In addition to more substantial, large-scale economic and social change, alternative modes of consumption have long been indicated for the purposes of tackling climate change. But what’s better – focusing one’s expenditure on “green” products or simply buying less stuff altogether?
To answer this question, a new study published in the journal Young Consumers looked at the millennial cohort, which currently has the most power in terms of shaping the economy, to examine the interplay between materialistic attitudes, consumption patterns, and personal well-being.
What the researchers found was that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people who favour the accumulation of new things were more likely to engage in “green consumerism” rather than in repairing broken items and reducing the frequency of acquiring new products.
“There is evidence that there are “green materialists””, said one of the co-authors on the study Sabrina Helm from the University of Arizona. You’re acquiring new things, and that fits into our mainstream consumption pattern in our consumer culture, whereas reduced consumption is more novel and probably more important form a sustainability perspective.”
When it comes to consequences at the personal level, lower consumption patterns, but not “green buying”, were found to correlate with more positive mental states and reduced psychological distress.
“If you have a lot of stuff, you have a lot on your mind,” Helm explained. “[…] It requires maintenance and being organised. It’s not like you buy it and you’re done with it. There’s a lot of burdens of ownership, and if you relieve yourself of that burden of ownership, most people report feeling a lot better and freer.”
The study also looked at how materialism interfaces with financial responsibility, characterised by living within one’s means and setting a part of one’s paycheck aside for savings, finding that subjects who bought less stuff were also more likely to be prudent when it comes to money, experienced less stress, and were happier overall.
Important as it is to reduce impulse shopping and unnecessary buying, it may not be all that easy, given that “we’ve been told since childhood that there’s a product for everything and it’s OK to buy, and it’s a good thing because that’s how the economy works,” said Helms. “We’re brought up this way, so changing behaviors is very difficult.”
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