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Consumption: The Real American Dream

2011 April 26
Make it rain

American consumer spending habits in a nutshell.

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.

– – –

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.”

– – –

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.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011

    Love the post. I haven’t really gone backpacking like your adventures through countries, but I’ve gone ‘into the woods’ backpacking. I remember the first time when I went for a week and hauled around a 60lb pack full of STUFF for the most part. Like you said, one slowly realizes what is really needed and that 60 lbs pack dwindles down to your 25 lbs of needs.

    I’ve followed your blog for a while and really posted to let you know your post sounds remarkably like my favorite quote from the movie Up in the Air.

    “How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.

    • Paul permalink*
      April 26, 2011

      Thanks for reading! Great quote, I totally forgot about that part in the movie.

      I’d wager that backpacking in the woods is even more hardcore than going to another country. But it’s pretty eye opening when you are contemplating tossing hundreds of dollars worth of gear because you realize it’s useless and purely dead weight!

      On the backpacking trails, you always hear people tossing half their stuff because they over packed. A good rule to follow is: pack everything you need, take half of it, and bring double the money.

  2. NPLF permalink
    April 26, 2011

    You are absolutely right. I’ll start cleaning house and throwing junks pretty soon 🙂 🙂

  3. le wy permalink
    April 27, 2011

    ill never forget when you went through my birthright israel packing list and crossed out their “suggested” items, making “5 shirts” into “2 shirts” and “3 bathing suits” into 1. My mom found it when drew was packing for israel, and was very confused.

  4. November 13, 2012

    This website is awesome.

    Dude, Where have u been all my life?

    its almost difficult to believe that people making 100k are living paycheck to paycheck, however i know some of these people. Black Friday is coming up, if you really want to the gross side of consumerism head to the local mall and see people in line to buy stuff….
    Bill recently posted..Travelling – Life’s Best Adventure

    • Paul permalink*
      November 13, 2012

      Isn’t it crazy? Black Friday is probably the epitome of it but hey, when you need your stuff, you need your stuff.


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