If shopping malls, dating apps, mobile phone upgrades, or fashion brands have taught us anything, it’s that there is always more available. More sizes, more colors, more features—more anything, really. But all this “more” is making the world sick. We’ve got a global outbreak of consumeritis.
In the USA and across Europe, consumeritis has led to a rise in mental health issues and a growing spiritual sickness. And in poorer countries, it’s resulting in physical sickness. Every 30 seconds, a person dies from diseases caused by mismanaged waste, and these mountains of waste are a symptom of our consumer society. Yet despite these challenges, I’ve been learning that my faith offers some practical and ancient (but not out-of-date!) medications which help to treat the global outbreak of consumeritis.
Despite the growth in retail therapy—shopping with the primary purpose of improving our mood—consumerism actually “creates a constant cycle of dissatisfaction within us,” says Dr. Ruth Valerio, Tearfund UK’s Advocacy and Influencing Director.
Advertisers cleverly teach us that this new exciting product will fill our emptiness and make us the person we long to be. They persuade us that, to be happy, our hair needs to be that color, we need to drive this car, and wear those clothes. The feeling might last briefly, but we know it won’t satisfy in the long run. As soon as we’ve made the purchase, a new set of outfits appear in the window or an even better camera is available on the new phone and the cycle of dissatisfaction starts over.
This dissatisfaction is just one symptom of our spiritual sickness. We’ve been taught to search for fulfillment in the wrong places, as if happiness can be bought, rather than finding contentment in the knowledge that we are loved by our Heavenly Father and fulfillment in ways Jesus described: by pursuing peace, justice, and righteousness.
But it’s not just us who are affected. The rapid pace of consumerism, and the mountains of trash that follow, have a global impact. Sadly, billions of products are sold in single-use plastic packaging in poorer countries where waste isn’t collected, in full knowledge that people will have no choice but to burn it, discard it in waterways, or live among it.
Daiane is 23 years old and lives with her sister, her husband, and their children in Recife, Brazil. She says, “It only has to rain and everything floods. A lot of rubbish comes down the river.”
The waste coming down the river near Daiane creates a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes and blocks waterways and drains, which causes flooding. Daiane says, “When it floods, everyone gets diarrhea and sickness. Just this week I had to help my daughter, who was vomiting. Another problem is the rats. There are lots of rats. I get very down but there is nothing I can do about it, because I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
As people called to love our global neighbors and to be good stewards of creation, we have to respond, and doing so can be an amazing opportunity to live free from the dissatisfaction of consumerism and pursue a life of purpose.
Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to be really careful about what I buy. As an act of worship, I’m choosing to not over-shop and to avoid as much packaging as I can. If I am to love my neighbor, care for creation, and worship a God who cares about justice, then reducing my waste felt like a logical step. Since the start of 2019, I’ve been living zero-waste, which means sending almost nothing to landfill and cutting back on as much recyclable packaging as I can too.
Maybe you’re not going to go zero-waste just yet, but here are some things I’ve learned to help all of us resist consumeritis and live a more full and content life:
1. Reconnect to who God says you are. Remember that you are made in God’s image, so you don’t have to pursue things to be loved, known, and accepted in this world. The stuff you do or do not have doesn’t define your value or your worth.
2. Reconnect to your stuff. Whenever you’re buying something, ask yourself, “What impact did this have on the people and the places where it was made?” Could you buy fairly traded or organic foods that care for the creation God has made? Don’t just see stuff as a product, try considering the people and processes it went through to get to you. You may find it affects the way you buy.
3. There is no such place as “away.” When we throw things away, we stop thinking about them as if they’ve disappeared. Living zero-waste and having all my trash in a jar means I’ll remember it lasts for a long time, and it helps me to think of those impacted by my trash long after I’ve forgotten about it.
4. Set limits. By choosing simplicity, you choose not to be defined by what the world says is the next best thing you should do or buy. For example, consider limiting yourself to a more minimal wardrobe and commit to clearing space before buying more.
For more ways to help address this problem, visit Tearfund UK’s new campaign on the link between plastic pollution and poverty: