Conscious Spending: A Solution to Stuffocation

Stuffocation-the-feeling

In a BBC viewpoint article about the hazards of too much stuff, trend forecaster James Wallman describes an American study documenting what most of us already know—that we have a lot of things in our houses.

According to Wallman, 2 out of 3 people wish they had less stuff. These people are experiencing what he calls stuffocation—an intriguing word that describes the feeling of drowning in stuff. Not surprisingly, the resulting clutter crisis leads to mental stress, which causes physiological symptoms such as elevated cortisol levels. In this way, the mental stress of excess damages our physical health.

I’m with him until he proposes that we solve the problem of excess stuff by spending our money on experiences instead of things. Continue reading

Holiday. Fun?

With the arrival of December, many people experience angst over the approaching holiday. For some, this has to do with awkward, difficult and/or impossible family relationships, which come into focus under the cultural expectation of family togetherness at this time of year.

However, consumer debt is a more pervasive source of December dread. Yesterday’s news reported on Bank of Canada concerns about increasing levels of consumer debt. The Globe & Mail referred to “insatiable borrowing,” quoting a senior director of Equifax, a major credit reporting agency: “Following a frenzied start to the festive shopping season with more to come in the countdown to Christmas, we can expect the consumer debt to rise even further. Tis the season, so we can anticipate credit cards getting a strong workout throughout December.”

Living in a consumer culture puts us under enormous pressure to spend mindlessly. And our ready access to credit cards has been the marketers’ dream, fuelling the attitude they want us to have: What the heck, spend beyond your current capacity because you can.

Naturally, they love it when we pay their 20% interest for years and years. However, the financial consequences are far beyond what most people imagine. The system is complicated and complex, and there is much we don’t know. Early in my teaching career, I discovered that students generally thought that if they made the minimum payment on a credit card, they weren’t in debt. By using their cards and paying the required minimum, they thought they were doing the smart and adult thing. However, that is an illusion. It takes a shocking length of time to pay off debt Continue reading

Financial Literacy: Crucial for all of us

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. This annual event acknowledges the need to educate ourselves in a crucial area of life—how to navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

This initiative came out of the work of a task force that travelled the country to assess the state of financial literacy in Canada.  My submission to that task force expressed the view that all post-secondary students should be required to complete a personal finance course in order to graduate.

I was pleased that the final report of the task force recommended that “…all provincial and territorial governments integrate financial literacy in the formal education system, including…post-secondary education and formalized adult learning activities.”

Realistically, this is unlikely to happen. But Continue reading

The consumer culture discourages thinking for ourselves.

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True freedom comes from exercising autonomy over our lives. The consumer culture discourages us from thinking for ourselves, preferring that we adopt the cultural story about how to live.

Our challenge is to detach ourselves from the cultural story and look at the illusions surrounding freedom and choice.

  • Has the use of credit given you freedom or put you in bondage?
  • Is it an either/or question?
  • If it’s “both/and,” what makes the difference?

It’s something worth thinking about if we want to make our own lives.

Reference chapter: “Power and Money” in Conscious Spending. Conscious Life.

Like gift-wrapping a tap-dancing elephant…

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My friend Maggie has a way with words. She says that attempting to describe my book is like trying to gift-wrap a tap-dancing elephant. She’s captured the dilemma perfectly! Continue reading

Recycling is not enough.

Recycle Bin

Recycling has become a license to waste, allowing us to avoid taking responsibility for our consumer choices. We soothe our consciences by dropping our excesses into a recycle bin and having them carted away. End of story; nothing more to think about. Continue reading

Courage to change

Laurana with Julie-001

I recently met a young woman who is buying nothing for a year. Julie Phillips (photo) was giving a talk about how this came to be (serendipity, like many of life’s most remarkable moments) and about her experiences during the first six weeks of being propelled into a #DIYLife.

Julie Phillips is certainly not the first person to spend less money and do more for herself,
but I was struck by several defining aspects of her story: Continue reading

Excess & Chaos

I recently arrived at the end of two relentlessly and unexpectedly chaotic years. It was all I could do to keep my head above water. I coped by hurriedly chucking things into cupboards any which way, abandoning cleaning routines for a lick and a promise, stacking files on surfaces (floor included) instead of putting them away—you get the picture.

Finally I gained some breathing space and have spent the past couple months bringing order out of the chaos. Continue reading

Capturing the Essence without Going Nuts

We live in a culture of excess. Over the top. Hyperbole. It’s a challenge to maintain perspective, or what my grandmother referred to as a sense of proportion. Blowing things out of proportion was not a cool thing when I was growing up. Yet it so easily happens. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon… Continue reading

We Need to Hear Ourselves Think

To make meaningful lives that work for us, we need mental space. How else can we be open to seeing and hearing the prompts and opportunities that occur around us? Serendipities will slide right by us if we don’t recognize them and respond. Recently, Frans Johansson wrote an interesting blog in the Harvard Business Review about the role of serendipity in business success—not only his own, but also unexpected moments that forever changed life for the owners of Microsoft and Google.

I’m a fan of serendipity myself. That’s how my book title appeared after more than six months of searching Continue reading