of us, whether we are or aren’t in the midst of spring cleaning, we are being deprived of many “impulse shopping” outlets. No T.J. Maxx, no Hobby Lobby, no Forever 21, no Marshall’s, no Zara’s (in-person stores, at least). I feel slightly diabolical for saying this, but I’m GLAD people can’t access as many stores right now. Temporarily, we’ll have to be less mindlessly compulsive than usual.
I don’t want to cram “everything under the kitchen sink” in this post, so I’ve got some ideas for future posts:
- Shocking Statistics on American Consumption
- Ways to Shop Sustainably
- Ways to Save Money & the Environment
- Reviewing Sustainable Purchases I’ve Made
So, now, there will be a new category on Retrospective Lily–“Sustainability.” 🙂 [Updated website graphics coming soon!]
I’ll wrap up this post by saying that hyperconsumption is not good for our wallets, our already-overflowing living spaces, or the planet (not to mention, our mentality/spirituality). However, the American economy depends on our materialism: millions upon millions of people work in a retail industry…hence my feeling “diabolical” for my earlier comments. Speaking of monkey wrenches, we must also consider how those in poverty can participate in sustainable practices; as with the fast food vs. fresh veggies predicament, it’s generally cheaper to live UNsustainably. I plan to explore the nuances of this topic in future posts.
Exploiting the environment, people, and even our own spirits is not sustainable long-term. We need to change. We can, and I believe we will, do better in the future. Surely, we can find ways to sustain our economy without destroying God’s creation.
Thanks for reading! How are your shopping habits? Do you have excess in your home? Let me know in the comments.
Another blogger pointed out recently that our seemingly-unanswered prayers could actually come to fruition after we’ve passed on from this life. That is an encouraging thought for me. I pray that, throughout my lifetime and even after I’ve passed on, ideas of waste reduction and caring for the environment will continue to grow in popularity to a point where they are eventually normalized. I hope Americans will look back on us in a few generations and scoff at how we did things.