Obsessive Consumption Syndrome
As a shop owner, you may not want to hear this, and trust me, these words aren’t meant to be preachy. However, as a shop owner, passionately committed to selling body-mind-spirit products, these words just might save hours (or even lifetimes) of guilt, shamefully confessing to whomever you confess to. There’s an addictive epidemic spreading like wildfire. Tongue-in-cheek, I’m branding it “Obsessive Consumption,” a disorder so normalized, a condition so generalized in our possession-crazed culture, we scarcely notice it.
Your fingers might be already plugging your ears to block what I have to say. Don’t leave just yet! Give me a minute. It’s worth your while for sure.
What is Obsessive Consumption?
Here’s my definition: O.C. is an addiction to the purchase and acquisition of things whether they are needed or not.
In my opinion, like other addictions, O.C. is based on deep-seated, primal, survival issues. Subconsciously, people are futilely trying to fill a sense of existential, indefinable emptiness. They might be fruitlessly trying to get unmet needs fulfilled. Or, they’re attempting to suppress fears, sadness, or anger.
They buy things they not only don’t need, but may not even want. Why? To feel important or special; get approval, acceptance, love; to step out of boredom; get stress relief; feel in control; solve a problem or feel safer. Even though it doesn’t work and never will.
In an individualistic culture, such as Western society, things now equal personal identity. Objects are how people relate to one another and the world. Unlike Egyptian Pharaohs, we may not insist on being buried with our possessions, believing they’ll accompany us to the afterlife, but we make sure to leave itemized wills to continue spreading the importance of those precious acquisitions. Things ‘R Us should be the logo.
What makes O.C. different from substance abuse is that it’s openly encouraged, tempted by slick advertising. Throngs of people devote their lives to manufacturing items that aren’t needed, promoting them relentlessly, dismissing the ridiculous notion that people could live without these tchotchkes.
Let’s be clear: This is not implying we should go back to living in caves or start living in stark white rooms. The truth is, beyond the basics, there’s not much any of us truly need. In this credit-card funded, instant-gratification society, undoubtedly we own much more than essentials. In fact, most possess just about everything we want. If a genie arrived to grant three wishes, there may not be too much we’d be able to come up with to ask for.
Upon arrival in this physical world, we’re trained to associate material things with happiness and comfort. When a baby cries, we offer a toy. Growing up, we continue the cycle, even when repeatedly experiencing that the joy provided by objects is short-lived at best. Those resisting what they’ve been fed – that things equal happiness – are scorned, labeled as radicals, or termed religious zealots ascetically surrendering their worldly possessions.
Are We Part of the Problem?
When every conceivable want and need has been met, economic growth depends on coming up with and selling some pretty useless items. Admit it: Your mission, as a shop owner, is to continue this cycle. If you choose to accept it. Sadly, since brick-and-mortar retailing is quite the challenge, many drink the Kool-Aid and wonder why they just don’t feel right afterwards.
We’ve become proficient at convincing customers that they DO want something, maybe even NEED it. We wave that latest, shiny, gift show discovery in their line of vision, subtly inferring that it’s now or never. We boast its capabilities like a circus barker. When their wallet relents, we feel successful, knowing they helped pay the net 30 invoice waiting impatiently on our desk. We sigh with accomplished relief.
However, as a consciousness leader/business owner, is there part of you that feels a tad ashamed? Do your thoughts veer to what will actually happen when they get this trinket home, and, in a relatively short time, lose interest in it? Do you ponder if they’re feeling buyer’s remorse, wondering why in the world they shelled out hard-earned money for it? Do you muse whether they’ll feel resentful toward your enabling skills (AKA sales pitch) that somehow got past their logical discernment? Do you entertain the fact that their purchase provides entertainment that lasts about as long as drinking a glass of wine? Most importantly, do you envision this item ultimately sharing its final resting place in a landfill, impacting future generations? Is the Kool-Aid leaving a bad taste in your mouth?
Clearly, purchases made to fill holes never provide wholeness. Rather, they can cause long-term problems such as debt and even more emptiness. They can result in lowered self-image, guilt, and feeling out of control.
In the film The Story of Stuff, filmmaker Annie Leonard discovered that, of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after a sale. Even goods we might expect customers to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolescence (going out of fashion).
Far too many of the products we sell won’t even become obsolescent since they have no use in the first place. Here’s a telling challenge: Look through your shop and take a mental inventory of things you carry that have little or no use, things that will be set on a shelf next to other useless items, forgotten about in a drawer, or sent post-haste to a trash bin. Not that everything in your shop has to be strictly utilitarian – beauty and soul nurturing are profoundly important.
However, with our planet and oceans inundated with plastic waste, and many not holding onto things for sentimental value, how are you contributing to this impactful scenario? The materials used, the forests destroyed, the waters poisoned, and the fossil fuels needed for manufacture and transport, are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production. We’re all trashing the planet through our addiction to consumption.
So, what’s the solution?
The question customers need to be asking themselves is: “Spending on what, why?” As a shop owner, your question is: “What can I do to support people to spend money in mindful, constructive ways?” Here Are Some Suggestions:
Conscious selection of products for your shop – Always find out whether something is made in an earth sensitive way, is recyclable and is manufactured in Certified Fair Trade conditions. This may mean some re-thinking of your inventory selection. Make sure to explain to vendors why you’re making changes, and it couldn’t hurt to request they do the same to keep your business!
Discourage impulse purchases – Studies show that over half of purchases are considered impulsive, with marketers aiming to stimulate mindless spending. It might feel risky to be the rational adult when, clearly, a customer wants something to plug that empty spot within. However, they just might thank you in the end, maybe becoming a life-long mindful purchaser.
Under indulgence – Yes, we all have certain customers who dependably pay our rent with their frequent indulgences. However, actively encouraging their overspending, although good for your bottom line, will ultimately cause conscience aches. And karma-aches.
Sell meaningful – Granted, items are only as meaningful as an individual decides they are. However, seek out products that are heartfelt, perhaps make an important statement, provide some soul nurturing, or add beauty to a home. Don’t give in to fads, items that afford a short-lived giggle (remember Big Mouth Billy the Bass and pet rocks?), or things that are guaranteed to land in a junk drawer.
Sell useful – Offer products that are useful yet unique, things that are needed but never found at big box stores. For example, mass-produced soap available in supermarkets is obviously not appropriate for a specialty shop. However, a locally made, small batch, healthy, organic, aromatherapy scented soap just might be. Especially since, once hooked, customers will loyally return for more.
Sell growthful – If body-mind-spirit is touted in your mission statement, educate customers about what that means. A line of inspirational cards; inner development books; holistic remedies. Anything that helps people evolve, transform or discover.
Sell living – Did you know that in 2017 the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who bought houseplants reached a record high? Among other things, greenery clears toxins in the air and helps us feel calmer and homier in city life. Support those green-thumbed, aching- to-care-for-something apartment dwellers by providing a selection of living things in your shop.
Express love creatively – An imperative part of retail is helping people express caring by purchasing gifts. Diminishing the health of the earth and its inhabitants to accomplish this is incongruous, hypocritical and shows that they don’t really care. Give customers creative options! Cookbooks to inspire baking a cake for their honey; elegant journals to write them love poems; personalized towels to wrap them in warmth, hand-created jewelry that will be worn for years, etc.
Bragging rights – Tell your customers and the world exactly what you’re doing and why. Spread the word to a larger audience by sending out press releases including pictures (local papers love local stories). Put educational signs in your displays and insert in their bags. Add information to your receipts. Post on social media. Not only will people appreciate your planetary commitment, they might do a bit of navel gazing at their own O.C. levels.
Look in the mirror – Often, we subconsciously choose a profession to help in our own healing journey. With that in mind, what is your personal relationship with O.C.? Are you in the object-selling business because of your own unresolved addictiveness? What is the hole you’re trying to fill? Is there something you’re supposed to learn that will help your higher evolutionary process, and thus, your customers?
Essentialism: The opposite of O.C.
Imagine you’re out for a nice dinner and, instead of asking for a doggy bag, you scarf every drop of that yummy pasta until you’re stuffed. The following day, you’re bloated, disgusted at how much you overate the night before, sickened at your lack of self-control. “Now, I need to go to the gym and work off those calories, but that rich food from last night is making me not want to move off the couch. I think I’ll just veg and read all day. After all, it’s been a tough week and I deserve to relax.” If this scenario sounds familiar, think of how good it would feel to NOT do that. Admittedly, faced with a plate of scrumptious food, it’s easier said than done. And, instant gratification is tough to logic away. Just like it’s challenging for customers to not snap up a bargain, or purchase that knickknack guaranteed to make their life complete.
With that picture in mind, let’s talk about essentialism, which is defined as the disciplined pursuit of less. It’s a mindset, a way of life, a minimalistic choice to apply constantly, and, eventually, effortlessly. Based on how far into over-consuming and overdoing and over-everything we’ve become, this is an idea whose time has definitely come.
Essentialism is about applying a more selective criteria for what’s essential, what’s truly important, what fits with your mission statement. This quest allows regaining control of choices so that you channel time, energy and effort into contributing toward goals and activities that matter.
The way of the essentialist involves doing less and prioritizing better. You then make the highest possible contribution to your life, your soul and your business’ highest purpose. It challenges the core assumption that “we can and should have it all,” replacing it with the pursuit of the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. It sees beauty in simplicity rather than more-is-better. Part of essentialism is being honest with yourself: Where am I out of balance and why? And, the perks? The feeling of being overwhelmed goes away; life feels in control; there’s more time and energy; and ultimately, clarity of direction.
For the stereotypical overachieving entrepreneur, aspiring toward essentialism gives tremendous freedom. It puts life into perspective, allowing you to feel like you can accomplish even more. Instead of waking up each day feeling rattled with how much you have to do, never knowing where to start, manufacturing excuses to avoid doing things, essentialism can give structure to even the most A.D.D. brain.
As you commit to your inner essentialist life, it becomes second nature to encourage it in your customers. Instead of encouraging “you simply must buy this__,” your attitude will be “do you really feel that this __will be cherished, useful, add joy and beauty to your life, and not end up in a landfill?” Your sales spiel might have to transform, but you’ll figure it out. The best part? There will be no guilt to confess!