19 Comments

  1. Your experience is such an interesting one! I loved all of my professors who extolled the virtues of simplicity (and there were quite a lot of them). I think it’s because, deep down, I was looking for permission to minimize my life. It didn’t seem like something I could do on my own, so I need someone ‘smarter’ than me to tell me that it was a viable option.

    I have written about this before and I do agree with you – guilt is not the way to inspire change. For me, guilt makes me more likely to accept the status quo because it makes me shrink and feel small and feel shameful for my decisions.

    The best way I’ve found to tackle consumerism is to recognize that the marketing messages you’re getting are inspired to make you feel bad about your life. Like, you’ll only be whole if you buy that one purse or pair of shoes. That mindset made it easier for me to change my consumption habits.

    • For me, it wasn’t the marketing. OK, it’s *always* marketing. But the big thing for me was divorcing consumerism from family time or a hobby. “Let’s go to the mall” or “Let’s meet for coffee at Target” was so problematic.

  2. I think leading by example is the best bet. It’s more like, “hey, this is what I’m doing,” and it can implant ideas into other people’s heads.

    I am, however, very curious to know what DID spur you to change your ways then? If there’s a post that talks about which I’m blatantly oblivious to, feel free to point me that way 🙂

  3. One of my best friends used to say “Guilt is a wasted emotion.” Her philosophy was that once you recognize that you are errant in your action, all energy should be channeled into change, and not wasted in feeling bad. Easier to say than to do, but I agree with the underlying notion. The best way to change someone’s outlook is through respectful discourse, consistent example and patience. No one ever changes just because “you said so.” But once people see the benefits of your actions in your own life, you might see them subtly move in your direction in order to gain some of what they see that you have.

    • I think that was exactly what this professor could have done had he put away some of the vitriol. I do wonder, though, if part of it wasn’t a defense mechanism. Some of my classmates were jerks. I was stubborn, but I would never make fun of someone for any choice they make. So I think when you’re put on the defense, it’s natural to act in a way that puts others on the defense as well.

      And AMEN to guilt being a wasted emotion.

  4. Totally agree with your post and this issue has been one of my pet peeves for some time. Not just with consumerism, but all kinds of otherwise well-intended and very respectable movements and issues, from veganism and sustainability, through ethical shopping and zero-waste goals, to decluttering and simplifying. Some people take it so far that it becomes counterproductive even if they mean well. Shaming people for their lifestyle choices is definitely not the way to go forward. Sharing information, offering tips, inspiring without preaching are much better in my opinion. And also, emphasizing that it’s not an all or nothing game – small steps do matter.

  5. As you say, guilt will never have the convincing power needed to change.

    “Those convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still”

    As I have looked at changing certain things about myself or in an attempt to help others change, a good dose of Simon Sinek goes a long why. You’ve got to “start with (your) why”.

    I’ve made a career change and embarked on a more frugal lifestyle. Those decisions are hard to make on their own, but with a wife and 4 kids that I am responsible for it makes it even more difficult. But when your “why” is large enough, you’ll do anything to change.

    While Sinek may never attain the fame and wonder of Nietzsche or Thoreau, he has provided a valuable tool in not just advertising/selling but in making changes to your life!

    Thanks Penny!

  6. Guilt is not a great way to motivate any change in behavior. The best way I’ve found to tackle consumerism is to cultivate contentedness and the feeling of having “enough”. For many of us, we don’t buy things because we need them and we probably already have something that would do just fine.

  7. Haha oh man… that sounds like something I would do, just to be obstinant. I wonder if you made him think the same way he made you think. All or nothing never does well, and I think you’re very right on guilt just pushing people to dig in their heels even more.

    • I learned so much in the class. And man, could I write about conspicuous consumption! But I couldn’t quite hold the mirror up to myself. I did a lot of thinking, but I’m not sure what kind of processing I did.

  8. I’m a middle-aged grown-up and your description of the professor makes my eyes roll. You were exactly right to counter him with knowledge about Thoreau’s privilege. It is easier to preach and dress like he did when you’re a white dude with a phd. (Or in Thoreau’s case, your mom still does your laundry.)

    I think there’s something even deeper going on than guilt… there’s some SES stuff that allows him to have so little care in his personal appearance, but college age you didn’t realize that throwing together name brand everything didn’t make for an appropriate wardrobe for a 2pm college class. You may think you had blinders on, but not only did he have blinders, but he was also kind of an ass about it.

  9. Preachiness does not inspire behaviour change – I think my mentioning the importance of striking the right tone helped me snag my last job at a financial literacy org 🙂

    Guilt has played kind of a different role in my life personally, feeling guilty for what I have compared to many others and for still wanting more. It’s a pointless emotion and does me no good nor anyone else.

  10. Some people still use Coach haha 🙂 (not me though) RIP 2008 fashion brands!

    Lovely post, leading by example is usually the best way sorry that your prof was so preachy!

  11. Melissa

    I’ve never known guilt to work very well aside from what we impose on ourselves. At least you had fun with it. Mostly it’s difficult to get someone to care or change unless they’re interested themselves. What do you think would’ve worked for you?

    • I think a lot of the reading we did really did make an impression on me. He was just so overzealous. It was really intimidating to come to class knowing that you were the “what not to do” every day. So then I just leaned into that role, I guess.

  12. I think I embraced a more minimalist lifestyle because I was just sick of things. In college, I rented rooms from people, and I always felt overwhelmed by my stuff. I never connected it to the weekend spending sprees I took after money hit my account or my terrible habit of coming home and falling asleep with clothes strewn all over the floor or even all the starving children in Africa (surprisingly, this one does come up a lot). I was just done with stuff. So when the hubby and I got married, I got rid of a lot of it. So did he. I still feel like we have too much. Books still liter our tables, and occasionally I don’t put clothes in hampers, but I feel freer, and the things that we do have (minus maybe my shoes), I enjoy and use frequently.

  13. I love college Penny. Wearing clothes that are badly mended is a choice that only some types of people can make and still have their “place” in society.

    There’s definitely a balance in the middle ground, but dude was a jerk and in a position of authority. I’m glad you waged your own little war against his self-righteousness, and that you learned a thing or two from the readings and gradually changed your lifestyle to something more in line with your present values.

  14. Karin

    I think it’s wonderful that your professor taught you about values, not just facts. And that you was sufficiently inspired to rebel! I would have been overjoyed if my (engineer) students had taken such a profound interest in my teachings.

    (And not to judge but… 200 pair of shoes? Seriously? How ever could you need or use so many? I am officially baffled.)

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