Opinion: Mindset shifts to help you break away from college consumerism complex

American society often promotes college as the route by which we can escape the life we lived our first 18 years. I personally felt myriad emotions, such as uncertainty, excitement and anticipation, once I finally decided on what college I would attend, and I resolved to be as prepared as possible for my freshman year. 

The first step in this endeavor was determining the appliances, decor, clothing and supplies I would need and want. As a diligent Gen Z teen, I turned to the internet to research what stuff would best prepare me for college. I am certainly inclined toward materialism, and the online treasure-trove of people claiming I need an item or another didn’t help. 

I dedicated a note in my notes app to my own college wish list. After weeks of adding to it on a whim, I sat down with the extensive list I had cultivated. The cost of name-brand water bottles, fancy sheets, pricey leggings and cutesy, frivolous decor totaled up to…a lot. Buying all the things I wanted more than needed seemed impossible, and I started feeling just a bit overwhelmed. I knew something needed to change — and not just because my list was a stretch.  

I realized my life will present me with many opportunities to spend excessively out of celebration, anxiety or insecurity. College is just the first. For many people, first corporate jobs, houses and weddings will follow. The inclination to fall into consumerism and greed is one I want to break now as opposed to later. I’ve tried to make these mindset shifts to experience more contentment and less materialism.

Realize that no item will ever make you truly happy

This oft-cited idea is still a hard pill to swallow. The easiest way to recognize that tangible items only provide fleeting joy is by reflecting on all the times you finally got something you really wanted. As I thought of highly-anticipated purchases I made, I did remember my initial excitement was quickly followed by indifference as the purchase melted into the landscape of everyday life.

Make reality, not aspiration, your focus

Don’t assume college (or any life milestone) will make you a new person. The only way to become a different person is by deciding to become a new person — it’s not a change that has a price tag on it. When I start excitedly bookmarking different things for my new life, I try to stop and check if it makes sense with reality and what I already use.

Actually step foot in a college dorm room

In the same spirit of pursuing realism, I recommend seeing a few college dorm rooms before deciding what you need. I visited my sister’s and friends’ dorm rooms and realized just how small my allotted space will likely be. Bringing an excess to college carries a cost of the clutter it could create, which is no way to improve your quality of life. 

Decide on non-material goals 

Instead of projecting life improvements onto things you can buy, consider how you want to change or improve internally. Whether you want to be more confident, outgoing or mentally healthy, working on your character and habits will have more of a lasting effect than new things ever could.

Recognize that you’re going to want things (items and experiences) later in actual college life

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from making my own money is the value of saving. Every purchase you can confidently make is the result of delayed gratification. I’ve kept in mind the excitement living in a new city will provide and the desire I’ll have to experience and buy things there. Considering this, I’m going to be sure to balance spending with saving for the experiences I will want. 

With these tips, I am planning to enter this new phase of life as prepared and fulfilled as possible.