Before you say ‘thanks, I got it on Facebook Marketplace!’, read this:28 Feb, 2022
“Thanks, I got it on Facebook marketplace!” is a refrain I find myself saying a lot these days, proud of finding something at a fraction of the price it would be new. I’m savvy, frugal, environmentally friendly even.
I don’t mind if something isn’t brand new – I’m not materialistic.
Except that I’d be wrong. A sign of materialism is making the acquisition of stuff a big focus in your life. If I were to honestly add up the hours I spend trawling Facebook marketplace for these great deals, my behaviour would betray me.
I’d hazard a guess that you wouldn’t label yourself a materialist either. But the fact is our culture does — and treats us this way. We’re raised in a world that needs us to buy more, and things are set up to make this as easy as possible. We are living in a material world.
Why things fail us
Materialists buy stuff to feel better about their life and treat possessions as markers of success. But this mindset is not good for us, and is correlated with making us lonely, depressed, lowering self-esteem and more.
Buying things and experiences can bring us joy, yes, but when we over-estimate how good purchases or events will make us feel we are always let down. Material goods are not able to meet these expectations or sustain positive feelings, and so we actually experience a decline in how we feel.
If this weren’t enough, the insatiable nature of materialism can easily cause us to arrange our lives around the purchasing of goods, leading us to have less time for important needs such as healthy relationships, having a laugh with friends, or being generous. This is especially true if it leads us to putting in more hours at work just to pay for all that stuff that doesn’t make us as happy as we hoped it would.
We need healthy relationships to thrive; with those around us, to ourselves, to the world we live in, and ultimately to God. Materialism actively undermines our ability to enjoy these parts of our lives.
What Jesus has to say about it
This is exactly what Jesus warns us about in Matthew 6:19-21.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus makes the point that everything we buy eventually rusts, decays, and ends up in landfill. It’s an encouragement think about the bigger picture of our life and not to get swept up in the pressure to accumulate lots of stuff that soon becomes junk, a warning that could not be more culturally relevant to us today.
How to live in a materialistic culture, without being a materialist
In Australia many of us have so much more than we need, yet still desire more. To fight this materialism we need to practice contentment.
But to be a materialist is by definition to not appreciate the things you have, because your value is found in the constant acquisition of goods. This is why gratitude is such an effective tool for combating materialism.
There are many ways we can practice gratitude. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Build gratitude into your life — Around the dinner table, have each member of your family name three things they were grateful for that day before tucking into your food
- Write it down — Commit to spending 5 minutes a day jotting down things you’re grateful for, over time you can look back over them and see pages and pages of blessings
- Train your mind — Every time you see an ad for something, think of how you are already satisfied in that area (e.g., if you see an ad for a new car, remember what you like about your car. You’re actively breaking the dissatisfaction thought habit that ads have trained us!)
For me, I’m going to implement a combination of all three. There is nothing wrong with finding second-hand goods online, but before I do, I want to make sure my actions align with what I believe and value. And as my attitude is shifted away from materialism, may I use my time and resources for the flourishing of God’s good world and the people in it.
Tsang, Carpenter, T. P., Roberts, J. A., Frisch, M. B., & Carlisle, R. D. (2014). Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 62–66.
Materialistic values put someone at risk of lower wellbeing, but also becoming less concerned with the welfare of others (Kashdan and Breen 2007, p522)