Consumption: The Real American Dream
Let’s face it. We, as Americans, love stuff. Stuff like 60″ TVs, 2010 BMW’s and $3,000 Macbooks. It’s a modern day miracle that I can park a Hummer H2 in the garage of a 10,000 square feet McMansion, order a 30″ stuffed crust pizza with unlimited toppings, sit back on a La-Z-Boy and watch “The Rock” on a 7.1 Dolby surround system. As Team America so eloquently put it: AMERICUHHHHHHH! FUCK YEA!
Spending and consuming has become so ingrained in our culture that it is now part of the American psyche: people want the biggest, baddest, most expensive of everything. Not only are we buying stuff for personal use, but it has become a measuring stick for how successful we are. Your neighbor has that new gas grill? Shit, better get the XXXTREME3000 version of that. Friend just got a Lexus? Time to throw down for the Benz. Walk outside and you won’t need to look far to find strip malls, super-sized menus, or car dealerships touting 0% payment plans. Consume, consume, consume. That’s all we do and we’ve become quite good at it.
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But as Newton said, “For every reaction, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” In a country rampant with consumerism, it should come as no surprise that our personal savings rate is near 0% and our consumer debt is $2.4 trillion. The average household with credit card debt is nearly $15k and people who make six figures are living paycheck to paycheck.
Just what the HELL is all this shit we’re buying? Have you ever looked around and really thought about how many things you own? Perhaps it’s the video games you bought for $59.99 + tax lying there, collecting dust. Or maybe the hordes of shoes and clothes sitting unused in the closet. And the pile of magazines that you subscribe to? Barely enough time to toss them out every month. Every time I’ve moved, I’ve always been amazed at how many extra, unused, things I’ve accumulated even though I’m a pretty careful spender.
I’m not going to lie, having stuff is nice. But a lot of people seem to have trouble differentiating their wants from their needs and end up with ton of unused, extra crap. I suppose a bit of it has to do with living in our own little bubble of hyper-consumerism.
That’s why I think everyone should go backpacking at least once in their life.
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In addition to the amazing experiences, people and sights you encounter on the road, backpacking gives you a completely different perspective on material possessions. When you have to fit your entire life, often for months on end, into a 40-80 liter sack, you quickly figure out what is necessary and what is not. All of a sudden, that hair dryer you thought you needed becomes a cumbersome dead weight. Maybe life does go on without a Playstation 3, a fancy Macbook, or a new LED TV. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself thinking how liberating it is to have everything you own on your back and you’ll slowly start to see “stuff” as liabilities, rather than assets, in your life.
And after you’ve been on the road for months, you’ll come home, look around, and think, “Holy shit. I really do have a lot of stuff.”
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I’m not saying that we should forgo all of our worldly possessions and go live the life of a monk. But it’s good to see both sides of the coin.
In a land with so much stuff, perhaps what we really need is to live a little without it.
from → Travel Advice