“I’m not materialistic” I say, as I grab a little knick-knack off the shelf at Goodwill. I’m not materialistic I think as I buy more and more things over time, participate in capitalism, and eagerly await the arrival of new things whether it’s clothes, car parts, or exercise equipment.
But I can still say I’m not materialistic.
Why? Why can I like material objects but also not be materialistic?
I like to think that we live in a kind of era of duality, a world that juxtaposes itself. On the one hand, we have extreme minimalism coming to the surface. We have folks who are living very low impact lifestyles and keeping very little to their name. Some people even live life without furniture. And this isn’t too shocking anymore especially as we’ve seen a rise in minimalist styles in the last ten to fifteen years.
On the other hand, because of our capitalist society and our tendency to like to keep things around us, many of us have piles and piles of things. Books, jewelry, random stuff littered around our homes. Symbols of our life, memories, people we’ve lost or people we love fill our homes. We might even have full closets of clothes, shoes, and Christmas decorations.
But what about the people in the middle?
Well, I don’t think we’re all too big on acknowledging people in the middle. It’s not fun. It’s not juicy. It doesn’t excite us. But most of us fall into that category.
But let’s get back into it.
I love getting a gift if I need it or if it’s been something I’ve been excited about. I love buying new things. But do I obsess over it? Do I constantly search for new things to buy? Do I hoard things? No.
What we think of when we think of materialistic, we think of a lot of nasty stereotypes and women. And that’s not great.
Materialistic means that we are obsessed, obsessed, with material things over intellectual, spiritual, or philosophical things. Being obsessed with money is another sign too. So, we have a fixation on possessions and money and a lack of care around intellectual, spiritual, and personal things. Does that sound like someone buying new clothes?
So do I like things? Absolutely. Do I like them more than the pursuit of a better me? A good session of some quality introspection? Hours of exercise, reading, studying, or writing? No. I do not.
It isn’t that minimalism is bad, it’s that our obsession with condemning buying things is. We often confuse vanity for materialism and we confuse the both of them with normal behaviors.
There’s nothing wrong with buying things. It’s good to like things! If you want to own something or even develop a collection of something, go for it! But recognize that this isn’t materialism or vanity at all. It only becomes that when it’s your identity.
When you items become your identity, there’s a problem. When you have an obsession with acquiring more just to acquire more, there’s a problem.
But when I say I’m not materialistic, I mean that I’m in a healthy middleground.
Every few months, I go through my things and give away what I won’t use anymore. I’ll donate the clothes that might not fit right or that I like the least. Things that are really old get turned into rags. Trust me, if you go through your whole house with the idea of purging stuff you don’t use/need every few months you will continue to find things.
Now, the second part of this is that yes, I do like to buy things. I think like most people tend to. But I like to buy things that better me. Exercise gear. Whether it’s a yoga wheel or leggings to run in or maybe even a gym membership, I buy things to better me. To make me work. To help me focus on what is important to me.
But I also own a lot of “extra” things. Typewriters, fountain pens, a sports car. Does this make me materialistic?
And this time instead of me focusing on the definition of materialistic, I’m going to focus on our reaction to other’s perceived wealth.
Our judgment of others and our quickness to jump to “you’re so materialistic” has to come from somewhere. Maybe one of those places is jealousy. If I’m jealous of someone and their possessions, it would make sense that I would attack what they have by claiming they’re materialistic. It completely undercuts the work a person did and the personality of a person.
I’ll say it again, we can buy things, own things, and not be materialistic.
It’s more important that we realize we may be too quick to judge others. Let’s be a little kinder and realize that it’s not our business to judge what people buy or spend their money on. We can’t understand everyone we meet and to make a sweeping assumption about their character based on spending tendencies is not fair.
Should we then, chill a little?
Yes, we should. We should take the pressure off others and take it off ourselves. Yes, it is easy to call someone materialistic but it isn’t honest. Why are we judging? Why are we pointing the finger? Why do we feel the need to do that?
Instead of vocalizing when you think someone is materialistic, think about why you think that and what good it would even do to share your thoughts with the other person. We live in a capitalist society, yes but that doesn’t mean that we are all so materialistic. It doesn’t mean that if we have things we are materialistic. It just means we aren’t a minimalist.
So for one final time, it’s fine to buy things. Don’t concern yourself too much with how others will think of you and as another person, don’t concern yourself with judging and thinking of others so much.