Something strange starts to happen when you go into Starbucks almost every day for a few weeks straight. One particularly gloomy Tuesday, I walked in with my roommate. “Pick up for Hadley,” I said to the barista behind the counter. She returned with my latte and another drink in hand. “You must be Kathleen,” she said to my roommate at my side, who was, in fact, Kathleen.
I was a bit floored. Despite my frequent visits, I felt almost offended being recognized as a semi-regular at the South University Starbucks. My whole life, I’ve prided myself on my (admittedly) pretentious, anti-chain coffee tastes; I have a lot of love for our local coffee shops here in Ann Arbor, but in the time of finals, convenience has unfortunately won out. Since Starbucks is a significantly shorter walk from my house than my favorite coffee (shoutout Comet Coffee), and I constantly use my Starbucks rewards account, I reap the benefits of mass-produced convenience.
It hasn’t stopped there. As my workload multiplies, I’ve found a lot of the healthy habits I’ve worked toward start slipping away from me. Much like with my choice in coffee, I’ve fallen into a rhythm of spending money at every corner, dropping into a consumerist mindset, making purchases I ordinarily wouldn’t.
While I used to be able to go entire weeks cooking with what I bought in a single grocery run, I now find myself buying takeout meals almost daily, and the urge to splurge is hard to quench. Superfluous things I don’t need fill online shopping carts under the guise of self-care, and as stress pushes in from all sides, it gets easier and easier to buy, buy, buy.
I always expect it will make me feel better, but I should know by now that it won’t. It’s quite the opposite, actually. My college-student budget is precariously balanced as is, and watching my bank account dip lower and lower with worrying frequency often does more harm than good to my mental state.
So, what is there to do about capitalism encroaching on my personal life? On an individual level, I don’t think much can be done about the commodification of self-care and the incentivization of consumerism within our society — these are things that we just have to live with. I can try my hardest not to contribute, but true liberation feels unattainable; I have recently decided that I need to be kinder to myself when I do choose to spend, and most importantly, stop comparing myself to others.
I follow a lot of cooking and lifestyle bloggers, and it’s important to remember I can’t consistently live up to the standard social media sets for us. The pressure to be perfect all the time is unrealistic, especially when you’re living on a college student’s budget and taking finals during a pandemic. I can’t afford the time a lifestyle influencer has to make a gourmet lunch every day, and I need to be cognizant of that.
Hidden under the guise of the recent anti-consumerism movement is something else: privilege. Perhaps counterintuitively, circumventing convenience feels like a privilege; being able to foot the bill for organic foods, avoid things like fast fashion and have the time to cook meals at home and do self-care are not things everyone can afford.
My pretentious coffee taste is emblematic of my own entitlement. I used to look down on others for indulging in the conveniences of fast food and Amazon, but in reality, I was trying to elevate myself above people who did not have the ability to “support local coffee shops” or “buy organic” as I did. There is nothing wrong with being an anti-consumerist — I often strive to do so myself — but there is a deeper issue involved with looking down on people who don’t or can’t.
In an economy where affording a healthy or “woke” lifestyle is often gatekept by a certain income threshold, the future seems grim. You can’t simply “wait and invest in higher quality products” when you are forced to live paycheck to paycheck, nor can you “buy local or organic” if it means you can’t afford other necessities as a tradeoff.
In a world that thrives on consumerism, sustainability is made as inconvenient as possible. Until we shift away from such a hyper-consumerist mindset and make sustainable choices more affordable and accessible, we can’t expect everyone to choose them.
Despite this, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. Many brands are stepping up to the challenge and trying to make sustainable living as affordable as possible. While these anti-ads are not widespread enough to replace modern consumerist culture and are often considered marketing strategies in their own right, they are a great place to start.
So some days I’m going to buy an overpriced latte from Starbucks, pick up some No Thai on my way home or give in to the convenience of Amazon — and that’s alright. No one, especially not myself, should shame me for it.
Daily Arts Writer Hadley Samarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.