Life SkillsUnclutter Your Life
Reclaim Your Mind, Body, and Wallet
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"Our culture has evolved into a consumer culture and we have evolved from citizens to consumers. Gratitude for what we have has been replaced by a sharpening hunger for what we don’t have. ‘How much is enough?’ has been replaced by ‘How much is possible?’ .
North America is the most consumer-obsessed society in the world. Mega-corporations exploit us through hollow promises:
People in North America work longer hours than in any other industrialized country. Despite fewer people per household, the size of homes continues to expand rapidly2. Advertisements fill our eyes every minute—in schools, bathrooms, on food, on buses and even in the sky. They compel us to consume, consume and consume, regardless of what we own or earn. What are the consequences of this compulsive consumer lifestyle?Seven Perils of Consumerism
Consuming is far from harmless. A lifestyle focused on consumption does the following:
1) Wastes your time—When you flip flyers, search aisles and wait in checkout lines, you lose precious time. When you own a bigger house, an extra car and more appliances, you organize more, clean more, repair more—and lose more precious time. Consumerism steals your time to relax with family, engage in worship or help the community.
2) Distracts you from your goal—Our routines absorb us each day as we earn, buy, store, clean, organize and discard "stuff". We have little time to contemplate why we perform these tasks and possess these items. Slogans of "Buy now! Enjoy now!" emphasize instant gratification and obscure the deeper purpose and priorities of our lives. We rarely remember to show gratitude for what God gave us. The more we ‘consume', the more consumerism distracts us from our goal of pleasing God. God warns us that,
"The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things) until you visit the graves." [102:1-2]
3) Increases your needs—As you own more, your needs increase. A bigger house requires more furniture, more curtains, more decorations and more cleaning supplies (maybe even a maid!). Now you need to work longer hours to maintain your bigger house. When you work longer hours, you have less time so your needs increase again—you now need outside food, more childcare, a dishwasher, and a vacation to escape the stress! Consumerism traps us in a cycle of ‘own more, need more, work more'. Kalle Lasn in his book, "Culture Jam", explains our dissatisfaction:
"Plentitude is American culture's perverse burden. Most Americans have everything they could possibly want, and they still don't think it's nearly enough. When everything is at hand, nothing is ever hard-won, and when nothing is hard-won, nothing really satisfies. Without satisfaction, our lives become shallow and meaningless…we embrace the value of More to compensate for lives that seem, somehow, Less."
4) Enslaves you—The fashion industry, with the media's help, creates, sells and alters styles to keep you spending. If you follow the latest trends, wear what's ‘in' and avoid what's ‘out', ask yourself why. Are you letting wealthy fashion and media leaders control your wardrobe and your wallet? As Lasn explains in "Culture Jam",
"Brands, products, fashion, celebrities, entertainment—the spectacles that surround the production of culture—are our culture now. Our role is mostly to listen and watch—and then, based on what we have heard and seen, to buy."
5) Creates more responsibilities—God tells us in the Quran,
"Then (on the day of judgement) you will certainly be questioned about all the favours you enjoyed." [102:8]
Are you ready to account for everything you consume—how you bought it, how you used it, how you shared it? As you own more, you increase your burden of responsibility.
6) Weakens your health—Juliet Schor, in "Born to Buy", shows that children who lead a consumeristic lifestyle, spending more time watching television and shopping, face greater health problems such as obesity, depression, and low self esteem. Even adults who are responsible for more financial and physical wealth suffer greater stress and stress-related diseases. A simple lifestyle, with meaningful physical and mental activities, can protect your health.
7) Destroys your Environment—An individual in a developed nation consumes three times as much meat, nine times as much paper, and eleven times as much gasoline as an individual in a developing nation. This materialistic lifestyle sucks up natural resources and dumps tonnes of waste on the planet. Imagine a single piece of paper—energy and resources are used to:
You are not responsible for the air and water polluted by the factories and machines that produced this paper. Within seconds you use this piece of paper (perhaps only portion of it) and throw it out. More energy is used to transport this waste and dump it somewhere. Where does our garbage go? Many toys, electronics, and household items North Americans consume and discard ends in piles on landfill sites in developing countries where the toxic chemicals seep into water and soil. Each item we consume involves consequences we rarely consider.Eight Ways to Confront Consumerism
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, "The best livelihood is the bare minimum" (Ahmad). So how can we live simply in a culture that loves luxury? Here are eight tips to start:
Make the intention to confront consumerism so you can take back your body, de-commercialize your life, and reclaim your identity!
Lasn, Kalle, Culture Jam (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999).
Schor, Juliet B., Born to Buy (New York: Scribner, 2004).
Gregory Mock, "How Much Do We Consume," World Resources June 2000, 22 Feb. 2006 http://earthtrends.wri.org/features/view_feature.php?theme=6&fid=7.
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