Consumerism vs. Material things with Meaning: “I’m a shopaholic and I have a lot of stuff.”

"Allegretto" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

Popular media tells us that our loneliness and anxiety are caused by not having enough things or the right kind of stuff. The right stuff will bring us pleasure, friends, love, happiness, and meaning.

While there’s nothing inherently bad about desiring material objects, preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods does not satisfy the needs they are intended to satisfy.

Consumerism is just the other side of the coin of miserliness. Both are caught by the attempt to take the whole world into their home and to possess it…. And yet, possessing the whole world is equivalent to having nothing at all. The miser and the consumer are fraught with insecurity.

~from “Money & the Soul of the World” by Sardello and Severson

Consumerism temporarily satiates insatiable yearnings and repeatedly numbs unwanted anxieties. The problem is that quick satiation eliminates the possibility of using one’s imagination, which is how we give meaning to material things.

Imagine that over a period of a year a child walks by a store window with a red bicycle in it. The child finally receives that bicycle as a gift, or saves up to purchase it. That bicycle becomes imbued with much more meaning than if it had been purchased when the child first laid eyes on it.

When we have little time between first desiring an object and acquiring it, we don’t have time to imagine having it. So it will not gain as much personal value to us. We start down the path of consumerism when we buy things right away without taking the time to consider acquiring them and imagine the delights they might bring us.

Nowadays, many children receive a lot of stuff from their Christmas lists. Yet, they often discard the gifts almost as quickly as they unwrap them. When impulse turns into possession too quickly, there’s no imagination invested and no time for real desire to develop. As a result, they are unlikely to cherish and take care of the material things they do acquire. Desire needs to deepen through time and one’s imagination in order to give soul to material things and their relationship to the world.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “No money: ‘I get really unhappy not to be able to buy clothes when I see all my friends shopping.'”

Read “Saving money: ‘I want to buy this now!'”

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