My Consumerism Meltdown (But I Got Better)

I had a weird experience that involved a visit to the town’s newly refurbished and extended shopping centre (mall).  It was very emotional and I got quite worked up.  Let me tell you about it.

Picture this.  Saturday morning, feeling quite fresh, and excited about the weekend.  This particular Saturday was the date for the annual local festival, so I knew that most people in town would be down watching the parade and visiting carnival rides.

I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to visit the new shopping centre without wall-to-wall people.  In a moment of madness, I suggested to Kim that we visit, more out of curiosity than anything else.  I think my proposal shocked her a little as it was totally out of character for me.  With Ben in tow, we headed off.

After a struggle to find a parking spot, which in itself was not a good sign, I was pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of bike racks next to the entrance (but no bikes).  Nice!  However, it was all went downhill from there.

Walking through the southern entrance, a wave of what I can only describe as dread overcame me.  I can’t explain it, but it felt terrible.  I hadn’t visited a shopping centre is such a long time, I had forgotten about our consumer culture and the way of the dollar.

The shopping centre was slickly fitted out, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, snaking like a river begging you to follow the line of shops to the very end.  It stunk of fresh paint, glue, and plastic, emitting gosh only knows what in the form of toxic volatile organic compounds.  After I mentioned it Kim could smell it too.

It was a consumer’s paradise!  Wall to wall shops full of tat and stuff that no one really needs, only existing to serve and fulfil every consumer’s wanton desire.  All stuff available on shiny credit cards, plunging the average Joe and Jolene into eternal debt, trashing the planet with every purchase.  Harsh, but that is what I thought at the time.

As we walked along, I started to feel angry, tense, and grumpy.  You don’t want to see me when I have my grumpy head on.  Kim noticed this straight away and told me to settle down.  It upset her that I felt this way, as she rarely takes the time to visit shopping centres, but she totally understood why I was so emotional.  We both knew that blatant consumerism is one of the drivers of climate change, but there it was, laid out in front of us like a naked flasher in the park.

Anyway, we walked the entire length of the mall, looking at this and that, with me feeling more and more anxious.  My only moment of reprieve was the home brew and preserving section in a large department store, which at best, was a place I felt somewhat comfortable.  I bought a can of brewing extract for my next home brew and then tried my best to follow Kim around with my happy face on, all the while dreading this vision of hell that I was engulfed in.

Call me unusual.  Call me mad, but I feel more at home at a farmers market or craft fair than I am around all this hyper-consumerism.  And the christmas decorations are even not out yet when they roll out consumerism on steroids.

Finally we made it to the exit, where I breathed a long sigh of relief.  I was not in a good place, overheated, sweaty, and had a thumping headache.  What I desperately needed was a heavy dose of normality and reality.

So what is a keen food gardener to do?  My solution was to pop into the garden centre across the road and buy some heirloom vegetable seedlings!  This calmed me down a little, however the effect lingered on.  When I got home I had to have a little lie down and nap for a couple of hours to sooth the headache.

When I arose, I headed straight for the front yard.  There is nothing so grounding as a bit of honest physical labour in the veggie patch, getting your hands dirty pulling weeds and mulching plants.  Ahh, I felt much better.  The shops were, thankfully, a distant memory.

When will this hyper-consumerism ever end?  In my lifetime, or will it just get worse until we kill the very ecosystem we depend upon for life?  I don’t know the answers, but I for one am going to avoid it like the black plague, having reduced my consumption of stuff long ago.  I hope we wake up to ourselves.  And, of course, thank the maker for gardens.

So, what do you think of my emotional reaction to this consumeristic overload?  Am I certifiable, or did I have just cause to get emotionally upset?  Have you had a similar experience?

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  1. says

    I’m surprised you even went there Gavin. Next time come to a tiny little shop like ours that is on a street, that offers good quality goods and a custom handmade service like our picture framing using plantation timbers.
    Our nearest big shopping centre is twenty minutes away, it makes me feel physically sick and very anxious.

  2. says

    I know exactly how you feel. Craig and I are dreadful shoppers, we hate it. Recently on a visit to Brisbane we visited Chermside in the middle of a very hot day thinking we would hang in the air conditioning for a while. The environment is so foreign to us now that we are more like spectators than aligned with the shoppers. We noticed the behaviour often was like frenzied sharks or hyenas as they picked over discounted clothing racks. Baffling and sad because they probably had adequate clothing at home already and this is just a “sport” for many. Because we use no chemicals for cleaning or gardening or personal grooming, our sense of smell has become more sensitive and even passing a shoe store is unpleasant as we were assailed with a pungent toxic cocktail of glues, rubber, and other unpronounceable things yet everyone else seems oblivious. We dare not venture into shops like Dusk as there are too many perfumes. Our biggest disappointment was walking past the Apple store wall to wall jammed with people, heads bent intent on the latest gadgetry and no-one engaged in conversation. We felt like fish out of water. I’m happy in my own little pond.

  3. says

    I have a very similar reaction in shopping centres, especially enclosed ones. I think once you have embraced permaculture principles, everything is filtered through those thinking tools – and malls full of multinationals hawking low-quality consumables, excessive lighting and ‘feats’ of (over)engineering immediately jar with everything you know is good and sustainable in the world.

    The UK is currently the most indebted nation on earth (if you take public and household borrowing into account), so yes, this sort of hyper-consumption is on its way out at some point in my lifetime when the whole house of cards comes crashing down.

    Enjoy your yard : )

  4. says

    Hi Gavin,
    I know how you feel. I have dialed back my shopping in a big way, but had to go to the shops yesterday-what a disappointment. I find it easy to put on my blinders to all the junk, but we needed more rechargeable batteries. Specifically ones that fit our existing charger-that still works. Stupid us for not doing some research before l left the house. We drove from Costco (where originally purchase, but now they have a different branch of charger and batteries in the store), to several other stores around town, only to give up empty handed. I refused to throw away the existing charger and switch to another brand, just because the stores dictated it. When we got home I spent time on the internet and found them. Such frustration.
    Christmas gifts to our family our a combination of homemade goodies (soap, candles, canned and baked goodies and knitted items) and purchased books, pajamas or tickets to see something interesting.
    Winter is here, so no yard work except snow shoveling for the forseeable future :-)
    Take care,

  5. says

    Gavin you made me laugh hysterically with this one.
    Being grumpy in the shopping mall….
    My wife heard me laughing and read your post too.
    She said: “you’re just the same”.
    Say what?
    Yes you are! Grumpy, sad, anxious,…
    I thought about these words. She’s right, I am.
    I go to such a place once every 5 years, if I really must.
    I don’t buy anything at all, just but that one peace that I really needed.
    And even then I’m grumpy…..
    Laughing no more,

  6. says

    Hi Gavin,
    Like you, I don’t remember the last time I went to a mall. I do have to go to a big box store occasionally. Apart from the consumerism, what gets me is the noise and the crush of people. When I need something I shop locally, but mostly on line, especially Amazon. I wonder how much better that is, though, or if it just feels acceptable because I don’t see the wheels of consumerism at work.
    Even after the recession I am shocked at how much shopping people do.


  7. says

    I took Belle to a large shaping centre about a year ago. I was depressed, angry and quite sickened within five minutes of entering. I know exactly what you mean! The signs advertising 50% off, 70% off etc smacked me in the face and the aimlessness of the shoppers who obviously went to shop for no reason other than to shop for recreation. They didn’t walk with purpose, just perused everything in sight wanting to be coaxed into buying some useless and unnecessary item! I found it depressing.

  8. says

    Seeing a man trailing around after his lady with a face ful of thunder is nothing unusual, although I suspect your reasons were more than a little different to most blokes. 😉 I too am surprised that you went but I understand that we all have brain farts at times 😉 and I must admit I too would have been curious enough to go visit as well. Consumerism is one of the major driving forces behind climate change although I am certain that the connection simply isn’t there for most people. Nothing like getting soil on your hands to recover from a visit to the “real” world.

  9. says

    I also ventured into our local plaza last weekend (acting as a taxi service for one son) and while he was busy thought i would grab something for “tea” from Woolworths. I approached it with an absolute look of amazement. There in front of the entrance was a stand with antibacterial wipes for shoppers. WTF! Now we have to disinfect our hands before entering. Do we not have an immune system that has functioned perfectly well for centuries. What Next? I mentioned it to several people and its not unusual apparently. Shows how long since ive been into a major shopping centre. I must admit though to being a regular to the garden centre at Bunnings. Oh and Gav, someone said to me not long ago that when you are feeling blue (or in your case a bit grey) GO GREEN!!! As you have proved, works everytime. I was pottering the other night and my husband came out and said “You know you look really happy when you are out here, more so than anywhere else”. He’s right. Its like having a child that i have to tend and check in on a few times a day. Lucky (hey Jess) that my garden is so compact. Each plant is given individual attention.

  10. says

    I think it feels normal for the general public, as that’s what they’re used to, however, I think that was a ‘normal’ response for you to feel, after having not been to a shopping centre for a while. If I absolutely have to go into a shopping centre (we have very good strip shopping near us that provides most needs), I’m in and out as quick as I can, especially getting closer to Christmas. It’s starting to feel like another planet now, very depressing to see people wandering around with all these bags. It really is an assault on the senses. I did read an article recently about the bacteria in soil helping to release seratonin, that makes us happy!

  11. says

    you know what the really crazy thing is…even when we go to town to get something we need…usually at bunnings we cant even find anything of quality, its just rubbish all made in china that doesnt last 5 mins, its frustrating as heck, even their garden centre is not worthy of my dollar.

  12. says

    I was anxious reading this. I can just picture and smell it now. Mall smell.

    My partner wants us to go on a touristy holiday over Christmas. I am dreading it on so many fronts. I don’t want to be around tourists, I don’t want to go where tourists go, and I don’t see the point in travelling at the most expensive time of year. What a waste of money. Alas, I am grinning and bearing it.

  13. says

    This happened to us as well. I really don’t know why our local 3 storey shopping ‘town’ is expanding by a half, but it is. I visited with the kids for some new school uniforms at KMart, and my daughter and I had to walk around the shop holding our breath and she had her hand over her mouth afraid to breathe in the VOCs. It was horrendous, and all the others were the crazies drinking from the same well.

  14. says

    This seems to be how many people spend their leisure time now. No wonder the world is so angry, aggressive and dissatisfied. I don’t see it changing any time soon. About a year ago I was in our major shopping centre before the shops opened and the crowds arrived. The ‘background’ music is actually extremely loud. You notice is less when the people are there. It is shouting.

  15. says

    Hi Gav, I hear you. I visited that same shopping centre a week or so ago, with the daughter having a day off from school over cup weekend. Queasy was the feeling I got upon entering. My single purchase was way down the far end, a spinach and feta danish for my lunch. What struck me though was the effort they had put into the parents girls needed to use the loo and just between those and the foodcourt was a rubber lined play park for kids to expel their jitters while parents took a breather from consuming. What kind of culture are we encouraging here? And ditto to Brenda’s comment..,my daughter had some money burning a hole in her pocket and was after a new top. I crazily said I’d wait out the front of the shop while she chose one (couldn’t bear to enter) and when she came out to show me what she’d bought with her hard earned money I could’ve cried – a flimsy, wafer thin ‘t-shirt’ that will barely make it through two washes before falling apart. I should’ve known! :(

  16. says

    Yes! Those mega malls can make you twitch like a bug on a pin. I stay out of them to the best of my ability – well most all shops, really – except the one I own – of course! And I especially don’t go from about August on – when they start piling on the Holiday mess. In my shop ‘gearing up for the holidays’ means having a class on making your own pillowcase, or a quick quilt for a warm gift, or knitting shawls and mittens – we try to steer clean away from geegaws and ‘stuff’!

  17. says

    I think you’re well within your rights to feel that way.. It is very sad the way the world has turned.. and even more sad that so many kids these days have no clue how sad it is, as they don’t know anything else!

    • says

      We have 4 kids. They are very well aware of the crazyness we all live in.
      They only buy when it’s really needed. Just the way we always taught them.
      They are in their early twenties now.

  18. says

    Hey Gavin. Yes I have experienced the same thing and more so during our post-consumerist lives. It’s funny how your senses become so heightened once you make the change to a more simple existence. And the best bit, there’s no going back!

  19. says

    hi Gavin there is a shop in Bath (UK) called Hollister (I think that is the name). It is completely dark inside, black walls and single spot lights near the wall racks, it is weird. and then outside in the window are pictures of waves on tvs on a loop. such a strange thing. and all the kids love it. I don’t get labels at all. like Christine said above, it is all so flimsy one was and it is only good for cleaning the floor.

  20. says

    Argh the new Woodgrove! Sooooo depressing isn’t it? But don’t worry you are on the right track! And your blogging has played a big part in my journey towards keeping chooks and growing my own veg! You’ve even inspired me to watch less tv and blog instead!

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