We tend to think that consumerism is about doggedly clinging to our wealth, trinkets and toys. In actuality, however, the opposite is true: consumerism occurs as the result of not loving our stuff at all. We have so little attachment to our material goods that we dispose and replace them with ever increasing regularity. Consumerism, in this light, is the rampant disrespect of one’s physical property.
I first came across this paradigm through the work of theologian William Cavanaugh, who articulates this concept with cunning poignancy:
The detachment of consumer is also a detachment from the things we buy. Our relationships with products tend to be short-lived: rather than hoarding treasured objects, consumers are characterized by a constant dissatisfaction with material goods. This dissatisfaction is what produces the restless pursuit of satisfaction in the form of something new. Consumerism is not so much about having more as it about having something else; that’s why it is not simply buying but shopping that is at the heart of consumerism. Buying brings a temporary halt to the restlessness that typifies consumerism.1
Want to be less consumeristic? Try becoming more materialistic. The first step to shutting off this chaotic rampage of resource throughput is to love and appreciate what you already have.
William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), p. 35 ↩