The majority of my fellow teenagers were born into a reality where short-term desires are met almost instantly.
Before a question fully forms in my head, I can ask Google. Clothes are cheaper than ever, changing on the shopping racks at an exhilarating speed.
While the tools I use in my life may be more advanced than the typewriter and rotary phone that were my grandparents’ reality, plentifulness comes with a price. The message we receive from the fast-changing modern world is that what we have is never enough.
We need the new model, the faster edition, the freshest fashion. We need more.
While society has thrown us onto the treadmill of more, with courage, thought and intention we have the power to slow it down.
While my parents were teaching me not to compare myself to others, society was showing me differently. When third grade came around and all the kids in my class had a spinner, I had to have one, too. My definition of need as a third grader was obviously faulty, but was only encouraged as I got older. The radical loss of balance between need and want that has overcome Western culture is at the core of what turns consumerism into over-consumerism.
Our success and social status is often measured by what we own. And as the bar is raised higher and higher by society, we have to buy more in order to keep up.
By the next year, all the spinners lay forgotten and were replaced by slime, which I had to have, too. When was it going to end?
By constant comparison and competition, I was being taught greed instead of humility. Maybe then I was too young to see the difference, but now, at 16, I am not.
Excessive buying means giving in to our greed, growing it into a beast with its hand in our pocket. All the energy we are focusing on the next thing we “need” to buy, we could spend on coming to terms with what we already have. We can choose to gently extract ourselves from the rigorous and exhausting cycles of over-consumerism.
I have always had an unusual aversion to shopping that has left me slightly isolated from kids my age. My generation is constantly exposed to media that are often based solely on an outer image. It takes our already unstable perception of need and want to a whole new level.
The mass production companies were not late to jump on this train of social pressure. In fact, they are often the ones fueling the engine. We are constantly being seduced by advertisements every way our heads turn. They are cunning in the way they link our desires of happiness to a certain product and exploit our human inclination toward addiction.
Studies show that our brain releases dopamine, a hormone that motivates us to do things that cause pleasure and creates a feeling of anticipation when we buy something new.
While my grandmother could afford to buy only one new dress a year, I can buy 15 and my sense of excitement wears off much faster. I have to buy more and more in order to feel satisfied. What is more, my dress will have a much shorter life span, as the quality of products has significantly plummeted to allow for cheaper prices.
Many products are designed to stop working after a short period of time, forcing us to buy more often. According to one estimate I heard, since 1950 we have consumed more than has been consumed in the entirety of prior human history.
A FEW months ago I came across a video of a man who lived with 47 possessions that he carried in his green daypack around Europe. Something about the extreme yet content way the man was living sent me on a journey of questioning the amount of space I take up in the world and my part in its ever-increasing destruction.
I am not suggesting that we attempt to eliminate all of our possessions like the man in the video is in the process of doing. Many of us were born privileged and accustomed to certain luxuries, but we have the responsibility not to abuse that privilege.
We all are aware that the climate crisis is looming over our heads, yet not often enough does it influence our daily decisions. We feel so small in the face of global changes caused by the biggest industries of the world.
I am inviting us to do one doable and practical thing: buy less.
By buying less and responsibly, we can set an example of awareness of ecological issues and doing our part in controlling what we can control.
A materialistic society teaches us that it is okay to take more than our weight’s worth. The world’s resources are limited yet are being used mercilessly to meet our need of keeping up with the latest fashion. We are playing a dangerous game of supply and demand with mass production, and the earth is getting caught in the middle.
We continue to buy into the advertisements’ societal pressure because we do not see the results of our destructive decisions. That is, we choose not to see them. We close our eyes to the 200,000 tons of dyes poured into the rivers and seas a year, the pollution caused by the transport of our products, the islands of trash formed in the ocean and the vast areas of landfills. These, and much more, are direct effects of our shopping decisions.
Over-consumerism has power only if we, as consumers, choose to give it. We can decide to buy high-quality products that will last longer, refrain from purchasing synthetic materials that are highly polluting, buy from countries with ecological regulations, and support secondhand shops and initiatives.
But most simply, we can choose to take a moment to think before we purchase. Do I really need this? That one moment is a determining step for our mental health and peace, for our children and grandchildren and the world they will live in.
The writer is a twelfth-grader at Adam high school. In her free time, she serves as a youth movement counselor and enjoys creating art and music as well as hiking.