Conscious Consumption: Be Free, Not Owned
“The things you own, end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club
In our North American culture, we tend to live according to subtle unquestioned assumptions.
One such assumption is that ownership is a normal human condition.
“What you own is yours, and what I own is mine.”
Makes sense, right?
Yes, according to our cultural norms, this is the current trend: a social agreement that even our laws are set up to enforce and protect. And, most of us take great pride in what we own, especially those things we’ve worked hard to attain. I mean, why not – objects, “things,” and “stuff” can often symbolize and represent something beyond the possession itself. This is why we can get so attached and emotionally invested.
Our “stuff” can begin to feel like an extension of our identity and an intricate piece of our life story. Our possessions can take on emotional charge… positive or negative. Our psychology connected to possessions is quite profound, and living in a culture of consumer sovereignty can present some challenges.
Challenge #1 – Consumption is Necessary, Ownership is Not
Let’s face it, you were born naked.
You entered the world with nothing – absolutely nothing.
It even took a while to figure out that the consumption of air was a good idea!
Consuming air is a good idea.
So is the consumption of nutrients.
Of course, the consumption of anything that helps you stay alive and thrive is a good idea. So it really is clear to see that consumption in and of itself is not a bad thing at all.
Whether you like it or not, you’re a consumer… we’re all consumers.
Our design demands it.
There are essential elements we cannot live without.
An important recognition is that anything your design demands also has a mechanism for cycling it back to where it came from.
You inhale, you exhale.
You intake nutrients, you excrete excess waste (to say it nicely).
It really is simple - input and output.
If you take a step back and observe, your sustainability as a living organism is cyclical and interconnected.
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell shares the true story of Chief Seattle, the last spokesman of the Paleolithic moral order. A request was proposed to Chief Seattle by the US Government to purchase the tribal land.
Within his response, Chief Seattle asks a critical question…
“Will you teach your children what we have taught our children?”
What do we teach our children?
And perhaps more importantly, what have we been taught?
Challenge #2 – Ownership is Learned, It’s Not a Natural Human Condition
In our culture of consumer sovereignty, we’ve been taught to consume beyond essential necessity, and we’ve been taught to believe that more is better. This assumption may be true in a circumstance of scarcity; however, we live in a land of plenty. Our landscape of excess stuff has become commonplace, and thus requires an updated belief system.
Even though we enter this world with nothing, it doesn’t take long for the conditioning to begin. In healthy families, babies are snuggled close, often wrapped in a warm blanket, and it’s not long before a little plush-stuffed companion is introduced all fluffy and cute and cuddly.
As explained through simple psychology, this creates a conditioned attachment to the item associated within the bond between caregiver and baby. It’s aptly called a transitional object. We’ve all seen it, or even experienced it ourselves in the form of a favourite blanket or stuffy toy. This form of attachment extension is useful for healthy development and a sense of transferable safety in our younger developmental years.
Consequently, our culture hasn’t managed this adaptive strategy well, as it has extended beyond our developmental attachment years. We’re constantly bombarded by messages pushing for us to purchase our next transitional object as if it’s a necessity – the next possession that will help us feel secure or complete.
The consumption of necessity has morphed into the consumerism of excess.
Consumption in excess is not natural. No other species on earth consumes in excess like we do. One subtle assumption that leads us into this unnatural space is the notion of ownership.
Challenge #3 – The Things You Own End Up Owning You
Ownership is nothing more than a social construct, and we’ve grown accustomed to it. We even call our stuff “possessions,” and we often treat our possessions as an extension of ourselves. In some cases, we even associate our identity with what we own.
Like consumption, the concept of ownership is neither good nor bad in and of itself. However, it can become unhealthy when we blindly embrace this construct without managing it intentionally. Blind embrace often creates accumulation, and it’s this accumulation that becomes unhealthy. The more we accumulate, the more we have to maintain, and manage, and protect.
Maintaining, managing, and protecting our possessions requires resources - our personal resources of time, energy, focus, and finances.
The big house needs to be cleaned.
That perfect yard needs to be maintained.
The paint on that new car needs to be protected.
The excess stuff needs to be stored… somewhere.
And the list goes on and on.
It’s this reality that leads us to become possessed by our possessions. We become a slave to our stuff as the accumulation becomes demanding - physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding.
The Solution – Conscious Consumption: Essential Necessities & Essential Luxuries
You have the power to break free from social constructs and reshape your assumptions and understanding of ownership.
Anything beyond the essentials for survival may be seen as luxury, but luxury becomes an essential element for thriving, because even though survival is great, you most likely want to thrive!
Thriving requires essentials beyond the bare necessities of survival.
This is where conscious consumption becomes so important, as it becomes critical for you to determine and define your essential luxuries.
So what are essential luxuries?
Essential luxuries are the things you require to thrive and feel most alive, they’re things that help you express the most meaningful parts of yourself.
For instance, a painter needs a canvas and paint, a surfer needs a surfboard and waves, and a dancer needs music.
Therefore, your essential luxuries - what you choose to possess and claim ownership of - need to reflect who you are, enhancing what makes you feel most alive. Your essential luxuries need to fit your unique design. A gardener requires a garden, while maintaining a garden would become cumbersome to someone wired for travel and adventure.
Excess, anything beyond essential necessities and your unique essential luxuries, becomes cumbersome and limiting and consuming. Conscious consumption enables you to choose what you own, breaking free from overconsumption and accumulation, allowing you to be free… not owned, bogged down, or burdened.
Find your fit. Own it. Live it!
Written by Brad Kauffman, M.A.