Let’s talk materialism.
This one is an interesting topic (really, what isn’t?), because this one often has people sitting either on the very far end of pro-materialism or on the other, anti-materialist side and promoting the idea of minimalism.
This bothers me, because minimalism is not the opposite of materialism, neither is it some mindset that promotes the negation of things as a whole and living with the bare minimum – I call that asceticism really.
And that’s where we’re heading with this topic. Materialism, within the context that I refer to, refers to the ownership of physical objects and placing them as more important than more spiritual, abstract values. Is this correct? Well, it depends on the person, their intent and why they buy things.
The thing about being called materialistic is that it is seen by default as a negative by many, because “owning lots of things = bad rich man bad bad bad tax rich eww”. Really it’s just envy with a smarmy disguise that allows people to feel somewhat morally superior in some way. That’s also called being a loser.
Anyway, being “materialistic” is not bad or good. It’s a descriptive term. It means you are focused more on physical things, to put it very plainly. Now how can it be bad or good? Again, it depends on what and why you own things.
Let’s say you buy a very expensive sports car. You can’t afford it, it’s well beyond your reach, but you take out a hefty loan that’ll strangle your financials for a long time to come, and your reason for buying it was for looking good.
If it was well beyond your means and you’re purchasing it to get the attention of others, than I’d say that is a poor purchase and a “bad” thing – not necessarily because owning a sports car is bad or taking a loan out is, but the fact that you bought it for a poor reason and at the cost of hamstringing your life.
The question of “Why is it valuable to me?” is the primary question you need to ask when making purchases. What are you buying it for? Is it that important? Are your reasons sound? There’s nothing wrong with buying an item that is of significant, aesthetic value to you – art and beauty is a vital component to one’s life because it is what reminds us what is worth fighting and living for – it’s spiritual fuel.
And that’s the interesting mistake that many anti-materialists tend to make. We don’t just buy things because the thing is nice, but because the thing may fulfill a vital need in our life via utility, or it fulfills us on some level spiritually. I didn’t buy my purple prayer bead bracelet because it’s cool, but because it is an aesthetically pleasing item to me that makes me happy. It is a minor one, but it is an object that showcases my character when I wear it. It’s an extension of what is valuable to me – in this case, deep royal purple.
The thing is though, all the items I do buy in my life are things I buy that are within my means and do not hamper other aspects of my life that are of higher priority. I usually just call myself a minimalist because I really do live quite simply and own only a few things, but the things I do own are immensely valuable to me, whether in the form of utility and productivity boosts, or spiritually. They’re ultimately still just “things” and I think interesting stories in life are much more important, but within the materialistic sense, they’re important to me.
Owning things is a totally OK thing to do, but the reasoning behind the ownership of such things is what is actually important and what determines what a “good” or “bad” purchase is. If you’re buying a big house and going into debt because it’s “the American dream”, then it’s the dream of a different idealist that isn’t you. It’s a nice dream, but it’s not yours. Do you actually want the damn house and is the debt going to cripple you?
You always have to remember that the purchasing of things should be about you, your values and your decisions based on careful consideration of how it’d hit your finances and other, higher priorities – not the social conditioning from school or peer pressure around you. Everyone wants an iPhone 13, but I question how much everyone actually wants one because they’ve thought about why beyond the social pressuring around them.
Likewise there are people who really do live with barely anything, in the mountains in a cabin, and are happy. That’s also totally fine – remember, these things aren’t “good” or “bad” in and of themselves, it is the reasoning behind them that determine that, as it’s based on value hierarchies. Humans are complex, interesting and very different from one another.
All of this is really within the realm of discussion because of the rise of Capitalism, too. We wouldn’t be having the discussion of whether to buy a Lambo or a cabin if it weren’t for the system that led to that kind of astonishing wealth potential. It is precisely because of this system that we can choose so freely how to live our lives. It is no enemy – it’s a system that enables choice. The choice to be extremely lavish, minimalistic, balanced, etc.
Unfortunately though, many still think that “more = good/bad” and think in a binary way that lacks any nuance. Figure your values out, understand what you care for and empty your basket of eggs, retaining only the ones you truly like. I find that once you take that kind of inventory, the amount of things you buy drastically decreases because you realize most of the things available to you, you don’t really care about. You end up living within the means that are comfortable for you.
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