There is a lot of pressure at this time of year to dive unquestioningly into mass consumerism. Adverts and peer pressure have encouraged us to believe we will be happier, hipper and whole-er when we have more stuff, preferably the latest incarnation.  We also believe we need to shower other people with similar stuff to show we care. This makes it a great time to ask students to consider if this is actually true, and if not, what’s really going on. You might help them make happier choices, increase their sense of freedom and take pressure off the planet’s resources in the process…

A good article students could read is “Why Christmas gift giving isn’t fun any more” by Ben French, Stuff (9 December 2018) - Link

Issues to discuss in class could include the following:

  • do we need everything we think we need?

  • are many desires subliminally created by commercial interests?

  • when we get a new outfit or appliance, how long the great feeling lasts?

  • what have students been given or experienced in the past which has made them happy on a long term basis?

Very often the happiness might not be related to getting yet more stuff and could be a time when they challenged themselves, when they had an adventure, or when they did something with others they care about. Or perhaps they received an item which was well-chosen, serves an ongoing need, and will stand the test of time.

There are a lot of great resources on this issue.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is a relaxed, low-key look at what makes us happy, featuring two cool-ish guys, who stepped back from the corporate grind to focus on what was important to them. It streams in many countries on Netflix.

The hilarious documentary, My Stuff, follows Petri Luukkainen - who, after a bad breakup, put all his possessions into storage, allowing himself to retrieve one item per day. It was mid-winter. What would you choose? What would you live without? What impact might this have?  It’s available on Amazon Prime or here on Vimeo on Demand - https://vimeo.com/ondemand/mystuff.

The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute animation about our stuff - an oldie but a goodie. Link There are more teacher resources about consumption on the Story of Stuff’s website too.

Check out the Mr Money Mustache web site too - https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

Some time ago, Mr Money Mustache deconstructed what he really needed (in a pretty obsessive way compared to most) and as a result he and his wife saved most of the income for a few years and then retired, aged 30. He now spends his time doing what he loves, some of which happens to bring in some money. He blogs, travels the world, keeps fit, is building and upgrading his own house, spends loads of time with his young boy and plays in a band. He’s also started a co-working space in the centre of his town as a way to regenerate the town center and create community. In his view, retirement is not about hanging out in a rocking chair watching telly - it’s about doing what you love. He says:

“Financial Independence does not mean the end of your working career. Instead it means, “Complete freedom to be the best, most powerful, energetic, happiest and most generous version of You that you can possibly be.”

Does this mean you will quit commuting through traffic into a lame corporate office to sit in meetings about products you don’t really care about? Yes. But does it mean you won’t work hard at things that are important to you, for the rest of your life? NO!”

Students do not always have to change big things, to change things. Cumulatively a life lived more mindfully creates tremendous change too.

As a result of some spent time deconstructing the drive to consume, they may want to ask for (or give) less items but make sure they are well considered. Perhaps focus on decent quality so the things they do buy last longer. Or supplement by buying one of a kind vintage items from second hand shops. Choose cool experiences instead - a weekend rock climbing, instead of more T-shirts might be more fun and memorable.

Our planet is groaning under the weight of us producing stuff we don’t need, for those who don’t particularly want them, much of which will end up in a landfill, after the afflicted recipient reads one of the many de-cluttering books we now all invest in.

If students replace consumption on autopilot with mindful giving and receiving, or engaging in other forms of fun, this would go a huge way to helping the planet while saving their money for things which are truly important. And ideally they’d be happier, less concerned about “keeping up with the Kardashians” and generally have more fun and financial freedom to do what they actually want to do.