Why Cant We Stop Consuming?
It’s not new information that human-made objects flood the Earth’s surface, killing up to 1 million people every year.
And the systems that we live within have a clear motto. The more you buy, the merrier.
There’s a deep link between consumption and our identity.
Our identities influence and are influenced by what we consume and consumption exerts enough of an influence on our lives that it becomes part of our identities.
Let me explain.
What’s Your Identity?
In a nutshell, identity answers the questions ‘who am I’ and ‘where do I come from.’ It encompasses where you grew up, who was your community, your preferences, your body, and other infinite amounts of sources.
We can divide these into two: our social and personal identity. The former is about belonging in a group, while the latter has more to do with your inner goals.
And when we shop, it all comes down to fulfilling our identity’s desires.
Why Can’t We Stop Consuming?
There are countless reasons why we won’t stop consuming, from psychological to marketing ones.
But it all comes down to living in a system that needs to produce money and always spend it on stuff. If we want to be kinder to the planet, the obvious solution is to stop this, but we can’t seem to do it.
You see, identity is mostly thought of at the individual level. But when it comes to consuming, it tends to focus on social identity and the pressures that come with it. We begin to have relationships with materials, which then become part of our lifestyle and identity. And we all know that without an identity, we basically don’t exist.
Researchers, sociologists, marketers, and brands all know this very well. We tend to buy things that will feed the self and positively change others’ perceptions about us. We have needs for self-affirmation, distinctiveness, and self-validation.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s no harm in wanting people to like me or see me. And there isn’t. Not until we overconsume for fear that our identity will disappear.
Quick Trends Plus Multiple Identities Lead To More Consumption
Sociologist Georg Simmel explains that we want to stand out with fashion, but we also want to fit in. We will try to differentiate our style from the rest but not take it to an extreme where our community might ignore us.
And in today’s world (this is especially true for the younger generations), to be part of the ‘cool’ people, you have to follow trends.
So, what happens if we stop buying the newest trends?
We fear that society won’t identify us and won’t see us. There’s a reason why fads exist. They change rapidly, so people have to buy more and more stuff they don’t need. And our social identity getting threatened is a pretty great motivation to keep buying.
Keep in mind this is just one small drop in the whole pond. When you add to it neuropsychology and marketing trends, shopping becomes harder to tackle.
Sociologist Fred Davis talks about how the modern world makes our identities increasingly multiple, making fashion increasingly ambivalent. More identities to fulfil makes for more stuff to sell. We’ll have a full wardrobe for our gender identity and another for our favourite soccer team, for instance.
But Is Buying Wrong? If We Stop It, Will We Disappear?
The best example of this question is fashion. In all human history, fashion has offered us a canvas to express our identity and culture. But that doesn’t mean that if we stop buying it, our identity disappears.
Identity is much more than the symbols we own, even if that’s central for you.
But what if I still enjoy shopping?
The power of fashion is that you can choose your identity. It acts as a second skin, capable of creating something meaningful to the self or favourable for particular situations.
We might attribute elements from our culture and transform them into something new. With this, we announce to the world who we are, who we want to be, and even who we don’t.
Fashion is a metaphor for all our identities (gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, etc.).
So you see, fashion is essential, it’s the opposite of superficial, and it’s healthy. It’s proven to be excellent for your mental well-being and positive self-image. The garment in itself is not the one that offers confidence and purpose, but its meaning to us. It’s just a matter of how you access it. Are you buying ten items you know you won’t use or are you getting that one unique piece you know you will take care of?
Conscious Consumption Is Worth It!
Choosing who you want to be and how to feel a particular day comes alive when deciding what and how to consume.
But it’s important to understand that quick trends don’t have to define our identities.
Find what works best for you, use clothing that will make you and the planet feel healthy. Like many of us say, vote with your wallet. Don’t let the system control your feelings of identity, but rather take ownership of them.