Breaking the Cycle of Consumerism

Photo by Wetsun.

By Josh Rueff on July 16, 2013

Let me tell you a sad story with a happy ending. For the sake of privacy, let’s call her Kate.

Kate was an industrious creature.

Work brought stress and appetite, but she was okay with that. She knew that all work and no play would make her… well… a boring person with a boring life.

So she liked to break the pattern of work and sleep with something enjoyable and relaxing. There’s nothing wrong with a little fun in life right?

For her this meant the excessive consumption of high quality narcotics. Bud that is.

NOTE: This is not an anti-drug campaign, but if you’re against marijuana feel free to take it that way 😉

Problem was, pot made her hungry. VERY hungry.

She would buy a bucket of chicken, convincing herself it was for dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. Of course her munchies-driven mind was never completely on board with this plan, and she would consume the entire bucket in a single sitting, scraping every greasy crumb from the bottom.

Kate would feel guilty for eating too much, so she’d wake up at 5 in the morning to run til she puked.

Then it was back to work and the cycle restarted: Work, weed, too much food, guilt-driven masochism.

Pretty rough. (There is a happy ending though.)

So what does Kate’s story have to do with consumerism?

Here’s part of the answer from one of my favorite minimalist writers, Chuck Palahniuk:

“Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love.

Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will.
At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.”

Kate obeyed her cravings and the Greeks obeyed their gods.

Who do you obey?

The Cycle of Consumerism

Like Kate, most people are stuck in an unhealthy cycle. Some people have many layers of unhealthy cycles, but there’s one cycle common to just about everyone.

The cycle of consumerism works like this:

1. Excessive consumption. Pursuing the American Dream, keeping up with the proverbial Joneses – call it what you want. Whenever you consume too much, a separate area of your life takes a hit. Alcoholism, cigarette smoking, and other drug addictions are obvious examples. But what about credit card debt? Student debt? Mortgage payments? Are these forms of excessive consumption?

2. Mandatory Labor. To keep afloat in the sea of bills and debt, people force themselves to work as many hours as it takes to make ends meet. That usually means 45 to 50 hours a week, although it’s more for some of us.

3. The stress of long and unfulfilling labor leads to… More consumption. It’s no secret most people hate their jobs. Do you? If you said no you’re either lying or you’re a part of a very happy 2% of the population (I made that percentage up, but you get the point.) In most cases, too much mandatory labor causes stress and even depression. So what do we do? We may treat ourselves to movies, ice cream, television, alcohol, drugs (prescription or not so much), fine dining, or maybe even a weekend getaway – and that’s exactly what all these things are – ways to get away; to escape the sad reality of the cycle of consumerism.

There’s a lot of reasons this is unhealthy, one of the most important being a person’s inability to create. When we spend all of our time on meaningless labor, we’re unable to pursue the more fulfilling activity of creating.

The Ending Can be Happy

By the way, like some people do, Kate ended up moving on to heavier drugs like acid and cocaine. She ended up dying peacefully on a DMT-induced spiritual journey to what turned out to be her actual afterlife.

Peace at last. Told you she had a happy ending.

Anyway, the main point I’d like to get to is that we can have an even happier ending if we find a way to break the consumer cycle.

Kate obeyed her cravings and the Greeks their gods.

Who do you obey?

There’s a lot of different voices in our ears these days, but in the end you’re the only one responsible for your decisions – it’s your voice that counts, not the countless others.

So how do we break the cycle of consumerism?

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, believes the answer is getting “back to culture. Yes, actually to culture. You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books.” That’s a pretty good point.

But what about the pursuit of happiness? I want a nice house in a nice neighborhood. I want at least two nice vehicles, one or two pets – I owe that to myself, my spouse and my children.

Do you?

Why does everyone need to have those things? Why do we owe that to ourselves? Who put that into your mind – was it the gods, mass media, the government? Was it you?

Confucius says “a true gentleman is one who has set his heart upon the Way. A fellow who is ashamed merely of shabby clothing or modest meals is not even worth conversing with.”

I say make your own way.

Find a way to avoid excessive consumerism – break the cycle!

Jarod Kintz wrote: “The problem with Marxism is the proletariat isn’t going to rise up against capitalism and consumerism. The only time they’ll rise up is during a commercial break to either go to the bathroom or grab more beer.

He may be right and he may not be. I’m not sure there’s need for a mass uprising, but your personal life may need a coup against a mindset you didn’t ask for.

Can living simply break the cycle of consumerism? Is minimalist living the answer? The only one who can answer that question is you.

Good luck!



  1. Mr Simple July 20, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    Deep, shallow, smart and relevant. You are an excellent storyteller. We should coauthor a post post work and the fear barrier :).


    • Josh July 23, 2013 at 5:34 am #

      Thanks! I’d like that a lot – Currently I’m swamped with good but time consuming work, but I’m really looking forward to making that happen!

      I should have a lot more time within the next week or two. It’ll be nice to catch up on reading your latest – it’s been too long already.


  2. greenminimalism July 23, 2013 at 3:07 am #

    Hi Josh, I haven’t heard much from you recently and am missing your posts. Are you really busy in real life?


    • Josh July 23, 2013 at 5:30 am #

      Thanks for dropping by – I am ridiculously busy but I’ll be back to posting more often within a week or two (I hope). I appreciate the feedback, I’ve missed reading your posts as well, always a great read. It’ll be nice when things start cooling down – I’m definitely looking forward to it!


      • greenminimalism July 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

        Great. I love the quotes in this article too, particularly Jarod Kintz and Huxley’s ones. The Huxley quote suits me, anyway. Difficult for me to consume when I only read books and exercise.


        • Josh August 8, 2013 at 9:34 am #

          Absolutely! This is something I’m still trying to perfect – I think I may need to quit the TV cold turkey though – once I get going it’s hard not to waste a couple of hours watching shows that benefit me in no way whatsoever.


  3. Rob August 2, 2014 at 5:10 am #

    You have no idea how much I agree with this post (and the whole category). Its nice to know there are still thinking people out there!


    • Josh September 8, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Rob!


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