Self Esteem

Posted by Lentus Ambulandus

chanel-cruise-2013-handbags-6I once had a friend who worked as an addictions counsellor. Drugs, booze, gambling, sex…she dealt with every kind of addiction conceivable. She would frequently regale us with fantastic stories from her work (usually over drinks, come to think of it), and she was fond of saying that “Everything — EVERYTHING — comes down to self esteem”.

I thought of her this week when I read a series of articles about our growing addiction to consumption and debt. The articles were about Canada (my homeland), where people seem to have an insatiable appetite for borrowing money to buy things. This problem is not unique to Canada, of course, or to so-called rich countries. Consumerism is rampant wherever people have a bit of money, access to credit, and TV ads telling them what they should buy in order to be like the cool kids.

Here are two of the articles, for your reading dismay. The first deals with the issue of debt, money and depression. In it, a middle-class woman describes how her family was sideswiped by sudden loss of employment (emphasis mine):

It took Zerr four years to clear her credit card debt through the credit counselling service…[she] has torn up the Visa, Brick and Bay cards in favour of prepaid credit cards when needed.

For those readers not from Canada, The Brick is a furniture store, and The Bay is large department store that sells clothes and home decor items.

Here’s how I think this counter-Escaplogical scenario played out: couple gets married, has children, succumbs to the pressure to buy 2000+ square foot suburban house because everyone else is doing it and because banks make it easy, then they rush to furnish said house. I’m also guessing they had two vehicles, took the odd vacation to Hawaii or Mexico, and purchased a lot *indispensable* Martha Stewart type stuff like toss cushions for the sofa, a big mirror to go above the fancy table at the front entrance, a KitchenAid stand mixer, and an extra TV for the man cave.

I try not to judge, because I’ve lived on the fringes of that world and I understand the insidious nature of the process. And as much as anything, the article speaks to a lack of financial literacy and shoddy government / central bank policy. But the overwhelming take-aways for me are about personal responsibility and the underlying motivations for spending money. The reality is that people waste a shocking amount of money, and in some cases incur a crazy debt load, solely to keep up with expectations. The sad part: they don’t even need to.

Here’s the second article, which reads like something out of The Onion. In this case, I almost hope the debt crash happens so that there can be a follow-up interview with these lunatics. “Honestly, we never saw this coming…my wife even had to sell her collection of Chanel purses.”

You be the judge.

The bottom line is that my addiction counsellor friend was right:

Everything — EVERYTHING — comes down to self-esteem.

Escape would be a lot easier if people learned to examine their spending patterns through that lens.

★ Buy the latest issue of New Escapologist at the shop, buy our most popular digital bundle, or pre-order the book.


Lentus Ambulandus is New Escapologist's Chief Leisure Officer. He advocates doing the things worth doing (hiking, cycling, sipping coffee, reading books), and proudly accomplishes less in a month than most people do in a week. His creed is simple: Death Before Employment.

6 Responses to “Self Esteem”

  1. Spoonman says:

    I agree with your friend’s assessment. I also think a lack of self-esteem is intimately tied to Status Anxiety. The lack of the former makes one susceptible to the latter.

  2. Phil says:

    Yes purchases for but a fleeting moment of freedom. Then back to trying to repeat.

  3. Spooner, absolutely. I should have been more explicit about that in the post. I cringe when I think about certain moments/patterns in my younger, “accumulation” years. For instance, when we had just purchased our first house – a three bedroom bungalow for the two of us and our dog, but hey…who said logic had to be involved – we were then faced with the prospect of having to furnish it. Quite frankly, we bought things big and small just because that’s what houses tended to have, so of course our house needed them. It wasn’t an overt admission in the sense that we said “oh what will they think of us if they come to our empty house”, but that sentiment was lurking just below the surface. As I said, I think people would do well to lay on a sofa in a psychologist’s office and really assess their underlying motivations before they make purchases.

    Something that goes hand in hand with this is the “grand tour” syndrome, whereby you visit a friend’s house and they give you the tour and show you all their stuff, humble bragging all the way. I can’t wait to have guests stay at our next house, which will be tiny and be built by yours truly: “this here is where you can sit your ass down on the floor because we didn’t bother buying enough chairs for guests, and I’ll apologize now for the ratty old towels you’ll use tomorrow morning, although I do believe they’re clean…make sure you don’t make a mess because I’ll be using that same shower once you’ve finished”.

  4. Phil: thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I think the solution is to be found in buying fewer, better things, and doing fewer things, better. Walking in the park with friends and family is not only rewarding, but it’s also pretty cheap entertainment, last I checked.

  5. chris says:

    Lentus – ‘I think the solution is to be found in buying fewer, better things, and doing fewer things, better.’ you really think that? seems a little to simplistic in this complex universe to arrive at such a solution!

    in fact, it’s all very much irrelevant – whether buying lots or buying nothing, whether doing lots or doing nothing. Everyone has different perspectives based on their experience and their frame of mindset when the decision is made. Yesterday i wanted to walk in the park, today i’d rather get sloshed in the pub…..

  6. Chris: I do really think that, 100%. Otherwise I wouldn’t have written it…

    The post and the related articles are essentially about people getting up to their arses in debt because they live beyond their means. The solution to not living beyond one’s means is to change the math, by either earning more or spending less. For those like me, who don’t want to work more, it’s best to focus on outflows. The best way to spend less is to…spend less. And in my experience, buying fewer, better things is a good way to do that. Another way to spend less is to concentrate on fewer hobbies and activities, thereby reducing the capital outlay required. I suppose I have a simple view of the universe, but it’s working well for me.

    Enjoy your day getting sloshed at the pub. Salud!

Leave a Reply

Latest issues and offers


Issues One to Seven

A bundle of our first seven issues. Featuring minimalism, Houdini, Leo Babauta, Bohemianism, Alain de Botton, Sartre, and Tom Hodgkinson. 567 pages. £35.


Issues Eight to Thirteen

A bundle of our last six issues. Featuring Luke Rhinehart, Flaubert, Mr Money Mustache, part-time work, Will Self, home life, Richard Herring, and E. F. Schumacher. 593 pages. £30.

Issue Thirteen

Our final issue. Featuring an interview with celebrity mortician Caitlin Doughty; Matt Caulfield on zen fool Ryokan; and Reggie C. King on David Bowie and Sun Ra. 122 pages. £7.

Escape Everything!

A hardback guide to scarpering. Essential reading for wage slaves and slugabeds alike. Published by Unbound and Penguin. 230 pages. £12.