How American Culture Is Designed to Turn Us Into Consumers

Have you sat back and thought how our culture is designed to create cradle-to-grave consumers?

Start ‘Em Young

We start young. Kindergarten. Forget play. Forget outdoor time. Forget about getting physical skills like balance, coordination and strength. Because ‘This really isn’t kindergarten anymore’ - it’s the first step in a life designed around performance, productivity and accumulation.

Author Valerie Strauss describes what happens to our young children in this performance-focused kindergarten:

They can think they are a failure even before they begin their school careers.Valerie Strass @thewashingtonpost.com

Keep ‘Em Buying

We continue through school, and on into a life that becomes all about gathering possessions.

That LA Times article quotes professional organizer Regina Lark:

The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards. U.S. children make up 3.7% of children on the planet but have 47% of all toys and children’s books.Regina Lark via the latimes.com

Professional organizer.

Think about that for a moment. I know - TV shows like Hoarders have been around awhile but really?

We own so much stuff that people are in business to organize it for us? But then it’s just the same stuff, organized. Is that better?

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(Disclosure - I often half-joke that my next business will be garage organization. One episode of Hoarders was enough to keep me out of the rest of the house.)

Don’t Take Vacations

We’re so focused on performance and consuming that we don’t even slow down to take vacations. It takes the Travel Industry to create a project to encourage us to take vacations (not that they might have a vested interest or anything..but still):

The average American worker leaves three vacation days unused every year. That’s three full days that workers have earned but choose to refund to their employers.ProjectTimeOff.com

So in addition to the ridiculous “Bosses Day” we’re also gifting back several hundred dollars to our employer just for the privilege of working there?

Till It Falls Apart

Busy busy busy…work work work work…spend spend spend.

The cracks in the seams become visible. It all has to fall apart. It’s just a matter of who and when. Who will be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, first to feel the effects?

How about working moms? 

This recent study of working moms by Care.com found:

  • They work 37 hours per week then spend 80 additional hours per week on chores, childcare, and home responsibilities.
  • 35 percent feel like they’re always falling behind.
  • One in four cry by themselves at least once a week.
  • A third fight with their partner and kids.
  • 11 percent say they’re afraid they’re not making lasting connections with their children.
  • 52 percent are afraid they’re missing out on being present in their family’s everyday lives.

And their advice? Ask for help from family and friends (because, of course, they aren’t stressed for the same reasons) but also:

Consider Hiring Help. Extra hands make a huge difference.Care.com

So the way out of a lifestyle of aquistition and consumption is to…add employees?

More interesting was the missing advice. Downsize. Simplify. Reduce. Buy a smaller house. Own fewer clothes. Become a one-income family.

Because that would be un’Merican.

And We Rethink

We don’t have to live this way. Sam Lustgarten of Frugaling.org writes:

We are simply temporary custodians — holders — of physical objects that we lug around. We fill containers, storage warehouses, and entire homes with stuff. We bear witness to various forms of mass, but all fade — like us. Even the most prized possessions will transfer to someone else or perish. No matter how much home and life insurance we take out, we will eventually pass away.Sam @Frugaling.org

He goes on to advise switching to a renter’s mentality:

There’s more to life than amassing more than thy neighbor. Forego the mortgages, down payments, and constant maintenance. Choose a life that honors and recognizes everyone. When we rent this life, we recognize that we are just maintaining it for future generations.Sam @Frugaling.org

Get to or Have to?

Tomorrow is the start of a new work week.

Do you get to or do you have to?

Do you get to go work on something you love, or do you have to go work to pay the bills to pay for stuff you don’t need?

What could life look like instead?

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7 Comments How American Culture Is Designed to Turn Us Into Consumers

  1. Picture of MarciMarciMay 17, 2015

    Good one!!!

  2. Picture of KatieKatieMarch 24, 2018

    Yes! This is really timely and something I’ve been thinking about recently.

    (If you’re interested in my particular opinion/ the science side of things ...

    http://retiringtotheroad.com/stuff-cant-bring-you-happiness/)

    I have two girls, ages 4 and 6. I am particularly disturbed by the “toy opening” videos directed towards children on YouTube. They are basically videos of children opening toys. My older daughter saw one at a friend’s house and then wanted to watch them at home. I tried to explain to her why I didn’t think that those videos were the best message for children but, of course, a six-year-old can’t truly understand these sorts of concepts.

    I’m currently an early intervention teacher, which means I’m focused on the healthy development of children ages birth-3. I worry about the effects of the insatiable desire for the dopamine hit that comes from shopping when we expose kiddos to this type of behavior this early.

  3. Picture of David TolericoDavid TolericoMarch 27, 2018

    Awesome! We need to get this message out to more people. So many are stuck in exactly what you describe!

  4. Picture of SusanSusanApril 08, 2018

    Yes! This really resonated with me. We have been very introspective the last year pondering this exact issue and have reached similar conclusions. Why is our culture so obsessed with more and more “stuff”, and why do we fall so easily into this mentality? It’s a struggle, and one we hope to avoid for our children. After moving twice in the span of just under a year, we forced ourselves to purge - we no longer have that organized basement full of storage bins as in your first photo (though we did for a long time!), but we still have a ways to go. Really trying to shift our focus to experiences instead.

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