Why Be Less Materialistic and More Minimalistic

I used to live in a 3200 square foot home filled with ‘stuff’, and lots of it. What was the point of living in a large home if it was not being used to store all the things that I had accumulated over the years and still continued to accumulate? My family of three only needed so much room to live comfortably each day, but we definitely required a large abode to house all our material possessions. Or so I thought.

My home had a large formal dining room, and of course that called for a large dining table that accommodated eight, along with chairs to match. The dining room needed a side buffet table, wall art, and nice curtains to make sure that my family and house guests were comfortable while dining. There was a separate, sizable living room that housed two couches, side tables, a coffee table, and paintings on the wall to make sure that anyone who sat in that room had something to look at. Except that both of these rooms were hardly ever used.

My family room was the largest room in the house and contained a large screen television, a home theatre system, couches, chairs, tables, art, and other knick knacks to ensure that I was never uncomfortable when I occupied it. I even had a telescope on the patio, just in case I wanted to stargaze in the evenings by the pool. The kitchen and adjacent dining area were filled with cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, another dining table and more chairs (in case we tired of the dining room), a wine rack, more paintings, decorative items, and lots of matching plates, soup bowls, utensils, cups, glasses, and the like. After all, one never knows when you might have twenty-four guests over for lunch. And I have not even begun to talk about the five bedrooms, four bathrooms, the loft area upstairs, and the three-car garage, all of which housed more ‘stuff’.

I am not exactly sure when I had my epiphany, but at some point it dawned on me that, despite owning a nice home replete with material objects that I had hoarded over the years, I was not truly happy. In addition to that, I only used about five percent of all the items I owned. We hardly used the dining room (Christmas and Thanksgiving), we almost never used the formal living room (the family room was where everyone always seemed to congregate), the extra bedrooms were great at collecting dust, and the telescope was hardly ever utilized. The lemon zester, citrus fruit juicer, egg slicer, and other kitchen gadgets were, suffice to say, serving no purpose other than to take up space. That is when I decided to take a long and hard look at how I was living.

After some serious soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that I was guilty of being excessively materialistic and that something needed to change. That was the onset of my desire to downsize, rid myself of most of the frivolous material objects I owned, and to live in a more minimalistic manner. More importantly, I decided to change my attitude and perception towards materialism and embrace a simpler life. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

I now reside in a much smaller home, have donated or sold a lot of the useless objects that I once owned, and am still in the process of downsizing and simplifying in order to live a more minimalistic life. My garage still contains some items that I hardly use and I plan to free myself from these objects this year. This purging process has made me a much happier person and is akin to getting rid of excess baggage that I was needlessly lugging around. I have gotten rid of books that I read, TVs that I did not use, shoes that I never used, shirts that did not fit, neckties that I did not like, electronic items that I hardly needed, furniture that no longer served a purpose, fancy cat toys even though I no longer have a cat, blankets that had collected dust, collectibles that I never looked at, and the list goes on. I realized that I had been mistakenly focusing on the wrong things in my life, often at the expense of other areas which I now realized were more important.

I know that I am not alone when it comes to being afflicted by this materialism malady. In a world replete with subliminal advertising, consumerism, and hoarding, more people are beginning to realize that materialism is a vicious cycle that does not afford us happiness or meaning in our lives. Too many of us are guilty of having to work harder to afford all the stuff that we collect, leaving us with less time to pursue things that really matter. It is one of the reasons why there are so many people who are disenchanted with their lives and the things they own.

It is important to note that materialism is a problem that afflicts the wealthy as well as the poor. Regardless of our economic status, it describes the condition whereby material possessions take precedence over ethical, spiritual and psychological values. It refers to our obsession with buying, collecting, and hoarding physical objects, often at the expense of our ethical, spiritual and psychological well being. A person who owns a lot of material possessions that they hardly use or need is most likely guilty of materialism to some extent or another. Being wealthy does not make us materialistic. Seeking most of our gratification in material objects is what does.

Human beings need the basics to be happy. This is clearly illustrated in Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. We need air, food, water, rest, warmth, etc. Once these basic needs are met, people will naturally next seek safety, protection from the harsh elements, stability, predictability, security, reduction of fear, etc. If you are reading this article, you probably have satisfied those needs to a large degree. After these have been met, Maslow poignantly pointed out that what people need most is love, friendship, belonging, trust, achievement, self-mastery, respect, fulfilling our true potential, and personal growth, roughly in that order. In other words, after our basic needs are met, the acquisition of more stuff does not induce more happiness.

It makes sense that, even though we are so much better off financially today than fifty years ago, we are not any happier and, in many cases, a lot less so. Much of this can be attributed to our materialistic and consumeristic ways. We have been brainwashed into believing that acquiring and hoarding more stuff is the path to happiness. Yet we all know people who have everything they need but are still miserable. Perhaps we can all personally relate to that to a certain extent, too. It is not that owning material items that we use frequently and enjoy is bad. It is just that material objects will never lead to happiness, especially in the long run.

Why Excessive Materialism is Bad

1. It is never enough

One of the problems with placing too much emphasis on material goods is that it will never be enough for us. Material goods get old, lose their appeal, become old fashioned, and less cool. There will always be someone who owns a nicer car, a more expensive phone, a larger house in a more prestigious neighborhood, and more trendy gadgets. When we get caught up in the materialism game, the finish line keeps moving further away and preventing us from ever reaching the promised land of happiness.

2. It causes stress

When we seek happiness in material goods, the never-ending vicious cycle leads to stress in our lives. We need to work harder and make more money in order to buy more stuff because that is how we believe we will find happiness. This leads us to want even more stuff because everyone wants more happiness.

3. It only affords us temporary gratification

Material objects only bring us fleeting gratification. That new car, the latest phone, the new house, it all gets old really quickly. Our minds become conditioned to what we have. The anticipation is intense and then the thrill of owning that item wears off, leaving us with a sense of yearning for more stuff so that we can regain that high.

4. It leaves us with little time to cultivate lasting happiness

Because many people focus their resources on accumulating material items, it often comes at the expense of more effective ways to cultivate lasting happiness. For example, some people spend hours shopping instead of exercising, some work excessively long hours to pay for their material items rather than focus on their relationships, others will constantly compare their stuff to what others own and spend the majority of their time trying to keep up with the Joneses rather than bonding with their community.

5. It distracts us from the important stuff that really matters in life

When we focus on something, it means that other things are not being focused on. When we focus on materialistic items, we often are neglecting areas such as building lasting relationships, self-growth, helping others, sharing what we have, health, mindfulness, etc.

6. It creates clutter

One of the downsides to materialism is the clutter it creates. Most of us own material objects that we once thought were great acquisitions but now serve no purpose and bring us no satisfaction. We buy bigger homes to hoard more stuff that we will soon no longer use or care about. That is why decluttering is so powerful. It is a self-proclamation to be more more minimalistic and less materialistic.

7. It is wasteful

Even though our material objects are bought with our hard-earned dollars, when we collect stuff that we soon will not appreciate or have any use for, it is extremely wasteful. It is important to respect our limited resources and the plight of others who are less fortunate.

8. It is bad for the environment

Obviously, materialism is bad for the environment. Most people who are materialistic and buy stuff to satisfy their cravings own products that put a strain on our environment. From pollution to waste to transportation burdens, consumerism and materialism are bad for our precious Earth.

9. It increases unethical behavior

Studies have shown that when a society is more materialistic, it is more susceptible to unethical behavior. This makes sense since materialism often overshadows the importance of trust, alliance, integrity, and a sense of community.

10. It makes us less satisfied, less happy, more likely to be depressed or narcissistic

Many university research studies have shown that people who are overly materialistic are more likely to be less satisfied with life, less happy, more prone to depression, and more likely to be narcissistic.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that there is nothing wrong with owning some material objects (I love my quick-boil kettle which I use to make my tea every morning!), especially ones that we use and get prolonged satisfaction from. It is impossible to live without them in today’s modern culture. The problem is not with the material goods themselves; it is with our excessive emphasis on these items and the neglect of other more intrinsic values. The quickest way for us to find out if we are too materialistic is to ask ourselves if we are truly happy and if we can still be happy if some or most of our stuff were taken away from us. I suspect that all of us would benefit from asking ourselves this question and becoming a little less materialistic. Sometimes, less is more, a whole lot more.

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  • Megan

    All this is true.

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