Consumption vs. Creation
Capitalism has a simple, strong message for us, and the appeal of consumption is pushed on us all day every day by the ubiquitous reach of advertising. There’s no question that our world is steeped in it. The sense that all our woes can be magically addressed by this car or that hamburger or this pill or those shoes. Many of our brightest minds are in advertising, and its intersection with psychology is, for lack of a better term, a mindfuck. Because the over-consumption doesn’t make us happier or more successful, it indebts us and overwhelms us and sickens us. But even while our bodies and therapists and bank accounts are giving us clues that this may not be the way, we continue to consume.
It’s a feat of strength to train ourselves to create instead.
Creation is a far more effective means to personal happiness and success. Creative pursuits are meaningful and satisfying, they bring newness and innovation into the world, they help us process the content and stimulation of our lives. Creativity is a fire that forges our legacies while at the same time clearing out space for what is to come. It’s more magical than almost anything you can consume.
Creativity is a fire that forges our legacies, while at the same time clearing out space for what is to come.
But the truth is that one cannot be in a constant state of creation. There is a balance between consuming and creating that turns nourishment into an expressed value. And our consumption is of others’ creations, part of the interconnectedness of our world. We must consume, but we have a say in how we do it. We just need to develop our ability to flow between the two processes in a way that serves us versus reacting to the never-ending sirens of sales. We can cultivate the discipline to check ourselves and reel it in when we are pulled off course. It’s ever a temptation but we can resist.
16 months ago I was not in balance. I was drinking too much, buying unconsciously, keeping myself in debt and persistently nauseous. I was slowly, slooowly making progress — getting out of credit card debt, earning more at work, understanding what I wanted in my relationships — but I wasn’t living the fantastic, inspiring life I had dreamt of. I was longing to write, to draw, to make something I could be proud of but never found the time or inspiration to make it happen. I usually ended up on the sofa with a glass of wine and a remote, consuming other people’s talents and squandering my own.
Something in me kept whispering that I had to make a change, and after hearing this repeated over months and months, I finally did. I left a serious relationship, moved into my own place, and became militant about assessing how I was living my life. Every time I made progress, I discovered another blind spot. There were moments I was overwhelmed by how far I had to go. Could I really change as much as I wanted to? But every time I crossed one milestone, more opportunities opened up. The terrain started to get easier to traverse. I started to gain confidence.
Through this process, with the help of many teachers, I peeled, scratched, sometimes blowtorched off layers of complacency, of insecurity, of negativity. I think there are many ways to get there, but I personally feel like the complementary credos of Marie Kondo, Cal Newport and Dave Ramsay are a great place to start. You must clear space to do deep work. It’s essential for a fresh start and for building a solid foundation. The physical overhaul of the KonMari method was incredibly intense. But it allowed me to deeply assess my life — past, present, future — through my environment.
I’m fully subscribed (even more-so after doing it, but also before) to the idea that our environment shapes our lives, but Marie’s approach to clearing clutter from our lives created open space to start over. Dave Ramsay does something similar with finances. My wine habit was the definition of an inessential luxury. I thought constricting my spending would make me feel trapped. Instead, ruthlessly cutting all unnecessary costs through a budget was freeing and sparked my resourcefulness. If I couldn’t buy the Reformation dress I just ogled in my inbox, I had to think of other ways I could get what I wanted. It almost inevitably turned into something creative.
And what a revelation, by restricting my consumption both financially and materially, I had the space and energy to create. I noticed my mind shift from wanting, wanting, wanting to innovating, coming up with alternative ways I could achieve a desired outcome. It made me take a step back and spend more time contemplating why I wanted certain things. What would the dress give me? A sense of feeling beautiful for a few hours? What else could give me that? Perhaps something I already owned, worn in a new way, or pulling out my sewing machine, or exercising and getting a hit of endorphins, or even doing something seemingly unrelated like a thoughtful gesture for a friend. Without the guilt and anxiety of overspending or over-consuming, I discovered a lot of mental space for other stimulating activities.
And what a revelation, by restricting my consumption both financially and materially, I had the space and energy to create.
This was just the start, but the world became a more miraculous place when I got my consumption and creative energies into better balance. I now feel little to no guilt for enjoying a special meal or buying something I know I can afford and that I will truly enjoy. I have a better sense that the materials I consume will fortify me, inspire me, and lead to my next creative act. It will be fodder for an article, or refine my environment, or create the details of a special memory. I am learning to turn off the endless distractions, to ask myself what it’s for when I notice an urge to consume compulsively. I am learning to manage the flow.
I wish the same for you. I was unsure of making the drastic moves I did because I wasn’t sure if it would make a difference. If this is where you are, I want to give you a dose of confidence that it will almost certainly be worth it. Cut out whatever you can, see what remains, and let your creativity step in to take care of the rest. I can’t wait to see what you create.