The price we pay for consumerism

In order to afford the all the products and services of today's society we pay a high price. But paying this high price has become so normal, that we are not able to see it anymore. We pay with less freedom and less time spend on our own terms. We created a web that ties us tightly to the system that provides all those services and products we are now dependent on. We lost the ability to be self-sufficient human beings.
Over the course of a mere century we have turned ourselves into highly specialized and dependent workers. Whereas the human beings of the past were multi-talented and could provide and source much of what they needed themselves, we lost that ability. Often times we are not even consuming what we produce and rely 100% on others to provide for our needs.
When I realized this, I was quite shocked. If the heating failed in the middle of the winter, I cannot repair it myself. If I have eaten my one week supply of food, I cannot source more without relying on the supermarket. I cannot cook food myself without electricity. All the electronic gadgets I own rely on the constant supply of energy from outside. If I do not want to rely on transport-services, I cannot see my family again. I spent my day working to produce a product I never use. In many places I cannot even take a shit without using huge infrastructures.

Dream-land and motivation in the morning
What motivates you to leave dream-land and get up in the morning?

So we pay for the complex consumer products not only with our working time, but also with the loss of our autonomy and self-sufficiency. Once you drop out of this construct and lose your source of monetary income, you lose vital connections and this creates huge amounts of stress and anxiety. And this stress is constant and basically for many the only source of motivation to work. This is a bad kind of motivation. It does not propel you towards new goals and greater outcomes of your work. It keeps you stuck most of the time, because by generating enough income to fulfill your needs you also reach the maximum of this motivations capability.

Imagine you lived within the community of a small village a few hundred years ago. You had your own small farm. You were living together with your family, producing all your basic needs yourself. Your days would be filled with many different tasks. You would be skilled to produce food, shelter, warmth, clothes, transportation, entertainment, etc.
From that place you enter into the “economy” of your village. Can you see how exchange happens now from a complete different background? You are not desperately in need of earning an income. You can offer you products and services generously, because you are save and your needs are covered. Or they could at any time be covered by your own work and the work of people close to you. Exchange with others is an added bonus and adds variety.

So we pay for our consumer products not only with our immediate time, but also with a great loss of freedom and autonomy. There is not much we can do to reverse this process. But I would argue it is possible to use current systems to gain back both. By ditching the route of conventional employment and living a self-sufficient life, where you offer your services and products through various websites. One day you could be the producer of art and physical objects and the other day you record songs, take pictures, teach what you have learned to others or write and tell stories. This allows for flexible work and multiple sources of income. Even though you have to expect that those do not pay as well as a conventional career will pay you. But you gain autonomy and free time, you grow and learn more than you would in one particular job. This shift in how you see your work is profound and requires a lot of bravery in today’s society.

How can you gain autonomy and freedom in today’s economy?

Let me present you my approach to gain the most amount of freedom and autonomy in today’s economy. I am a 25 year old male, who just finished university two years ago with a bachelor’s degree. In contrast to most of my friends I did not continue with university and decided to start working without a master’s degree. Therefore I had time to travel for one year and could still enter  employment one year earlier than with a master’s degree.
My plan is to eventually have children at a similar age than my parents. Around 32 years of age. I am not in a hurry to have children though. With my current employment I am earning not a lot of money. I am living close to work, but this happens to be in the most expensive town of the country. It is close to Frankfurt, but rent prices are enormous. I am now paying about the same for a shared apartment with two other people as I would in other cities for an apartment of my own. But still I manage to save about 60-70% of what I earn.

I do enjoy most of my work and I can work at my own pace on the projects. It is easy to feel satisfied with the work for about half of the day. But the afternoons until 5pm feel very long and boring sometimes. I know I am the character who does well with more free time. I never feel bored when I am able to decide by myself what to do with my time.

Financially I plan to become independent in a couple of years. I have a good relationship with my parents and they are always welcoming me when I visit them. As they live in a rather big house with many empty rooms, I would like to move back in with them. I also have many friends, still living in that area. Therefore I calculate my financial independence with minimum rent. If I enjoy work enough I will eventually continue to work until I reach financial freedom, where I have a monthly buffer for unexpected expenses and the occasional vacation or luxury item. But in large I intend to live self-sufficient in food and as a next step also do most of the maintenance work around the house myself.
Based on research findings, it is sufficient to have 25 times your annual expenses saved up and invested. I favor investments in stocks. I believe that holding stocks resembles the idea of how this system should work most accurately. Highly automated forms of production will provide the products I cannot or do not want to manufacture myself. Holding a share of the companies producing those products only makes sense.

 I will not stop working and earning money after reaching financial freedom. Therefore I calculate with the 4% rule (25 times the annual expenses in savings). As I outlined above I will work on my own terms and probably pick up part-time jobs from time to time when I find them appealing.

That way I support the system, which will support me for a life-time, within a time span of 5-10 years of full-time work. But I also change my lifestyle to achieve the freedom in time. This will probably have a good impact on the environment. Because the environment does not care if your round the world trips are “for business” or “for private” purposes. And downsizing my possessions to move in with my family again, will obviously reduce the number of houses we need to build and the area we will cover and take from wild-life.

Money is an abstract concept and could lower motivation

For our mind, money is too abstract of a concept. If the outcome and goal of an activity is just to make money, than this is not enough to spark in us intrinsic motivation. I discovered this when I was growing food for me and my brother for one season. I never found myself without motivation to go out into the vegetable garden and putting in the required. Going to work is difficult on some days on the other hand. My mind does not readily make the connection between the sum of money on my bank account at the end of the month and the work I put in. I also derive other benefits from work. Which make it easy for me to work on most days. Intrinsic motivation leads to enjoyment of the task at hand and a feeling of “being in the zone”. When I am in the garden I can see the plants growing and the connection between my work and the outcome is obvious. I do not need to push myself at all and during this work I feel like I am myself and act from a safe, honest and well intentioned state of mind.

But I can imagine that many people do not derive immediate joy from their work for most of the time. This is another price we pay when our work is disconnected from the products we actually consume. No motivation at work means that we are less happy and more stressed, because we need to push ourselves mentally to keep on working.

Try this experiment to feel what intrinsic motivation is like

When you wake up in the morning of a working day, try to think of the following thing for one day and the second idea on another day:
  1. Your alarm rings and you turn it off. Before you get out of bed or do anything else think of what awaits you during the working day ahead of you. Try to imagine the hours you will spend on the tasks that you will be doing. See how you feel about it and if it gets you fired up.
  2. Second day, your alarm rings and you turn it off. Now think of a day of “work” where you provide for your own needs. Maybe you have a garden where you are growing food. You go out and harvest what you need for breakfast. You take the food home and complement the fresh ingredients with something you have stored. Then you cook a meal for you and some friends of family. After you have enjoyed eating, you go on to repair something that needs urgently your attention. You are immersed in the activity for some hours and see the results immediately. You know if your efforts have worked out or not. How would you feel about such kind of day? Acting from a place of intrinsic motivation. Pay attention to how easy it might be to get up out of bed this time. (I hope you are not frustrated, if this is not a reality for you. It isn’t for me either)
This thought experiment can clearly tell you at least two things. Do you truly enjoy your current work? If so, perfect. I think you are lucky and you can continue doing what you love. If option number two (or any other scenario that you imagined for yourself as an intrinsically motivated work-day) sounded better to you, you know you have something to strive for. In this case financial freedom might help you get there.