About three years back I was involved in a self imposed month long social experiment. I wanted to see how easy or how difficult it would be to detach myself from consumer culture. For one month I was going to commit to buying only items that were essential.  I had never really been the type of person who was into labels, having a lot of stuff, and hanging out at the mall. Given my lack of being a consumer I thought “no problem, this will be a piece of cake”.  

Well it was a piece of cake, chocolate cake to be exact on day one, and day two, up until day three. That was the day I stepped into a Target.

My intentions were honorable; I was there to purchase something for my home. What exactly that something was I did not know. Until I saw this beautiful, brushed stainless steel, every so sleek looking spatula.   

You see buying stuff for my home was OK, because it was for my home, and not for me, so it was essential. Right? Especially if that something was a kitchen gadget. And kitchen gadgets, I rationalized, are essential because I have to cook, so I can eat, so I need another kitchen gadget.  Right? Plus it was so beautiful, and it would look so good once I got it home, and it made me happy (I think), and I had been working hard, and didn’t I deserve some happiness in my life.

The crux of Consumer Culture is the belief that consumption will provide me with happiness. Meaning that the more stuff I have the happier I will be (if only this were true there would be many happy people in debt). The problem with this model is the pressure it puts on our environment. More consumption equals more stuff that goes into our landfills, and more emissions that come out of the factories that produce the goods, and from the transportation industry that gets these goods to me and you. The other problem with consumption is that it does not contribute to greater happiness or fulfillment. (Take a look at this article by National Geographic on Consumer Culture and the Environment).

For me the spatula (remember its brushed stainless steel), was happiness. At least happiness in that moment 

As a friend of mine, a self professed shop-a-holic, puts it “(consuming) is a high. When I am looking for something to purchase I am on a high, I’m happy, I’m excited, until I purchase it then the high fades and I have to start the cycle all over again”.  

I believe I was in that very cycle when I was contemplating my purchase. And here is the irony, since I was never heavy into purchasing a lot of personal stuff (such as jewelry, a gazillion shoes, designer clothing) I thought I was immune to this very thing.  

You’ll be happy to know that I did not purchase the spatula (though it probably would have enhanced the taste of my omelets). I also took the one month of learning and extended it over several months. I can’t say that I was completely faithful during that entire time since a new spatula mysteriously showed up next to my other two (I think it must have been a sleep shopping incident). I did realize that the consumer culture belief system has more influence on me than I initially thought. 

Realizing this at the hands of a spatuala (sorry no pun intented here) was, indeed, a very humbling experience.

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Author: Anila Muhammad