The Main Trend Today: Why Lowsumerism Is a Pressing Need

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Microtrends are showing our entire zeitgeist is turning to “less is more”

by Eduardo Biz translated by Aline Scátola

Consuming less, finding alternatives, and living only with what’s necessary. The message of Lowsumerism is here and it’s crystal clear: the self-destructive process caused by consumerism can only be reined in through deep consciousness awakening. But what does that really mean? How can we be more conscious and consume less? How can this behavior work in a society that’s taken over by industries and brands?

The list of questions posted in the comments section of Box1824’s video “The Rise of Lowsumerism,” released in August 2015, just keeps growing. Our study introduces a concept – a portmanteau word blending “low” and “consumerism” – and encourages reflection on habits that are still pervasive in the human relationship with the act of buying.

The answers come in layers and comprise microtrends that will help us see contemporary life in a macroperspective. Anticipating the next steps of human evolution is a possibility, but to better understand the future, first we have to look back.

Sixth mass extinction

The greatest geological mystery of all times is how the Earth came to be. The planet has been going through slow, continuous transformations over its 4.5 billion years. It’s events that unfold for millions and millions of years, slowly changing the course of history and signalizing the beginning of new eras.

The most striking changes happen through mass extinctions, usually a result of environmental catastrophes, too fast to allow organisms to adapt and evolve. 99.9% of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct.

A sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn: the Earth in the hands of Mother Nature
A sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn: the Earth in the hands of Mother Nature

The end of the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago, was the fifth mass extinction the Earth has witnessed. Now Biology studies suggest we are living our planet’s sixth extinction event. And for the first time, it’s being caused by man.

The fast-growing causes for that scenario — climate change from pollution, destruction of natural habitats, human overpopulation, overexploitation of natural resources — led scientists to the conclusion that one quarter of all mammals will vanish in the next 30 years, and half of all species will disappear by the end of the century. If we don’t change our behavior patterns, by 2050 we will need two Earths to support us.

lowusmerism autodestruição
The world is going through a self-destructive process, and it’s desperate for alternatives.

More than just pointing fingers at who’s to blame, the important thing is to realize we are agents of this reality. Despite the cultural, economic, and geographic boundaries made up by man over the last few centuries, we are all in the same boat, united by winds, sea currents, and migratory birds. As the ice melts in Antarctica, the coast of India will also be inundated by heavy floods.

It is naïve to believe individual habits do not affect anyone else’s lives. Lowsumerism is a movement that should be put into practice right now: consumerism is an outdated behavior we will soon feel embarrassed about.

 Taking a lowsumer attitude is understanding that small actions can make a big difference.

Why now?

As a thought, it’s possible that Lowsumerism has been around as a countertrend since the late 19th century, when consumption started to grow thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Ever since then, people’s relationship with consumption has been escalating dramatically, fueled in different moments: the emergence of the credit system and advertising in the 1920s, the “American dream” ideal in the 1950s, individualistic consumption in the 1980s.

To trace back to the origins of Lowsumerism, we cannot overlook the social counterculture phenomena of the ‘60s and ‘70s, like the hippie philosophy, punk, and anti-consumerism. They were in the forefront and contributed to spread minimalistic lifestyles, speaking up – each one their own way – for liberation from the tentacles of the system.

It was in the ‘90s that consumption deteriorated into consumerism. That behavior was fueled by the “you are what you buy” mentality, which endures to this day. Around that time, mass media started to discuss the pitfalls in those excesses, and swimming against the current, environmental initiatives gave voice to gloomy ecological forecasts. All that contributed to start lodging lowsumerism in the public consciousness — even if still very incipient.

More recently, in the 2010s, the sharing economy boom helped to envision alternatives for capitalism’s stiff old molds, bringing more openness to people’s everyday lives and to a Lowsumerism awakening.

Lowsumerism for whom?

When we talk about reducing consumption, it is impossible not to talk about social inequality as well. Out of necessity, less privileged populations have always dealt with material scarcity, finding alternatives to consumption, such as barters and donations. So, whom is Lowsumerism intended for?

All classes and all ages consume, so Lowsumerism impacts everyone. In Brazil, the so-called C Class – the “new” middle class, or lower middle class – has become more economically empowered over the last few years, thus consuming more. More than just a new reality, the possibility of consuming becomes a reflection of their life achievements, an evolution from the stage they were before – “if I can buy, I’m on easy street.” Lowsumerism doesn’t spurn that feeling, as its core purpose is not to blame those who consume, but to encourage reflection on what is excessive for each one.

Bear in mind excess is not just the amount of goods we have, but also how we accept the planned obsolescence logic that has been around since the 1950s.

Planned obsolescence strategy: products are designed with limited useful life.
Planned obsolescence strategy: products are designed with limited useful life.

“Excess” is a subjective concept, and each individual must identify when it is out of control based on their own parameters. Anxiety and depression, which are seen as the diseases of this century, serve as gauge.

Lowsumerism does not suggest that desires should be repressed, but rather that those wishes should be reshaped by understanding that refusing excessiveness reduces the environmental and social impacts of consumerism. The best translation for Lowsumerism would be “balanced consumption.”

lowsumerism ansiedade
And suddenly we’re experiencing a reality where consumerism keeps people in a continuous state of anxiety.

It is interesting to point out that such clarity about reducing consumption first comes from people, not industries. For the next few years the market is expected to embrace this mindset and take on the role of requalifying consumers’ desires, making them less related to excess.

Ever-more conscious consumers will embrace alternatives from new market models that are capable of meeting their needs and wishes in a less harmful way.

Lowsumerism is not a fetish

Sociologist Jean Baudrillard sustains that consumption happens when a relationship between the individual and the meaning of an object is established; that is, it is the sign around that object that makes it consumable. That’s when the illusion of the “object of desire” is born, something filled with values and signs that are offered to the contemporary being as if they were capable of fulfilling their inner needs. Nevertheless, when they realize the object cannot fill that void, they remain frustrated, generating a sick compulsion to try to quench that missing reality. It’s an endless cycle that is never complete, because it has no boundaries.

 Lowsumerism is the key that will change this gear.

Obviously there is the likely chance Lowsumerism can be fetishized, set as an aspirational lifestyle that can actually be forged: “being a lowsumer” can become an object of desire of shallow consumption, like a momentary fever.

A totem to nothing

However, as much as fake intentions may threaten to weaken the purposes of Lowsumerism, its communication perseveres, expanding the reach of a message that is more macro than micro. The outcome is optimistic.

Ideologies may be seasonal, but they are built from an evolution process based on mistakes from the past to transcend the present toward a more thriving future. The idea of reducing consumption will soon be so rooted, we will very likely never go back to praise excess.

liu bolin
You are what you consume: by making himself invisible, artist Liu Bolin questions our contradictory relationship between civilization and development.

Historically, times of transition or crisis, like we are living today, are great for innovation and to open new doors to evolve human creativity. It’s from that power that we will see new niche behaviors emerge in the next few years, introducing new developments to Lowsumerism. Many of those behavior patterns may not be anticipated yet, as they are sensitive to new social contexts. Others, though, are undeniably emerging, shedding light on potential paths to the future.

Displays of Lowsumerism in everyday life

We are seeing more and more people trading, giving, buying used goods, sharing… New types of economy – sustainable, sharing, collective – are coming on the scene and invigorating capitalist models. Enterprises no longer depend on financial investors to exist and innovative ideas don’t have to revolve around money anymore.

Once primarily financial, profit is now reassessed from angles that give new meaning to the concept of success. The criteria according to which a person or a business should be considered successful are changing, now with new redeeming motivations: realization of purpose, personal development, creative satisfaction, _____________.

Overall, in our time, we feel that people are usually tired of their jobs, and never has that been so understandably true as it is today. The traditional job market continues to focus on excess, production growth, and sales increase. It is not a coincidence urban flight is a growing reality, as people are moving to rural, coastal, or ecovillage areas. They are individuals who are tired of life in the big city, lacking in chances of working and making a good living.

The act of buying starts to be revised as a social act, and so consumption habits connected with local, traditional values reemerge. Rituals like going to the local barber shop or buying food from local street markets become a way to strengthen that face-to-face contact that has been lost in the coldness of digital media. The image of the small farmer builds up, leveraged by people’s overall preference for organic foods.

People who are well-informed are appreciating zero waste and upcycling projects, and it is interesting to notice how they benefit from a cool language and contemporary aesthetics. With the DIY mentality and the Maker movement, independent production quality is no longer considered inferior to large-scale production – quite the contrary. YouTube tutorials, slow food, and the search for natural healing methods are some examples of how DIY echoes through emerging habits.

In the fashion industry, more and more precarious and slave-like labor conditions are brought to light and make ethical matters an aspect of consumers’ buying decision process. The more savvy brands are already making a move toward that effort.

Another expression that is representative of Lowsumerism is a phenomenon Time magazine called the Mindful Revolution. It includes the popularization of ancient eastern practice such as yoga and meditation, the appreciation of silence, the idea of spirituality distanced from esotericism or mysticism, digital detox, the end of glamorized workaholism, the rejection of multitasking… So all human behavior right now is turning to what is “less.”

lowsumerism vergonha
Consumerism is an outdated reality we will soon be ashamed of in the near future.

And all that will inevitably impact the market. It may seem contradictory to think the market could adapt to Lowsumerism, since the genesis of all businesses is to stimulate consumption. However, what all those expressions show is that it is possible to adopt a lowsumer perspective on the act of buying and selling and still keep the market alive.

 From now on, innovation will no longer be detached from the ideals of conscious consumption. After all, no business can survive turning its back on the aspirations of its time.

Of course, money will continue to circulate: it is the currency of survival in our economic model. But what new alternatives suggest is that we can evolve the way we make money and even learn how to spend it more sensibly and stylishly.

The voices of those who have understood that our pace of consumption is self-destructive and that we are not what we own is a sign of the future. Going up against the old “you are what you buy” mentality, lowsumers understand goods have become just part of a broader system of meanings that make up who they are as individuals.

Adaptation for all: how to begin

The first attitude consumers who are in line with this new consciousness of reality need to adopt is thinking before buying, and ask themselves: do I really need this? Can I afford this? Or do I only want this to feel included or make a statement about my personality? Do I know the origin of this product and where it goes after I dispose of it? Aren’t I being misled by advertising? What is the impact this product has on the environment?

Those questions will usually lead to three possible solutions to rein in consumerism: trading, fixing, making.

lowsumerism quebre a lógica
Before giving in to every buying impulse you have, defy the logic that was planted in your brain.

Lowsumerism is a concept that aims to make people think about their basic needs and stop with that frame of mind of “buying just for the sake of it,” “buying just to accumulate,” “buying to be fashionable.”

“A minute correction of the essential is more important than a hundred new accessories. All that is new is the direction of the current which carries commonplaces along.”
— Raoul Vaneigem

The catastrophic future of environmental forecasts claims for deep mentality change. Luckily, we are used to changing. Have you ever thought about this paradox? The only constant thing in our life is change. Perceiving it is crucial to improve our understanding of today and tomorrow; embracing it is a matter of choice. We live a time in which the future looks closer and closer to the present, such is the pace of change in the world and human behavior. Everything just changed, right now while you were reading this.

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