September 30, 2015 / Issue Volume 27, Number 2, Fall 2015 / Thought to Action

10 Reasons to Consume Less

By Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker

Based on his thoughtful and intentional approach to minimalism, Joshua Becker is one of the leading voices in the modern simplicity movement. He is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author. His website Becoming Minimalist is read by 1 million people each month. He is also the founder of The Hope Effect, a nonprofit organization changing how the world cares for orphans.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Joshua Becker's blog

I am trying to live a minimalist life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still own stuff.

My family of four still owns three beds, three dressers, two couches, one table with chairs, one desk, eight plates, eight bowls, eight glasses... My kids own toys and books. My wife sews. I read, play sports, and care for the house. We may be seeking to live a minimalist life, but we are still consumers. After all, to live is to consume.

But we have worked hard to escape excessive consumption. Consumption becomes excessive when it extends beyond what is needed. When we begin consuming more than is needed, boundaries are removed. Personal credit allows us to make purchases beyond our income level. Advertisements subtly reshape our desires around material possessions. And the consumer culture that surrounds us begins to make excessive consumption appear natural and normal.

Excessive consumption leads to bigger houses, faster cars, trendier clothes, fancier technology, and overfilled drawers. It promises happiness, but never delivers. Instead, it results in a desire for more... a desire that is promoted by the world around us. And it slowly begins robbing us of life. It redirects our God-given passions to things that can never fulfill. It consumes our limited resources.

And it is time that we escape this vicious cycle.

It is time to take a step back and realize that excessive consumption is not delivering on its promise to provide happiness and fulfillment. Consumption is necessary, but excessive consumption is not. And life can be lived better (and enjoyed more) by intentionally rejecting excess.

Consider this list of ten practical benefits of escaping excessive consumption in your life:

1. Less debt. 

The average American owns 3.5 credit cards and $15,799 in credit card debt...totalling a consumer debt of $2.43 trillion in the USA alone. This debt causes stress in our lives and forces us to work jobs that we don’t enjoy. We have sought life in department stores and gambled our future on the empty promises of their advertisements. We have lost.

2. Less time caring for possessions. 

The never-ending need to care for the things we own is draining our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things that we don’t need—and in most cases, don’t enjoy either. We are far better off owning less.

3. Less lifestyle envy. 

The television and the Internet have brought lifestyle envy into our lives at a level never before experienced in human history. Prior to the advent of the digital age, we were left envying the Jones family living next to us—but at least we had a few things in common (such as living in the same neighbourhood). But today’s media age has caused us to envy (and expect) lifestyle norms well beyond our incomes by promoting the lifestyles of the rich and famous as superior and enviable. Only an intentional rejection of excessive consumption can quietly silence the desire to constantly upscale lifestyle norms.

4. Less environmental impact. 

Our earth produces enough resources to meet all of our needs, but it does not produce enough resources to meet all of our wants. And whether you consider yourself an environmentalist or not, it is tough to argue with the fact that consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is not a sustainable trend—especially when it is completely unnecessary.

5. Less need to be trendy. 

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.” Recently, I have been struck by the wisdom and practical applicability of that thought whether relating to fashion, decoration, or design. A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. As a result, nearly every year, a new line of fashion is released as the newest trend. And the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest fashions and trends when they are released… or remove yourself from the pursuit altogether.

6. Less pressure to impress. 

Social scientist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, this term was used to describe the behaviour of a limited social class. And although the behaviour has been around since the beginning of time, today’s credit has allowed it to permeate nearly every social class in society. As a result, no human being (in consumer cultures) is exempt from its temptation.

7. More generosity. 

Rejecting excessive consumption always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values. When we begin rejecting the temptation to spend all of our limited resources on ourselves, our hearts are opened to the joy and fulfillment found in giving our personal resources to others. Generosity is given room to flourish in our lives (and in our check books).

8. More contentment. 

Many people believe that if they find (or achieve) contentment in their lives, their desire for excessive consumption will wane. But we have found the opposite to be true. We have found that the intentional rejection of excessive consumption opens the door for contentment to take root in our lives. We began pursuing minimalism as a means to realign our life around our greatest passions, not as a means to find contentment. But somehow, minimalism resulted in a far greater contentment with life than we ever enjoyed before.

9. Greater clarity. 

Fulfillment is not on sale at your local department store—neither is happiness. It never has been. And never will be. We all know this to be true. We all know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought into the subtle message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise. Intentionally stepping back for an extended period of time helps us see through their empty claims.

10. Greater awareness of the things that truly matter.

True life is found in the invisible things of life: love, hope, and faith. Again, we all know there are things in this world that are far more important than what we own. But if we were to examine our actions, intentions, and receipts, would we reach the same conclusion? Or have we been too busy seeking happiness in all the wrong places?

Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, it would be done more often… myself included. But it is a battle worth fighting because it robs us of life far more than we realize.

Excessive consumption promises happiness, but never delivers. True life must be found elsewhere. (Tweet that.)

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