The Case For Consumer Culture

My recent flirtation with the world of minimalism has been brought on by many things. As I've talked about in other posts (here, here, here), my interest in consuming less partly has to do with my move abroad, partly with my growing interest in supporting independent designers, and mainly – most likely – it has to do with my age.

But based on conversations I've had recently with friends, I can't help but wonder if my surroundings have had any sort of influence.

When I lived in New York, I felt a pang to buy something new nearly every single day. As soon as I would leave my apartment and hop on the G, I was overcome with a desire to buy new booties, just like the pair the girl four seats over was wearing. Off the train and walking down Broadway or 2nd Avenue to work, I'd want to buy something at 6 out of the 10 stores that I passed. I even tried listening to the audiobook of "Walden" to shake this feeling, but it didn't work. 

American culture in many ways is built on consumerism, but that's something I was never fully aware of until I moved out of the country, and out of the culture. We're a nation that loves its holidays and celebrates any and everything we can. And with each celebration comes a myriad of accessories, door decorations, food stuffs, and so much more.

Someone on the outside could easily look at this as America the forever-consuming. In some ways they're right – we definitely love decorations, new school supplies, a wardrobe for the new year, a flag for fall, another flag for Halloween, another for Thanksgiving, and so on. The list of items available to purchase to celebrate traditional holidays is wide and deep. But after living outside of that crazy consumer culture, I've come to realize that I kind of really like it.

Before I go any further, let me explain. It's true that the only place I've lived outside of the U.S. is London, a place that's highly influenced by American culture. It's also a city that's arguably as obsessed with shopping and consumerism as any large American city might be. I've also only been here 2.5 years – not long enough to make a real statement about consumer culture.

But I have my experiences and those experiences are enough to inform my opinion. So here's what I've found, plain and simple:

Without the huge store displays and over-the-top celebrations, for me, holidays don't feel like holidays. For those of you who aren't from or haven't lived in the UK, here's what you should know: Easter and Christmas are huge here but celebrated differently than what a consumer-focused American might be used to. Other holidays? Not really a thing. 


What to expect:

For Easter – four-day holiday with a big focus on the all-important chocolate egg.

For Christmas – lots of time off, a focus on Boxing Day, gorgeous light displays, and a serious love for the company Christmas party. (Spouses are usually not invited, planning begins as early as spring.)


What you shouldn't expect:

Halloween as you know it. Door decorations of any kind, anywhere – at least in London. Aisles of candy.


What's funny is, without the consumer-crazed focus on holidays, it almost feels like they don't really happen. It's as if the year all blends into one from the holidays in December to the next holidays in December. Who knew that the candy aisle at Kroger was serving as my life's time marker?

Earlier this year in the World Food section

I'm sure that a lot of folks reading this might find it sad that I'm even dedicating blog space to talk about consumerism, or that I, in a way, "need" the decorative fan fare to give a holiday its real flavor. Shouldn't it be about the experiences you have with your loved ones, and the memories you create from those experiences, rather than a new Halloween costume?

Yeah. But the thing is – it is about the experience. I have memories of shopping for Christmas trees with my grandparents in a giant lot, picking out pumpkins and matching pumpkin carving kits with my parents, buying new Halloween decorations, and maybe even grabbing some Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes (the best) as a special treat to celebrate.

All of those activities are consumer driven. And if some Mad Man hadn't originally told me and my family that we needed to do them then we maybe never would have. But the thing is, I don't really care – even if these memories are associated with consuming in some fashion, it's consuming that I did with my loved ones, and that formed our memories. 

Talk to me again in six months when I'm back in the U.S. and making my way through Target the week before Halloween (or Valentine's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Columbus Day, etc.) and I might have a different opinion.

But for now? I've seen the other side, and have decided that I'll take my holidays with a bit of over-the-top consumption. It's who I am and if you don't like that, well, I'm keeping my extra large bag of candy to myself.