Is our value in what we own?

Minimalism: Consumer Culture and the Family

A long-time friend (we were roommates in University) has decided to simply her life.  After moving from a large home to an apartment, she is now moving a second time and simplifying again.  As a result, she posed the question on Facebook: “Who is it that decided that we needed different types of drinking vessels? I have 23 glasses of 4 types plus 13 mugs/cups. I’m pretty sure I don’t need 36 vessels from which to drink. ‘Tis a sign of successful marketing for certain. I’m now debating how many to purge without my friends thinking I’ve gone over the edge in my embracement of minimalism (or my use of the word vessel).”

How many glasses are enough?

She has a point.  Through effective advertising, social norms evolve.  These norms suggest that different glasses serve different functions and, depending on the meal, you may need more than one glass per person as illustrated in these table setting guidelines.

There is considerable pressure for people to conform to social norms.  We want feel a part of the group and desire the approval of others.  This, then, influences the choices we make, including what we choose to buy.  Thus, we may have wine glasses with ones suitable for white wine, others for red and others still for champagne because advertisements have told us the differences matter.  We have juice glasses, water goblets, mugs, highballs, shot glasses and more depending on our drinking style and preferences.  Indeed, I wonder what might happen if we stop to consider how much cupboard space is used by vessels whose primary purpose is for beverages.

How much stuff is enough?

If we are honest with ourselves, we might have to admit that the number of drinking vessels we possess are merely one example of the plurality of things we buy because we think we need them.  What might happen if we challenge ourselves to consider how much we really need?  What we could do without?

While it seems trivial to even have this conversation, the fact remains, wartime homes are far smaller than what is popular today.  We have amassed so much ‘stuff’ that we require more space to store it.  There are those who have garages that are filled with stuff to the point where it is impossible to park a car.

What are we teaching our children?

This is the norm today.  We are told over and over again to buy our happiness.  In the process, some complain that Millennials are an ‘entitled’ generation because they expect to have things.  To some extent, they are merely conforming to the expectation that we all have a role to play in consumerism.  Have we considered what this might mean for the next generation?  How will our children relate to ‘stuff’?  What pressures will they feel to buy?

Listening to our children…

How often do we hear from our children that they ‘need’ this gadget or that piece of clothing?  How often do we recognise when they reflect back that willingness to conform to a norm that says we must buy and buy and buy?  To what extent do we want our children to see our ability to participate in consumer culture as a sign of our value in society as a whole?  What might we do to introduce values which focus more on the gifts our children have within themselves so that they can find value in sharing their talents, time and treasure in meaningful ways?

There will always be advertisements telling us to buy.  What can we do/what are we doing to teach our children that their value is about something other than what they own?

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