We can choose to have anything, but we cannot choose to have everything.  This is the basis of economics, where there are unlimited wants in a world with limited resources.  How is it possible to own more, do more, impact more, with less?

In today’s culture, where we are pounded by advertisements virtually every minute of our lives, they tell us to buy.  They tell us “this is the item you didn’t know you needed”.  Is this true?  If so, how did millions of people live without this supposed life changing invention?  Some inventions are truly groundbreaking: electricity, internet, 3-D printers, mobile phones, etc.  However, the vast majority of products are created with one thought in mind: profit.  How do you communicate to the masses to purchase this product?  Advertisements & Marketing.

It’s a numbers game.  Create a product, then market to thousands, if not millions of people.  If 5% of people look, and 5% of that 5% buy, then more people will purchase the product as the number of people exposed to the advertisement rises.  For example,  100,000 people are reached;  5%, which is 5000 people look;  5% of 5,000 people, or 250 people, buy.  How do we recognize we’re being marketed to?  There’s no hiding.  It doesn’t matter what we try to do.  If a person browses the internet and has an Amazon, Target, Apple ID, credit card, etc., the ads he sees, the content he watches, the search engine searches that pop up, all are catered to align with each individual’s tastes.

Timothy Janes writes, “data is often under-effectively over-reported. That is, too much information is provided and not enough of it leads to better decisions or new actions”.  In his brilliant article, Making Data Matter: Actionable Data in the Age of Information Overload, he champions the “three P’s”: Purpose, Presentation, and People.  Without knowing what we are specifically looking for and having an effective presentation method that sparks emotions in the right people, data is “just a bunch of names, numbers, and codes floating somewhere out there in cyberspace”. [1]  When data is effectively collected, sorted, and analyzed, it’s quite powerful.

Andrew Pole, a statistician for Target, shares “if you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID…We want to know everything we can”  The Guest ID number, a unique identifier akin to a serial number or social security number, allows information to be tied to an individual.  It tracks “demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved in recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit”.  Target also has the ability to purchase data from other entities such as your job history, where you went to college, what brands of cereal or coffee you prefer, reading habits, etc.  Of course, Target is just one retailer out of thousands engaging in this behavior.  [2]

Now we’ve learned that the ads that pop up on the side of our screen as we surf the web are targeted and crafted to our tastes, how can we break free and ignore all the noise in the world?  Recognizing that bringing something into our lives costs way, way more than just the price tag is a good deterrent.  How much will it cost to store, maintain, clean, charge, accessorize, refuel, fix, take care, worry, protect, and replace the darn thing?  How much time and energy does each item we own sap up?  As Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus divulges, “when you add it all up, the actual cost of owning a thing is nearly immeasurable. So we better choose carefully what things we bring into our lives, because we can’t afford every-thing.  Of course, letting go is not only freeing, it’s free—no purchase necessary.” [3]

Conscious purchasing, or recognizing and purchasing items that will truly bring value into your life, hopefully, will take center stage and crowd out consumerism.  Keeping up with the Joneses may seem fun and easy because of easy access to credit, but in the end: stuff will never make you happy, more is never enough, and contentment comes from within. [4]  Owning less is a great stepping stone; wanting less is the goal.




[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/making-data-matter-actionable-age-information-overload-timothy-janes?trk=prof-post

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html

[3] http://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/

[4] http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/tired-of-keeping-up-with-the-joneses