The Rise of ‘Lowsumerism’

Can you feel that? There’s a change in the air. It’s only subtle but its effects are far reaching and will, more than likely, free us from the shackles of thoughtlessness and allow for a better, more sustainable, fairer and more advanced world. This is ‘Lowsumerism’, a conscious switch from constantly buying and upgrading items to consuming less by fixing; upcycling; and swapping clothes; furniture; and appliances. And it’s happening now.

Since the 1890’s, when the industrial revolution had greased the wheels of consumption, right through to the explosion of advertising and credit in the ‘20’s, and onwards to the 1950’s ‘American Dream’ consumerism fresh from Henry Ford’s production lines, society has encouraged us to spend; spend; spend. This didn’t stop in the fifty’s , with the niche markets opening up in the ‘80’s and demanding a whole host of new-fangled gadgets, styles and options. This heady concoction of glitzy advertising, mind games and desire ploughed on into the 1990’s, with the voices of concern coming from growing environmental groups breezily ignored and the need for ‘stuff’ growing ever more pressing. During these dark days the displaced effects of consumerism were abundant around the world. Smog made towns and cities unbreathable; toxic pollutants were washed into waterways, poisoning people and desecrating ecosystems; and sweat shop organisations grew and grew, working desperate people to the bone and paying them a pittance. Yet still we bought more, our status in society somehow linked to the size of our houses, the model of our phones and the dimensions of our TV’s.

As people have started to question the effects of this consumerism on the environment; our fellow man; and our health, a ‘sharing economy’ has sprung up, with companies like Air BnB and Uber, as well as initiatives such as the London Boris Bikes, encouraging us to borrow rather than buy. However, this hasn’t done much to ease consumption, just to lessen the need for ownership. We still need to buy a plane ticket to get to our Air BnB room in Berlin, not to mention a new holiday wardrobe and a new camera to take the best pictures of our adventures. Also, we might not need a car, but we can still go anywhere we want using Uber taxis, using almost as much petrol as if we owned the car and, don’t worry, if we buy too much in town we can just get a taxi home. This doesn’t solve the root problem, the need for stuff.

So are we any happier? According to the Huffington Post online, which uses the Happy Planet Index (HPI) Calculation, the top 10 happiest places to live in the world in 2012 were as follows:

1. Costa Rica
2. Vietnam
3. Columbia
4. Belize
5. El Salvador
6. Jamaica
7. Panama
8. Nicaragua
9. Venezuela
10. Guatemala

The Happy Planet Index ranks countries based on their efficiency, and how many long and happy lives each produces per unit of environmental output.  It uses life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint to calculate each country’s score.

From looking at this list you can see that all of the top 10 happiest countries were developing countries. Their consumption will be relatively low compared to the more developed nations of Europe and North America, who have higher Ecological Footprints, thereby lowering their scores in the index.  By the way, the UK only reached number 41 on the list.

So what is going wrong? For decades advertisements have been promising us a magic pill, ‘buy our product and you will be happy’, and we’ve fallen for it! Now, however, people are starting to wake up and the once muffled voice of reason from environmental groups and alternative lifestyle gurus is beginning to get louder. According to an article for the Huffington Post Online by Gustavo Tanaka, fewer people are buying cars and overspending and more people are swapping clothes and items, learning how to fix broken items, eating organically and slowing down their pace of life. This has been compounded by a recent statement by IKEA’s head of sustainability, Steve Howard, suggesting that the West may have hit, what he terms, ‘peak stuff’. This is a peak in consumerism before a fall back down to more modest buying habits. His statement is an acknowledgement that his own business needs to change to reflect these ‘Lowsumer times’. However, with Lowsumerism doesn’t necessarily come low profits and he is reported in CBC News online as suggesting that the furniture giant is on track to double 2011 sales by 2020 by recycling and reusing old furniture. For such a leading company to recognise this shift indicates that it is real, and happening fast.

I have seen this myself from using a social media ‘swap-it-sell-it’ page to sell my old household items and buy those that other people no longer want. The size of these sites is getting bigger and bigger, with the current following of the one I use being a massive 18,856 users. Clothes swishing events are also becoming more common, along with knitting mornings and mending workshops.

Spirituality is also becoming more mainstream, with a rise in the number of people who want to find their happiness from within, not from material things. Yoga and meditation is becoming more widespread, and the NHS mental health services are using the principles of mindfulness and mediation in their care. I, myself, recently came back from a yoga and meditation retreat in India and felt for myself the power of stilling the mind. My own desire to consume more food, clothes and general ‘stuff’ has been somewhat quelled by my experience and I’m finally waking up to the fact that things don’t matter. People matter.

This is an exciting year for Sussex Green Living and we have many workshops and stalls planned to teach you the skills needed to be a ‘Lowsumer’ and to get you talking to fellow likeminded individuals. I think you will find that introducing some creativity into your home and your life will help you to create a truly individual and unique lifestyle that you can be proud of. So keep your eyes peeled for something of interest to you in our line up!
Check out the Sussex Green Living’s event page, Twitter or Facebook pages to keep up to date with what’s going on throughout the year!

Sites that inspired this blog:

Picture credits:

Contributed by Laura Haffenden

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