I made the decision to join The Compact and live a nonconsumer lifestyle as an experiment, because I wanted to learn to live on less money and embrace a less materialistic lifestyle that I had a sense would make me happier. Almost two years later, I can’t imagine ever going back.
A new reader has inspired me to write this post with her comment about how she and her three kids put together their Halloween costumes for no money, when in the past she would easily spend up to $100 for costumes. By using a little creativity and resourcefulness, they had a great time and saved money in the bargain.
And that’s exactly what I love about being a nonconsumer. Rather than throwing money at a need or desire, with a little ingenuity you can usually come up with something even better. And for me, being creative and resourceful is so much more rewarding than laying down a credit card. If you can accept the idea that not having everything you want exactly when you want it really isn’t the end of the world, you can look beyond the advertisements and peer pressure and “keeping up with the Joneses,” and start to figure out what really makes YOU happy.
Not having a lot of material possessions is not about deprivation. Millions of people have always known this, and millions more are finding out. What makes us happy isn’t STUFF. But sometimes even when we know it, we keep going for it. “Maybe just this one thing… surely THAT will make me happier…” And even when it does make us happy, it’s very short-lived. Because when you step off the consumer treadmill, it may feel strange and unfamiliar at first, it may make you nervous, but I promise you it can be the beginning of something… And that something is up to you.
Our consumer culture is kind of like an addiction. It reminds me of when I quit smoking cigarettes almost 20 years ago. The main reason I wanted to quit was for my health, but another strong motivator was that I wanted to feel in control of my own life again. I felt like I was a puppet of the cigarette companies. Because in the scheme of things, did I really want to smoke cigarettes? Was that in my life plan, my long-term goals of what I wanted to accomplish with my life? Of course not. But cigarettes fed an immediate desire, and so it became harder and harder to give them up. When I did, I felt in control of designing my own life for the first time in years.
When I focused on what I’d be gaining if I quit smoking (good health and the positive, productive lifestyle I wanted), rather than what I’d be giving up (cigarettes), I was finally free to make a rational decision instead of an addiction-based one.
Being a nonconsumer isn’t about deprivation. For me, it’s about being creative and resourceful – – about giving gifts, about how I dress, about how we decorate our home, about how we travel, and about how we live our lives. And being resourceful and creative is not only fun, it’s empowering. Because you’re making a choice, stepping off the prescribed path, mixing things up a little. Saving money is a bonus.
Things don’t give our lives meaning. Original? No. Trite? Maybe. But sometimes obvious or trite happens to be true.
What gives our lives meaning are people, experiences, ritual, art, culture, a life of the mind, daily acts of kindness, and a host of other non-material things. Those are some of the main categories, but each of our individual answers will be a bit different. For me personally, some of the things that give my life meaning are my husband, my friends and family, my writing, music, art, picnics, great books, hugs, good subversive comedy, working to give something back to the community, questioning the purpose of my existence and the future of humanity, and trying to leave things a little better for generations to come.
Thanks Jenn, for your inspiring comment! I’m reprinting it here:
“I just found your blog! I love it. I totally want to embrace your lifestyle. This year for the first time EVER, I spent no money on Halloween costumes! My kids are 14, 12 and 8. My oldest son wasn’t trick or treating, but just going to a party and wanted to wear a mask. I work at a large office and sent out an e-mail if anyone had a mask they weren’t using. I had 6 choices for my son, which he like several of and was perfectly happy with. My daughter wanted to be a dead bride, couldn’t find a costume but I remembered a neighbor girl who is a little older than my daughter was that last year, and talked to the Mom and she still had it, in great condition and my daughter was super happy. And for my middle son, he was dressed as a 3 hole punch (like Jim from the office). I work at an architecture/design firm, I found black fabric samples that we didn’t need and used that to make the 3 holes. I am not joking when I say I’ve spent well over a hundred dollars on costumes for the three of them and how unnecessary that was. I can’t wait to read more of your tips. It was such a great feeling not spending money on that!”
Readers, what do you think? Please share your thoughts about what gives your life meaning, how it feels to not spend money on something you’d always assumed you needed to in the past, creative Halloween costumes you’ve come up with, or anything else this post inspires in the Comments section.