We Need to Stop Wasting Our Money On Things We Don’t Need
It’s November, and there sure are no shortages of shopping events — with Black Friday in the U.S. on November 29th this year, and Singles’ Day in China on November 11th — consumers are set to spend more than $45 billion in total. With China’s average urban household disposable income at an all time high, rising 6.5% per capita in 2018, and U.S. households facing a 0.4% rise in 2019, hyper-consumerism is more prevalent than ever.
Hyper-consumerism refers to the consumption of goods for non-functional purposes and the associated pressure to consume those goods exerted by the modern, capitalist society, as those goods shape one’s identity.
Whilst these numbers may be a good sign of economic growth, in reality, they are quite worrying. Here are some reasons why.
This year, Singles’ Day in China created over 300,000 tonnes of waste packaging in just 24 hours. According to Reuters, the volume of packaging is on course to reach a total of 41.3 million tonnes by 2025, generating more and more waste each year.
And Black Friday is none the better. The U.S. Post Office estimates a delivery of 900 million packages between Thanksgiving and the New Year this year. Whilst there are no official numbers, combining the amount of waste produced from both Black Friday and Singles’ Day could see the figure potentially reaching up to 1 million tonnes.
It’s hard to imagine that number. What does 1 million tonnes look like? It is roughly the equivalent of:
70,000 football fields.
With a lifecycle of up to 400 years for plastics to decompose, it’s incomprehensible how our waste from November 2019 alone will impact our planet. And that doesn’t include all the things we will throw away in the future after buying them.
“For people who don’t have purchasing power, the ability to be able to buy something that is a necessity at a discounted price is obviously a benefit. For other people with more than enough, it just perpetuates a consumption-oriented society, which has an adverse effect on the environment.” — Nicholas Ashford, Professor of Technology and Policy at MIT
Not only does hyper-consumerism effect our planet, it effects our well-being too. According to the American Psychology Association, materialistic values may stem from early insecurities and are linked to lower life satisfaction.
“Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology.” — David G. Myers, PhD
Tim Kasser, a psychologist and author, writes in his book, ‘The High Price of Materialism’: “The cultural climate of consumerism creates the very circumstance where love, control, and esteem are not securely experienced, and in which an ever-present tendency to compare oneself to others is fostered.”
In his study, the Aspiration Index, a questionnaire to measure people’s values, Kasser sampled 100 adults living in a diverse neighborhood of Rochester, New York. He found that: “Adults who focused more on money, image and fame reported less self-actualization and vitality, and more depression than those less concerned with these values… they also reported significantly more experiences of physical symptoms… more headaches, backaches, sore muscles and sore throats.”
The classic saying that ‘money can’t buy happiness’ rings true in psychology. Money may buy temporary happiness through our extrinsic motivations, such as material goods. But it does more harm than good to one’s intrinsic well-being and our psychological needs. Perhaps it is no surprise that depression rates were found to be higher in developed countries such as France and the US*, according to this study.
So what’s the takeaway?
Whilst sales and discounts may be extremely appealing, as consumers, we should not forget the larger implications of days like Black Friday and Singles’ Day. Not only is the environment at risk with hyper-consumerism, our well-being too. Next time you want to buy something, ask yourself — do you really need it? Will it give you long-term happiness? Are you going to need this thing in 1 year?
As we close in on the holiday season, let’s try and do things that get us spending more time with our loved ones, and not our material goods.
*China is a developing country. However, urban China, or Tier 1 cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen are the largest and wealthiest — often considered the megapolises of China where household incomes are highest.