Consumerism or Happiness — You Choose

Are your cell phone and social media feeds over-flowing with so many messages and photos you can barely keep up with it all? And, still, you keep checking them?

Do you buy things to feel good and impress others, filling your home with material stuff you don’t need? And, still, you want and need more?

And all the while … do you feel there’s something missing? 

If so, listen up. Peterborough teenager Rachel Quilty, wise beyond her 18 years, has some advice for you.

rachel quilty photo

Rachel Quilty

“Clutter shakes your brain. It affects you in so many different ways. It’s chaos for your mind,” she said, in an interview with JOURNEY Magazine, “and consumerism is a spider web that affects the environment, your health, personal relationships, everything.”

Minimalism, on the other hand, she said, is a tool that can lead to what’s important — happiness and fulfillment.  

Last spring in Stratford, Ontario, Rachel shared this message as a participant in the Royal Canadian Legion’s public speaking contest for her age group (senior level), while a Grade 12 student at Our Lady of the Wayside Academy in Peterborough. Her speech on consumerism, minimalism and happiness won her the provincial title and $1,000. (See speech below)

. . . look for happiness in places that truly set your soul on fire.

“I do love the idea of minimalism and it’s something I admire and work toward. My dream has always been to live in a van or tiny cabin and travel. If you’re happy with yourself, it doesn’t matter what others think of you,” Rachel said.

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Consumerism traps everyone, young, old and people of different backgrounds, and it’s not just new stuff that people buy, she said.  It can be from second-hand stores, too.

“You also have to think where these often cheaply-made items come from and who makes them.” 

But it’s important to not get caught up comparing your minimalism with others, Rachel continued, noting it’s different for each person.

“If it brings you peace of mind and clarity then, to yourself, you’ve become a minimalist.” 

We desire happiness through purpose, but constantly consuming material things will never get you that . . . it cannot be found 75% off on black Friday.

Rachel has been participating in the Legion’s public speaking competitions since she was a young elementary student at St. Alphonsus School. 

Before going to the provincial level this year, she had to first win at her school, then the local level (held in Lakefield), then the zone level (held in Bancroft), the district level (held in Port Perry), and finally the area level (held in Cobden).

“I definitely get nervous every time. I am shaking on the inside and my mouth gets dry, but the more and more I do it, the more comfortable I become,” Rachel said.

She said choosing a topic is usually the hardest part of the process. In past years, her speech topics have included Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who was attacked by a shark and lost an arm; child slavery; apathy; street art; and graffiti.

“I love it. It isn’t really about the competition, rather it is being able to share what I think matters. I don’t pay attention to what others want,” she said.

Rachel has taken a year off from her schooling after graduating from Our Lady of the Wayside in June and now works as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at the Peterborough Sport and Wellness Centre. She is saving her money and volunteering before deciding on her post-secondary plans —  perhaps something in public relations or motivational speaking. This past summer she worked as a counsellor at Camp Oconto at Tichborne, Ontario (north of Kingston), after attending it as a camper for the last seven summers. 

She loves the outdoors, canoeing, hiking with her dog, horseback riding, drawing and is very close to her two older sisters and single mother, who has taught her the value of volunteering in the community and showed her “the attitude of gratitude”, she said.

Rachel has volunteered at various times with the War Amps, at sporting events, Vinnie’s store, and numerous other events and charities. Her Catholic faith is also a big part of her life. In 2014, she received the Peterborough Mayor’s Youth Award.

“I am so grateful for my family. My mom is a very giving person. I’ve learned everything from her. “

Look into volunteer work in your community. See who and where people need help, and share your talents there.

Every year, ever since she can remember, her family has spent Christmas day with marginalized people at a local shelter. Santa would always bring a new board game on Christmas morning so she and her sisters would have something to play while their mom helped with meal preparations. 

“I don’t know what Christmas is like without it,” said Rachel.

Through Canada World Youth, her family has billeted numerous young women who have become like sisters to her, she said. 

“No matter what it is, you can find joy in helping in any aspect. Wherever you go someone needs help, or an organization, so being open to volunteering and not being close-minded is something that has really, really helped me.”

“I am grateful for even the bad because I know good things can come from it,” she said. 

Born with one arm, Rachel said she has grown up not knowing anything different, and this has given her special strength. She had to overcome bullying and other struggles such as not being able to do certain things. 

“I wouldn’t have the personality I have today. You have to be grateful for the things that may cause a little bit of hurt at times, because amazing things come from it.”

Rachel’s Speech: Consumerism, Minimalism and Happiness

Imagine this: you have the fancy car, you have the newest cell phone, and you have all the clothes and newest fashion trends. You sit and watch the news on the television while scrolling through pages of social media and feeds. You search through ads for newer phones, newer clothes, newer gadgets, the most popular “things” with the highest reviews. You see countless things you want and add numerous items to your “wish list”. But something’s missing, something that the IPhone 7 can’t give to you in a world of material things. You still can’t find what you’re searching for. You still can’t find what you truly want most.  

Good afternoon honourable judges, guests and fellow speakers.  

evolution to consumerism


If you’re like me, you’re searching for happiness. Why do you think you can’t find it among your things? Consumerism is a problem that we all face. It’s a way of living that has brought more damage to lives than good. After showing you the negative effects that consumerism has in our lives, I hope to present you with positive alternate solutions including the tool of minimalism.  

Did you know that the average American has over 300,000 items in a household? Still with all of this “stuff” and all these “things” that we constantly consume, we still want more, we still need more, and so we continue to consume. But this particular thing we’re all looking for cannot be found 75% off on black Friday. This thing that we desire most cannot be found in material possessions.  

Now, some can say that consumerism has its place. Some positive effects of consumerism are:  a higher economic growth rate, with more goods and services available; higher amounts of employment opportunities; a variety of goods and services to choose from and more comforts for a better living style. 

In 2014, enough Keurig cups were thrown out to circle the earth 12 times.

Yet, the negative effects of consumerism weigh out the positive by far. For example, the world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today. Did you know in 2014 enough Keurig cups were thrown out to circle the earth 12 times, or worldwide there are 6.6 billion cell phones in use and in the USA the time one usually keeps a phone for is  18 months until they are simply discarded even if still functional?

But it’s not just the environment that suffers. Personal relationships get affected as people are busy trying to earn more to maintain their standard of living. The health of a human decreases as we work more and stress more about financial goals and having enough money to live the life of luxury we are told we can attain. Psychological health also can be affected if one’s desires are not met and people can begin to experience issues like depression. Physical clutter also overloads your senses, making you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively. We, individually and ultimately as a society, have an issue with consumerism, and find it difficult to find a solution or realize we even need one at all.  

. . . To not be distracted by things or caught up in stuff or the hustle and bustle of our lives.

In an effort to find value in life and to give less meaning to material items, a cultural movement is growing. Minimalism. The purpose of minimalism is to rid yourself of material possessions. Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists quotes “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” I’m sure that is an idea we can all agree on, living a life of value. 

Joshua Becker, a husband and father of two found out about minimalism and decided something needed to change. Although this decision came with compromise as he had a family to consider, they were eventually able to consume less and downsize to a smaller house. Now, with a smaller house and less consuming, he was able to accept a job that he really wanted but in past he had to reject as it wouldn’t have been enough to support his family financially. He was able to achieve what he loved, a job of meaning. 

  . . . Stop and smell the roses without the constant itch to check your texts or emails. 

Minimalism cannot solely bring you happiness, but it can help you find it. We desire happiness through purpose, but constantly consuming material things will never get you that. Instead look for happiness in places that truly set your soul on fire. Look into volunteer work in your community. See who and where people need help, and share your talents there. Or maybe happiness will come by truly enjoying and supporting a friend. With a different outlook on life and less stuff, you are able to focus on building new relationships or enhancing old ones. Maybe your happiness through purpose is that the thing you desire most is faith. Maybe by delving further into your faith you will be able to find that thing that you desire most and will then be able to fill that void in your life. Or maybe it’s gratitude, simply enjoying the true happy moments in life, embracing the world, making it your own radical life where you can smile at the little things, where you can stop and smell the roses without the constant itch to check your texts or emails. To not be distracted by things or caught up in stuff or the hustle and bustle of our lives. To appreciate life.  

If I were to ask you, to close your eyes and picture what you love most, what you truly value and appreciate most in life and if I were to ask you what that “thing” is that YOU desire most … what would it be? If you had to reflect on your entire life, what would you appreciate most — time with friends and family or traveling or helping others that are in need? Whatever it is that you see, don’t let the “things” in life get in the way.  

Thank you.  

Article by Melodie McCullough

























rachel quilty photo

Rachel Quilty

Categories: Consumerism, Youth

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