Living Between Worlds – My Growing Discomfort with American Consumerism

As I become more spiritually and ecologically aware, I have a growing discomfort in interacting with consumerist America.  Its something that has been gnawing at me for many years, but it was only in the last few that I’ve been able to articulate it–and speak to others about it.


Mixed Media artwork - tree with repuposed/salvaged materials
Mixed Media artwork – tree with repuposed/salvaged materials

Case in point–I work very hard to abide by guidelines and suggestions that I post on this blog for limiting purchases, repurposing, freecycling, etc.  This behavior immediately sets me apart from the “typical” American who engages in shopping as a hobby and major life activity; this also means that I actually do very little shopping and spend very little time in any kind of department store.  I’m finding that when I have to drag myself to shop somewhere, I find the experience less and less pleasant each time.


Today is a great example of this–I never buy “new” clothes with the exception of undergarments, and well, it was just time to go get some.  I order some of these online from more sustainable, ethical companies, but certain things are difficult to order without trying on. And so, I forced myself out to locally-owned department store.  From the moment I entered the store and was greeted by a zombie worker who looked to be in a complete stupor,  I felt uneasy.  I felt like an outsider entering someone else’s sacred shrine; I pushed my shopping cart down overstuffed aisles lit by blazing florescent bulbs, and I felt the weight of consumerism bearing down on me. I’m critical of this system, I don’t like it, and I do as much as I can to avoid it.  I listened to the women squee and giggle over “cute clothes” and “cute shoes” and “cute socks” and how “I so don’t need this but I’m buying it anyways”. All that I can see–and spiritually sense–is the environmental destruction present in the system; the uselessness of most of the purchases; and the unsustainable nature of it all.  I feel like the “shopping experience” crushes my spirits and leaves me drained.  Its like a plastic-wrapped, chemically-ridden dystopia.  Its overwhelming.  Even with good shielding and cleansing afterwards, I still feel icky and uncomfortable being in these shrines of consumerism.


I’ve expressed this viewpoint and my reactions in some limited way to my previous significant other and some family members (mainly to avoid “going shopping” with them and trying to negotiate alternative activities).  They don’t get it–and I was told that I clearly had a psychological condition.  This is actually part of the reason why my recent significant other is now my “previous” significant other and I’m once again single–he is not a spiritual person, and he believed that what I experienced spiritually was “crazy” and didn’t understand why I didn’t like to shop or engage in other activities that “millions of Americans do each day.” I suppose to people who aren’t in a sustainability mindset and spiritually gifted with multiple means of sensing the world, the idea that shopping could be physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining isn’t even fathomable.  They see the “problem” as being not with the system, but with me.


But when I express this viewpoint to members of my druid grove, friends within our permaculture group, or other like-minded souls, I get nods of acceptance and understanding.  They describe their own experiences in various big box stores and sometimes, just a knowing glance is all you need to know the sentiment is shared.   Which makes me recognize that this is less about my own personal challenge and more an issue with the larger system–an issue that links satisfaction, entertainment, and identity to the ability to purchase lots of stuff and then throw it away and purchase more stuff.   I, and a growing number of others,  see through that system and its just not something that we are interested in supporting and perpetuating.


I am starting to think the earth-based/druid/sustainability people operate and live in a radically different world. Our world is a world of growing things, of preserving life, of building community through skill shares and work days, and through supporting our farmer’s markets, CSA’s and local co-ops.  Its a world of alternative everything–alternative energy, alternative financing (like slow money), alternatives to petrochemicals and the typical lawn, alternatives to buying anything.  Its a world where we don’t see spirituality, practice, and ecology as separate but connected to the whole. We share and support each other.  We live in a bit of a utopian “bubble” world that is somehow separate from the rest of what’s out there–and that’s an amazing and wonderful thing.  And really, I don’t actually find myself thrown into mainstream American culture all that much and so as I distance myself from it, it becomes harder and harder to stomach.


There is a deep-rooted challenge in this shift I’ve been experiencing. I can see myself, over time, becoming more and more attracted to the “off the grid” hermit lifestyle (which has its benefits, but as one of my blog commenters below has posted–its not a viable option for most due to overpopulation and strains on our resources).  And I know people who do live off the grid and are very happy doing so.  I would certainly be one of those people if given the opportunity.  But at the same time, I feel like if I remove myself entirely from mainstream America, I lose my ability to interact, to educate, to inform, and to empower.  I lose my ability to understand the system by being in the system; to teach those who are new to sustainability and druidry about alternatives.   To be a good role model; to be a person whom others can go to for advice about local eating, raising chickens, seed starting, and related spiritual matters.    And so, I seek ways to balance  my need to remain connected to a system that drains me (and that, for all my concern, I still require things from) and the need to disconnect from that system and be free.


What are your experiences with this, my dear blog readers? Do you understand that of which I speak?  How have you learned to handle it?


  1. I completely understand your feelings. I hate going shopping particularly in the big malls and department stores. The glaring lights, the noise and the stifling atmosphere of consumerism.
    When I was a teenager, my Dad constantly advised me not to let money burn a hole in my pocket. His saying was “Do you really need it and will you use it?”
    When I started learning more about druidry, my attitude towards life changed dramatically over the years.
    Everywhere I turn I seem to be besieged by advertisements to “buy this” or “do that” at only £?.99p. TV, shops, computer, newspapers, letters and circulars – it seems as though everything is closing in on me.
    Sometimes it is therapeutic to escape into a different world but you are right in saying that remaining in the main stream does give the opportunity to inform, educate and change the system.

    1. Hi Sheblyth, thanks for commenting! I know what you mean about things closing in around you….that’s how I feel when I’m inside a store (or in a big city!).

  2. You live in the most consumerist nation on this planet where money is god. Consumerism is the default paradigm of this world, the advanced nations are enslaved to it, the developing nations want to be a part of it. This paradigm will be what may kill humanity, drive the political, economic, social and environmental systems to collapse. Anarchy and war is the result of this unsustainable paradigm.

    You and those like you stand as a hope for humanity, in your hands is a new paradigm. It is a small child like the divine children of Celtic legend, a beginning of a new order. It requires people like you to protect and release this child into the world. Once this child is running the old order will collapse before it.

    I am like you, although I am not of the Druid religion. I live in Britain. I feel the same as you. It is however important to be in a position of influence, to show others by example this new paradigm of sustainability. The great wasteland is upon this world. The holy grail is out there. The knights need to ride and bring healing back to the world. Some of the knights will fall, but humanity now depends upon you and others like you. You fail the world fails.

    1. Alex, thanks for the comment. I think “enslavement” is a good term for what we have in the US, UK, and other “industrialized” nations. And you are right–without an alternative vision of the future, we have little hope in a future. Thanks for the words of encouragement, my friend!

  3. I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago when I was searching for information about wildcrafting some reeds. I was delighted to find a blog not only about permaculture and sustainable living but also about druidry, one of my areas of interest in magic & spirituality. You’ve put together an amazing and inspirational resource! Thanks so much.

    As for your question, my wife and I find as well, that it is harder and harder for us to be “happy” when we do have to go a big box store or other such place. Like you we try to minimize our reliance upon those places, by getting clothes second hand, etc.

    Finding the balance of wanting to share and be visible on a different path in the world, and the choice of becoming a hermit is poignant. One of my magical teachers once said that in this day and age its no longer possible for everyone to go and become a hermit, for reasons of overpopulation, among others. So I think the challenge is going to be for those of us who are “early adopters” of the post-industrial /American empire lifestyle is to do what we can to create the new societies and communities in the shell of the old, as the old hippie saying goes. It’s not always going to be pleasant, but our spiritual training and magical skill sets are going to cause the people to gravitate to us as they themselves realize the emptiness of the spectacle.

    The blending of the magical, esoteric, spiritual with the practical you show here on this blog is essential in my mind, because having a life philosophy grounded in an ecological worldview will be one of the ways we can grow past the painful/difficult aspects of dissociating from the dominant culture. But since we’ll have been there and are doing it, we’ll be able to guide others who are new. And as energy descent continues to unfold their will be many more.

    1. Justin – thanks so much for your comment and kind words about my blog! Its nice to “meet” another kindred spirit! 🙂 You make a good point about the hermit lifestyle; its not feasible for most of us and its not environmentally practical. Here in Michigan, we are trying hard to build that alternative/resistant community in our own way…and yes, its a blend of the ecological/sustainable and spiritual. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I apologize for how long this post will be, but I feel I want to address many of your concerns, from my vantage point of “60 this year.”

    I was born in 1953, post-Korean war era, pre-Beatnik and certainly pre-hippy. There are many pictures of me hugging trees before I could walk (which means before one year of age) and my mother used to tell me I talked to all plants and considered trees my friends. We lived in a post-war project. (For those of you who don’t know such things, these large developments of row houses or duplexes were built for the families of the returning servicemen who couldn’t get jobs or homes right away. They were well maintained, not like the projects of today. Though the one I grew up in has become like that.)

    Growing up very poor made me thrifty and clingy to any item of clothing, toy, or even a pinecone. (I’m still like that. Old habits, you know.) All of this, of course, makes me ‘peculiar’. Or ‘crazy’. Anything one does that is NOT mainstream always ends up with labeling; it’s what civilized people do when they perceive differences. They see threats in differences.

    At one time, I did shop as a hobby, but only for items like clothing, shoes and jewelry, items I never had as a poor woman. I still have all these things, btw. 😉 Even though most don’t fit any longer. I have plans to ebay them fairly soon. As for wearing previously worn clothing, except for jackets or coats, my short stature isn’t common; there’s not much out there for me to wear. Even shopping for new clothing is a chore.

    Like you, I hate shopping, for real. I’ll ‘window shop’ for fun, with no intention at all of spending any cash. I also hate big box stores; Walmart hasn’t seen me or James in 9 yrs. (I was only in there 9 yrs ago because I couldn’t find the labeling tape anywhere else. Now, online is best for all that kind of thing.) I also feel depleted of any energy in such places; I don’t go to any place like a mall, or even a ‘craft bazaar’ pre-Christmas. I do any shopping I’ll be doing online.

    CSAs are impossible here. I’d spend more money on gas to get the packages, which will be 1/4 of what I could get for the same money in a good grocery store.

    I could go on, and probably will, but I’d like to give you a gift: Grow your skin very thick, tighten your stomach. AND stop caring what others think of you or your habits. They are YOURS. And believe me, others have some really bad ones they don’t expose to the public world. Others, family, anyone who truly cares, will accept that you don’t do certain things. Or they’ll not bother you anymore. But please, don’t engage others in your philosophy when you already know they will label you ‘with a psychological condition’. They aren’t doctors, they’re judges, at that point.

    Unfortunately, with my health issues, I’m dependent on the medical system. And I HATE it. But have had to accept some of it… I found a doctor who will work with me. He’s out of network, so it costs more money, but he involves me in my treatments and SEES me, sees how I’m doing.

    My health also means that I can’t grow my own food; as much as I would like to, it’s beyond my energy tank volume.

    About recycling (and ‘up cycling’): I have recycled since the 60s. I’ve noticed many people who do it now think it’s never been done before. They’re wrong. During the World Wars, not only was rationing in force, but not recycling was against the law, not optional as it is now. We have garbage service for one small garbage bin a month. The rest is either burned in our wood stove or composted in one of our 3 bins.

    We’ve planted trees (some of which we bought, others were given to us). We’ve planted blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and raspberries, all easy for me to care for. We’ve removed grass every year, but here in Oregon, because of the winter rains, getting rid of grass is difficult, not just a matter of burying under heavy mulch, etc. James has become my ‘yard slave’, as he calls it. I try not to ask too much of him, but some things MUST be done, like rabbit proofing my yards. (I’ve already lost one dog to leptospirosis.) Unfortunately, he’s rather lazy unless it’s playing game of any kind 😉

    James, my SO for over 20 yrs, is technical, and very opposite to me in some philosophies. He calls me a Luddite sometimes, though it’s in jest, mostly. As he has had to accept my packrat abilities (I don’t think of that as a bad thing, as long as the items are in a proper place or organized), I’ve had to accept his foibles. I gave him real hell when, years ago, he called my car a ‘throw away’ car. That got 38 mpg at the time. When it finally died, I got another, new one, because it had the best mpg rating at the time, 42. I’ll keep that car till IT dies too. No trading in every couple years for me (or James).

    Getting along with a partner can be rough; both must accept the other, and yet grow along with them too. I was sorry, and surprised, to hear that you’ve broken up. However, it can only be for the good. Better now than much later.

    Yes, we buy stuff, new stuff. The items I’ve looked at, locally, are always compromised in some way. (Cat pee on couch, things NEVER cared for properly, or mold all over the stuffing, etc) Sometimes, things wear out, after 30 yrs of good use. 😉 We do give things away, either to Goodwill or Freecycle or craigslist.

    We do a lot of our own housework, like painting walls, putting up woodwork where there wasn’t any, making many repairs. When we do something major, it’s to better the room or our environment.

    One thing to keep in mind: buying new items, made as local as possible, gives others jobs, whether they’re zombies or not (I’ve found that many people know they’re in dead end jobs, can’t get better ones, and so ‘put in their time’ so they can pay their bills)… also, many young people just don’t understand doing a job well, when they consider that job not to be ‘permanent’. They weren’t taught to do a job well, honestly.

    The Big System sucks. It does. I’ve fought it my whole life. It’s lost me good jobs and probably friends. (Though I wonder about how good those friends would have been.) It even cost me my ‘family’, which is no great loss. They’d always know I was different; they told me constantly. I take that judgment as a compliment. 😀 I’m sure it took both marriages too. And guess what? Both of those guys had their own issues: the first one, schizophrenia with paranoid tendencies, and a borderline personality; the second one, had abandonment and control issues. I’m better without either of them, though the lessons learned during those times are invaluable.

    About alternative fuels, etc. It’s all about the CARBON. Burning gasoline is the same as burning coal; electricity is not free either, since many are run by burning the same carbon fuels as listed here. The expensive and impossible to recycle car batteries in the alternative cars are dangerous.. they are full of mercury and other chemicals that will prove just as toxic, just in a different way. We must pick our evil and use it with light hands, to keep our footprint as small as possible.

    Be wary of distancing yourself; at your age, you must keep in touch with how the ‘real world’ is advancing (or more likely, failing), the Mainstream, as you call it. You will have to operate within it’s laws and boundaries for quite some time yet. Finding a balance is important. Keeping your sanity, just as much. But you really can’t leave, not for a while. Teaching is your purpose. You are very lucky in that you do have a group of people who get you and help you. I’ve never had that. I’ve always been the odd one out. I’ve gotten to enjoy the role. I get to observe, no one controls me, though they try. (I have idiots for neighbors.) I get to take my stress out on weeds. I can make art that is sometimes appreciated, but never sold, which means I have my own art on my walls. Remember, I grew up poor, with no prospects, no ideas for a good life, and certainly, no appreciation for my own innate talents. I live comfortably, under the circumstances. I can paint a wall a weird color, play with my loving animals, laze about if I feel like it.

    My only super guilty usage is I love books. Real books, with paper. I really don’t like reading electronically. So I buy the real thing, used when I can. I hate libraries now… they have only bestsellers, not any of the older books I love. Even the used book stores have only bestsellers.

    Anyway, reserve a part of you aside from the Mainstream, a private part that watches. You can be both the teacher and the hermit, you can. It takes practice. And you have time to do that. 😀 I feel that you’ll do just fine!

    If this is too long, feel free to read and edit for the public.

    1. Meran, such good advice, my friend! Yes, you are right. And I am SO blessed to have a group of like-minded people who don’t think I’m completely off kilter. I don’t usually define myself in terms of others, but sometimes, you are standing there in a daze in the middle of a department store and you feel like you are the only one screaming inside and you just start to wonder, lol. :P. Thanks for your response!

  5. I think what you have to look at is how extreme an idea is. I know this from being over the edge and not wanting to go there again. My opinion is that extreme is never good. But you have a right to do whatever you want. And you may need to be extreme.

    Life is to be enjoyed! That’s all! Please keep that in mind when you live.

    There aren’t any rules except what you say there are. Don’t make rules and think they are real. They are not.

    Enjoy living in nature, if that’s what you want to do. It sounds cool to me. (But I know I love my flush toilet.) But don’t say you have to do it. You can only be true to yourself. Responsible for yourself. You can’t control others.

    Laugh if you have to go to Walmart! People are silly. We are all one with life. Sure it’s sad if some don’t get it, but they have a right to live any kind of life they want, really. Don’t put their weight on your shoulders – your back will start to hurt.

    I’m sorry to hear you are going through a difficult time. May it be short.

    1. Thanks for our comments, Ranthia! I always do embrace happiness…especially when I stay far away from department stores, haha! 🙂

  6. I have asperger’s syndrome and social phobia, so for me going shopping, or going into larger towns/cities is a terrifying experience even before I consider the environmental/spiritual toxicity of consumerism, so I totally sympathise completely. You’re not crazy, the millions of people who spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need and then work jobs they hate to pay off their debts are crazy. The consumerist society is a mass mental illness, I’m sure of it!

    1. Mass mental illness…if the rising rates of depression in consumer-based societies are any indication, you are completely right!

  7. I hear you, about feeling better when staying away from shopping, etc., but also not wanting to withdraw from the world completely. In addition to forfeiting your chance to teach and influence, withdrawing also doesn’t shield us from the larger-scale ramifications. I feel much the same way.

    I think your shielding and cleansing is a great technique. I often avoid necessary shopping by ordering online, but I wonder – would I buy even less if I forced myself to go into a store to do it? Or is that just torturing myself? After all, every creature has a right to provide for its needs and protect itself from harm. As you say, it’s a balance. Sometimes you have to go out there and be an example of alternative ways of living, and sometimes you have to walk away from people who think you’re crazy.

    So, no answers, I guess…just, “I hear you” and “I know what you’re going through” and “I think you’re doing a great job finding balance.”

    1. Thanks, Emily! Yes, you are right; I think balance is key. You’ve made a good point about the “perks” of buying online–and its challenges. Its sooo easy to buy stuff online that we always have to be mindful of that kind of consumption too :).

  8. I just want to say that up until about the turn of the 20th century I had for most of my life felt as if I didn’t belong in this time. Know what I mean? I’ve been called crazy by most of my family, including children who no longer speak to me but live inner cities lives without regard to anything except what they want. I can relate very well to your comments about this consumerist society. However, despite peer opinions and government pressure to conform I am convinced, like you and the others who commented here, that we each have a part to play in the future of our race and our planet. My philosophy these days is to not just talk about it but do something about it. Recycle, compost, plant that organic garden and herb patch where your front lawn is, get those heritage breed chickens you’ve always dreamed about and all the other things that those of us who give a damn need to due. Don’t wait for the government to tell you, their on the side of consumerism in all its unholy and unhealthy surreality. Anyway, I really enjoy reading your thoughts and I look forward to the next one. I don’t feel so lonely anymore in the heart of redneck country. Yes, we have rednecks here in Canada to. If you ever met me you might think I’m one

  9. What a wonderful blog! Yes! I only shop in charity shops most of the time and people think I’m weird too! I buy things second hand in preference to buying them new because it’s more sustainable. I hate the crowded shopping malls and trendy stores. Even my visits to our local supermarket are usually flying visits through the vegetable aisle, grabbing some nuts and then out again – although hubby likes to be more thorough. If your man didn’t share your views on sustainability, he probably wasn’t the right man for you. Keep looking. I love this blog. 🙂

  10. I’ve always viewed shopping as a chore I just have to get done. My mom was an obsessive coupon-clipper and sale-chaser, always trying to find the best deal for everything. Not quite the same as people who shop as a hobby, but the amount of effort she put into it seemed exhausting to me. (I don’t think my mom was one of these people, but I know some people view couponing like some sort of game almost.) Plus all the food coupons you get are for processed foods anyway, and the amount of time it takes driving from store to store comparing prices for different items, and the hours spent going through newspapers clipping coupons and filing them away seemed to cancel out the benefit of paying a couple fewer dollars on it at this big box store vs. this other one.

    I’m jealous that you actually have a locally-owned department store. I didn’t know those still existed.

    Like a previous commenter, I also have social anxiety, so I just hate crowds at the store aside from any ethical concerns. I also hate pushy salespeople, though I know they themselves are being pushed to be that way by their supervisors.

    Unfortunately, it’s about time I went and bought some clothes. Clothes shopping is the worst of all shopping! (Food shopping isn’t too bad, and I actually like going to the local garden center, but I HATE clothes shopping!) Most of my clothes, including my work outfits, are getting worn out. I only have two pairs of jeans left that still have the crotches intact. I always wear clothes until they literally fall apart. I don’t understand people who buy new clothes every year. I just hate doing it so much.

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