Why I’m Giving Up on Anti-Consumerism

or the last few years, I’ve been avidly anti-consumerist. All my clothes have been purchased from thrift shops or low-cost secondhand stores — if, indeed, they were purchased at all, not foraged from the donation bag of similarly sized friends. I acquire my hard-surfaced furniture from Craigslist curb alert ads and Nextdoor listings (and have helped many friends do this as well). Where I once bought ten thousand dollars worth of top-tier Apple products, I now only own a base model Air and an iPhone (which I tried to ditch unsuccessfully). I sold everything else.

Being so obnoxiously anti-consumerist gave me a lot of pleasant feelings. Some of these pleasant feelings were well-earned. I enjoyed checking my bank account to find I’d only spent $650 on all shopping in 2021, which includes furniture, home goods, clothes, books, art supplies, kitchen appliances, and other such things. I liked knowing I was doing my small part to protect the planet.

Some of these feelings were not well-earned. When I felt insecure, I subconsciously consoled myself with the thought that at least I wasn’t a money-wasting, planet-destroying consumerist, which is a pretentious and judgmental thought if I’ve ever heard one. I prided myself on not caring about fashion or appearances. My avid anti-consumerism gave me a way to feel better than other people when I was feeling bad about myself.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like it’s a waste of time.

Not all of it. It’s easy enough to visit an upscale secondhand shop like Uptown Cheapskate and get some designer clothes for $15 a pop. But this intense, scavenging-from-trash-bags, all-my-clothes-must-be-free attitude? It’s too much. It takes hours to scavenge even one Goodwill to find a few worthy items, and it takes trips to multiple thrift shops around town to find a substantial amount of worthwhile clothes. It takes a patient and willing attitude to trawl craigslist waiting for the perfect desk when Amazon will ship one to my house for $150. These things take real effort on my part.

That effort would be worth it if it mattered, but it doesn’t. None of it matters. One person busting their ass this way won’t save the planet. 100,000 won’t. Corporations are now so powerful that even mass consumer action can’t always affect change. In Saving Capitalism, the viewer learns that a bill is more likely to pass if it is supported by a corporate lobby than it is if a majority of voters support it. And many voters have no idea of the issues involved in their purchasing habits because corporations make sure to keep them ignorant.

That’s the problem with many of these grassroots efforts to change the world. Libertarians love to lecture us about how markets respond to consumer choices while leaving out how easy it is for large corporations to manipulate those choices. That’s like telling someone who’s brainwashed to stop choosing brainwashing, dummy.

I’m not giving up on anti-consumerism wholesale. There are plenty of expensive upscale secondhand shops in the world to sell me good-condition matching clothes and furniture. But I’m giving up on the unreachable moral standard of only acquiring my possessions from trash bags and thrift stores. I want to be able to buy a shirt, pair of pants, or Ikea furniture without having a small moral crisis.

It will cost me a thousand dollars a year or so. More importantly, it will cost me the ability to pretend I’m better than anyone else. I will have to die knowing I fell far short of my childhood aspiration to be a bald, wise, world-wandering ascetic, something which I’m still not happy with myself about. But if it means I can give up the arrogant, time-consuming emotional convulsions that go along with being so anti-consumerist, I will find a way to cope.