Consumed by Consumerism

Consumed by Consumerism

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As my RTW departure draws nigh I’ve put everything I do, buy, eat, and consume under a microscope. At first, it was a money-saving exercise. But it’s taught me one very valuable lesson: I don’t need to do, buy, eat, or consume even a quarter of the “stuff” that I used to. I don’t need to peruse the IKEA catalog just because it came in the mail. I don’t need to buy that new lamp, couch, flat panel HDTV, or Tickle-Me Elmo. Or that Audi I’ve had my eye on.

Or that pallet of fast food at the drive-thru: “I know it’s ingrained in your McEmployee training, ma’am, but I don’t need the super-sized jumbo quad-stacker cheeseburger “value” meal. The “small” half-pound patty will do just fine, thank you.”

After accepting an invite to the weekly Boys’ Poker Match at my place, one of my co-workers looked visibly agitated when I told him that I did not have an HDTV. I have a six-year old, 27-inch, “normal” television and no intention of upgrading. Why must we always have the newest, and the fastest, and the biggest, and the best? I’ve worked in corporate America with a cushy desk job and a fat salary far too long. This one-upsmanship is all too common amongst tech-heads and I’m sure in office spaces around the country as well.

Here in America, and I suspect other parts of the world, big-wig ad execs peddle wares that they hope will define us. At the Providence Place Mall here in Rhode Island, I saw a series of thirty foot tall ads, stretched as far as the eye could see, touting:

Pottery Barn. Gap. Starbucks. The stores that define you.

That’s literally what it said – no joke. The stores that define you. Talk about cutting right to the chase. For years, marketing was about visual association:

  • Buy our beer and you’ll be partying with these hot girls!
  • Drive our car and be a VIP at the hottest clubs and travel in luxury!
  • Eat this diet product and you’ll look just like this size 2 model who’s peddling (and certainly never actually used) it!

Forget all the beating around the bush: let’s let corporate marketing departments convince us of the exact brands we need to associate with in a vain attempt to define ourselves.

Oh, you’re Dunkin’ Donuts? Tsk. I’m Starbucks. I can’t associate with you.

You shop at Target? Ha. We Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware-ers can’t possibly be seen with the likes of you and your ilk. Scamper along now.

This is nothing new. But what does this have to do with travel anyway? Two things really.

First, it inspires me to get out and see the world. To hopefully witness firsthand that the Travel Channel and the folks on BnA and LP’s Thorntree forums are right and the rest of the world is not as middle-America mediocre, dumbed-down, mail-order-catalog-crazy, and consumer-driven as the U.S. has become. Certainly the U.S. isn’t alone in being consumed by consumerism and I’m not naive enough to believe otherwise. I’m also not trying to single out or specifically harp on the American people. But there’s a certain, simple purity that I see in other countries and long to experience. A purity that’s struck an anti-consumerist vein in me and encouraged me to be happier with less.

Secondly, the natural fall-out from this “happier with less” mantra is that it’s a great way to lead a thrifty life and ultimately save for your travel dreams. Let’s call it a win-win.

Try it. I think you’ll be quite surprised at just how much clutter you can happily live without.

So what have you given up that you don’t miss? Dining out? A fancy new car? Collecting Hummels?

Founding Editor
  1. Consumerism exists in Europe as well, but it isn’t as bad. I really never had the feeling that I must spend, spend, spend. That said, I still spend a lot every month. I also don’t give out significantly less as my next trip nears.

  2. Great post! I agree with much of what you said. In fact, I had a consumerism rant on my writing to-do list! You’ve set a high bar my friend.

  3. Timen: Yeah, it seems to me that much of Europe falls under the same crush of consumerism that we here in the U.S. are experiencing.

    Thanks, Dave. I’m sure much of what I’ve written is fairly obvious to most people. But it’s something that sticks in my craw and, now with my preparations for a RTW, it’s a topic that’s really been put under a microscope for me.

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