Lately, I am motivated more and more by less and less in every aspect of my life — eating less food, buying fewer items and worrying about things I cannot change.

I call this a life deconsumption.

I’ll admit: Coming of age in the last century, the society raised us to consider consumption our default function — buy, use, dispose then repeat often as possible. The newer, the cooler; the bigger, the better. And the flashier the more likely to project success and happiness.

But as I’ve grown older and put a few decades behind me, I realized this formula is as accurately representative as the bowl of cereal in an advertising photo. The lasting satisfaction from grabbing consumption trophies is no more real than the glue in the container holding each breakfast flake in the perfect photographic position.

I’ve also learned over time the relationship between the number of possessions and happiness if false. I increasingly wonder if the volume of consumption isn’t merely and reflection of filling an aching hole in someone’s inner self.

The happiest people I’ve met in the world comparatively have the least in terms of possessions.

Once in a novel, the author wrote something along the lines of, “Growing up, we never knew we were poor until we were old enough to know we were poor.” 

I guess, to a certain extent, we can all relate to the day consumption fever takes hold. No matter your station in life, you one day discover worlds out there — both higher and lower than yours. And from all outward indicators, the former is where all the trappings of success and happiness are rooted.

Unwinding this cultural programming is difficult. I’ll admit the fever infected me coming of age later decades of the last century: bigger houses, more clothes in closets, the need for three- or four-slot garages.

Today I find myself actively unwinding this ingrained expectation. No longer do I feel the need to consume without a genuine need. Replacing the mailbox house becomes a challenge of whether a different coating of paint does the job. Big and small, these little decisions are taking over, impacting what comes and goes under my roof and life.

Buy a new shirt? Take two to The Salvation Army. New shoes? Same. Tip generously, flood the world with kind words and always be on the watch to help someone else.

Deconsumption is about turning an existing formula on its head and asking what do you need? What can you do — or do without — to make the lives of someone else better? How many coffee mugs does someone need?

Today I spotted a colorful doormat for sale. The colors teased, encouraged me to reach down and carry it home. But then my deconsumption kicked in asking me if I already had one at home and could it be cleaned up or possibly redecorated?

The colorful doormat remains for sale. Me? I’m learning to deconsume and be happier because of it.


Leonard Woolsey is president and publisher of The Daily News in Galveston County, Texas.