Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I'm A Materialist


Materialism is often looked down on, said in the same breath as consumerism, commercialism, hedonistic treadmill, keeping up with the Joneses, etc. It's only recently that I've begun to draw a distinction. I'm making an effort to rise above my consumerist impulses, but, the more I embrace minimalism, the more I convinced I become that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool materialist. And I think I like it.


Consumerism, to me, means the constant demand for more, more, more. A constant cycle of desire and buying and desiring more. A minimalist consumerist might be someone who only has five things, but is constantly upgrading, discarding, replacing. This is the trajectory I sometimes fear I'm on.


Materialism, meanwhile, is the love of things. Of physical objects. A minimalist materialist might be someone who only has five things, but truly values and appreciates each one, takes a lot of pleasure from using and looking at them, and maintains them with love and respect. This is the kind of minimalist I want to be!


To more zen-inspired minimalists, materialism has many downsides. The focus on stuff is a distraction from more important aspects of life, like experiences and wisdom. A desire to cling to things that are seemingly permanent is a failure to embrace impermanence. After all, you can't take it with you. FAIR ENOUGH.


But I think that everyday joys are important, and I don't want to remove a source of joy from my life, or punish myself for getting joy from the wrong thing. Joy is joy, and sometimes, physical items bring me joy. That's what the Want What You Have Challenge is all about: recognizing and celebrating the joy in everyday things.


The biggest surprise to me is that I can use my materialist impulses to fight my consumerist impulses. Some thoughts I've had recently while shopping:


  • That's interesting, but I already have the perfect thing. Why would I want to replace/upgrade something I love?
  • I'd rather have the simpler one, less failure points. I want to own it for a long time.
  • This is okay and would meet my need for the time being, but I don't want to settle for "just okay." I'll hold out for perfect. Until then, I'm fine doing without.
  • I don't need it, and it doesn't spark joy.
  • I don't want to shop anymore. I'm happy with the things I already have.

I'm not trying to say that I'm a totally virtuous nonshopper now--I still have other, competing thoughts, like "Ooh, shiny." But I'm getting there.

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