And why you can't always get what you want
How Consumerism is making us impatient
Consumerism is generally recognised to mean the excessive levels of buying things found in predominantly Western cultures, and the idea that too much importance is placed on these material possessions. While buying and selling goods is important to maintain a healthy economy the issue arises in the excess of this consu
Fast fashion is an example of this excess – brands such as SHEIN or PrettyLittleThing are constantly turning out hundreds of new items of clothing a day, to keep up with growing demand. The current issue of ‘micro-trends’ (short lived trends that "boom in popularity and are outdated by the end of the season") exacerbate this further.
Trends have always come and gone: think the psychedelic prints of the 60’s, 80’s dodgy spandex, or even the original 00’s velour tracksuit that’s now making its resurgence, but these ‘micro-trends’, often TikTok inspired, are far more damaging to the Earth.
These brands scramble to offer all the latest trends at cutthroat prices – often exploiting their workers in the process - producing thousands of garments, to only move onto the next as soon as trends change. What's more, due to the speed of production of these items, the quality is often poor and largely only designed to last for the duration of the trend.
The effect on the environment
This follows the idea of ‘planned obsolescence’ - when a product is essentially designed to fail, i.e the product is made with a purposely weak design so it breaks down faster and the consumer is forced to replace it. If PrettyLittleThing’s garments are made with thin material and poor stitching for example, they will break after a few wears and the consumer will be forced to throw it away, and possibly repurchase something else to fill its place.
The consequences of this cycle of mass production and consumption, only to discard within months, is detrimental to the environment.
The impact the fashion industry has on the environment is huge with
‘the fashion industry [being] the second largest polluter in the world just after the oil industry’.
It is an industry that demands so much from such a quickly shrinking source – our planet. The fast fashion industry contributes to an abundance of issues – from water pollution, microfibre pollution, greenhouse gases and rainforest destruction, to name a few.
But perhaps what’s not as well-known is the impact consumerism can have on the brain. The idea of consumerism is the constant need for new products and the accompanying purchases – but the cycle of merely desiring something and getting it at such little resistance is damaging after a while.
Why we want more
Due to a culture of consumerism there are little to no barriers to obtaining most things these days – whether its clothing from fast fashion retailers, basically anything off Amazon Prime or even supermarkets on delivery services.
The feeling after purchasing something can be truly addictive. When anticipating or receiving a perceived award, in this case a material object, the brain releases dopamine. Furthermore, this neurotransmitter is released even before a purchase has been made – just thinking about buying something can release dopamine.
And because dopamine is often dubbed the ‘happy hormone’ due to its effects of feeling pleasure and satisfaction it’s easy to see how your brain seeks to receive it as much as possible.
So, because of this addictive feeling, we often look for ways we can get this as quickly and easily as possible. Another example of this is social media.
Social media provides us with the instant gratification that leads to a dopamine release- like posting a photo on Instagram and watching the likes stream in, or only having to watch a few seconds of TikTok to feel entertained as opposed to watching a whole film.
But this can be unhealthy after a while
Because of this desire to have that dopamine hit, we can often forego ‘better’ for ‘faster’ as the faster option provides the short-term happy feelings we crave. This is where consumerism is successfully helped by the need for instant gratification.
As mentioned, we receive dopamine before even purchasing a product, and our desire for this often leads us to favour the more immediate option – often the cheapest or lower quality. This is exemplified perfectly in the concept of fast fashion – rather than having to wait and possibly save for a well-made ‘slow fashion’ garment, where the workers are paid for their labour and the quality is high, most of the time the fast fashion option is taken.
Because why wait when you can have it tomorrow, and if it breaks you can replace it the next week. The cycle is then repeated – we crave that happy feeling, we buy a product we don’t necessarily need, the feeling fades etc.
But there is a downside to the constant cycle of instant gratification, not least to our environment. Becomes of its addictive qualities it can be hard to switch to delayed gratification for anything let alone consumerism.
At best instant gratification addiction can make us lazy or impatient, at worst difficulty regulating emotion. If you never have to wait for something you never really feel the sense of achievement and self-satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that you worked hard and were patient.
What you can do
But it’s not all doom and gloom, there are ways to help and a plethora of information is out there on better alternatives. Perhaps before making a purchase next time consider if it’s an item you really need or if its something you’re doing for the emotional effects.
If it is a necessary purchase perhaps consider buying from more ethical sources such as local/small businesses or businesses dedicated to sustainability.
Really evaluate the quality of the item you’re purchasing and consider if a less immediate but longer lasting product is available. Perhaps even, in the case of clothing for example, look at secondhand sources such as charity shops or websites like Depop – where you can still get the satisfaction of a purchase, but without contributing to more production and damage to the environment.