Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jenny at Ex-Consumer
Have you felt the crushing disappointment upon realizing you always seem to fall short of achieving the elusive sense of fulfillment you hope is just one more product, service or vacation away? I have.
In the past, I spent my days pining over what I wanted to upgrade. A better car. A bigger house. Granite countertops with a marble tile backsplash. Bamboo floors. A luxury vacation.
It was how I would get through the long days trapped in a corporate cubicle. If I had a goal that led to a perceived reward, then the days staring at windowless gray walls were slightly less painful.
A Turning Point
One day, after a massive company-wide layoff that I somehow escaped, I realized that cubicle living wasn’t for me. I knew that if I had to spend the next 40-plus years trapped in a box with my back to the opening, I would go crazy.
An Unconventional Move
I left my over eight-year career in accounting and finance to open an ice cream shop near my home. The space was open and bright, with an entire wall of windows that flooded the happy space with glorious sunlight.
The best parts of the new endeavor were the opportunities to be creative while concocting new ice cream flavors and interacting with all the pleasant people in my community. After all, everyone is happy when they’re eating ice cream.
An unexpected result of opening the ice cream shop was the waning in my desire to upgrade every facet of my material life. I discovered that when I was engaged in creating, my interest in consuming diminished. But not completely.
Choosing a New Path
The life of the ice cream shop ended shortly after its third birthday — about one year after giving birth to my first son. Retail hours combined with motherhood didn’t work for our family. I decided to return to school to explore a different path.
Soon after my son’s fourth birthday I graduated from a local private business college with a B.S. in eMarketing and a minor in Web Design. The experience of learning how marketing and advertising is used to influence consumers (wait, I’m a consumer!) truly changed my entire perspective on the path my life was taking.
After spending several years studying marketing and advertising techniques, my entire worldview shifted. I began to see everything and everyone as the culmination of the brand influences that define them.
And I soon realized that being awake to the effects of advertising was liberating. After becoming more aware of the advertising influences that had permeated my psyche over the years, I was able to see my life anew.
With a new awareness, I could pick out advertising influences and determine with good accuracy as to the intended effect. Even still, I was awake enough to know that being able to decipher many of the advertising messages I received wasn’t enough to mitigate their influence over me.
Making a Conscious Decision to Limit Media Exposure
Deciding to limit my media exposure was an adjustment at first. I cancelled our cable, stopped magazine subscriptions and starting listening to CDs or audiobooks rather than the radio.
Once the influences that had been convincing me I needed XYZ product to feel pretty, smart, successful, organized, etc. were dimmed to an occasional whisper rather than a constant roar something transformative happened.
I was suddenly immersed in a newly discovered space. Within this space I discovered the aftermath of a lifetime of being programmed by the media I chose to consume.
The Shocking Discovery
Unfortunately, I awakened to a house full of clutter from amassing products that never quite quenched the desire that led me to purchase them. I discovered accumulated debt that enslaved my husband and me to work we may not be passionate about.
The more I became aware of the predicament that had become my life, the more suffocated I felt.
In less than one year my husband and I paid off over $26,000 in consumer debts and are now living non-mortgage debt free. We lowered our living expenses by cutting unnecessary money drains from our budget (cable, digital home phone, credit card payments, etc.).
We have also recently funded an emergency savings account worth six months of living expenses.
For the first time in my life I’m free from the mindless, empty consumption that defined the first part of my existence.
People often ask me about how to better manage their personal finances or get out of debt, but for me it all started with awakening to the advertising influences that propelled me to buy in the first place.
I’ve always had a strong understanding of how personal finance works, but the advertising messages still persuaded me to purchase and desire things I didn’t need. It wasn’t until I understood that piece of the equation that my mindset really shifted.
What created the shift to a life of less for you? How do you stay motivated to keep going?
Jenny is the author of Wake Up: Break Free from Advertising Influences and also writes about mitigating advertising influences, exploring the world of minimalism and all the life that falls in between on her blog, Ex-Consumer.