I came across this idea while reading New Slow City by William Powers (I’ll give you a full review as soon as I finish it). It’s a good read. Essentially he’s attempting to live a slow life in the world’s fastest city. Ambitious.
Back to materialism. Turns out this isn’t a new idea. If you Google “We are not materialistic enough” it auto-completes, and the first result is a fifteen year old post by George Monbiot. However, in the last decade and a half, we’ve only become less and less materialistic and more and more consumeristic, so here’s my attempt to add to the discussion. The idea is that we don’t care about our stuff. We have so much of it that we store it in our basement or garages, or we rent storage units where we pay monthly, and when something breaks we replace it rather than repair it. The Minimalists touch on this in a post titled The Minimalism Paradox. The fewer things we own, the more valuable each item, thus we become more materialistic.
In contrast, our economy is based on consumerism. We buy, buy, buy. We consume our resources, discarding the old for the new, paying little attention to where our materials come from or how it affects the world around us, or even our own personal lives. Remember consumption is synonymous with destruction.
It’s no one’s fault on an individual level. I buy boots at REI. When those boots fall apart prematurely, REI replaces them, free of charge. They don’t mend them. For them it makes better financial sense to give me a new pair of boots. The heyday of the cobbler is long gone. Ok, I don’t know what REI does with the boots when I return them. Maybe they mend them and sell them or donate them. I think they often send them back to the manufacturer, and hopefully they’re able to reuse some of the parts. But let’s also look at Walmart. They sell cheap shoes. They are designed to wear out and be replaced. Walmart doesn’t make money if we repair our shoes; they make money when we go back to buy a new pair three months later. Likewise, we lose money when we buy shoes over and over again. And because those shoes are so inexpensive, we place little value on them.
But wait! There is something we can do. We can make sure the things we’re buying are meant to last, and are worth repairing if they do break down. To be fair, REI does stand behind the quality of their products, which is why they offer such a great return policy, so that could be one place to search for these things that are meant to last. If you’re thinking, “But I’m only one person. How can I make a difference in changing our economy from consumerism based to materialism based?” then don’t think about it that way. Be more selfish. I’m sure you’ll find, as we have, that making this change in your own lifestyle will make you enjoy your own life that much more. I do believe it will also have a profoundly positive impact on the greater community if more and more of us start thinking this way, but you won’t be suffering while waiting to see those positive results. You’ll feel the positive results right away in your own life. Instant gratification followed by a greater positive impact overall. It’s the best of both worlds.