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The Butler Project » Materialism

Entries Tagged 'Materialism' ↓

Shut the Stuff Up!

Would you be happier with a new car? How about a new house? Do you like yourself more when you buy new clothing? Does your new furniture make other people respect you? Do you feel joy when you look at your massive DVD collection? Are you a bigger man because of the beer you drink?

I think I’m pretty enlightened when it comes to being materialistic, but lately I’ve noticed sometimes I let my Stuff stand in for my true identity (meaning I want others to see my cool new running shoes or my mac computer because of the assumptions those people will make about me when they see these things). I’m guessing most Americans do this, and it’s mostly subconscious. One of the effects of this thinking is that we fill our lives and our homes with meaningless Stuff.

Sure, it may be beautiful Stuff. It may be expensive Stuff. But studies are now showing excess Stuff actually bolsters low self esteem, and is related to self-doubt. So, while you think others are thinking more of you because of your Stuff, you are actually thinking less of yourself and feeling down about it.


Practicers of Fung Shui believe everything you own is energetically connected to your spirit. The more Stuff you have, the more tied down your spirit is, and the less freedom you have to become who you really want to be.

From a more practical stand point, the more Stuff you own, the more costs you have in cleaning, maintaining and storing you Stuff.

So, how do we quit our love affair with Stuff? How do we quit letting stuff speak to us about other people, or quit buying stuff that we want to speak to other people about us? How do we Shut the Stuff Up?

1. Stop watching so much TV

There’s a reason big ad agencies make so much money: they are good at what they do. Very good. And what they do is convince people to buy Stuff. Mostly they try to convince you that you can be better/smarter/more attractive if you buy their product.
They are lying.

So, avoid TV if you can, and when you do watch it, use your DVR to fast forward through the commercials.

2. Read fewer magazines

Magazine publishers actually make more money selling ad space than they do subscriptions. Home magazines are designed for advertisers of appliances and flooring. Car magazines are designed for advertisers of performance parts and garage “essentials.” Travel magazines are designed for advertisers of luggage, vacation packages, and travel clothing. Print advertisers are just as good at their jobs as TV advertisers. Read fewer magazines. Same goes for billboards.

3. De-junk your spaces

Have you looked around at the clutter you’re keeping? Are there clothes in your closet you don’t wear? Is your junk drawer overflowing? Has your garage become a big storage room instead of a place for your car?

All the unnecessary Stuff you are hanging onto is trapping you in your past. It weighs on you as it clutters your space. Some of your Stuff may be from past relationships, or other phases of your life that you are through now. Some of the items may be from impulse purchases you now regret, or they may represent the debt you’re carrying around.

Can you see how this stuff weighs on you?

My personal code of de-junking

When I am cleaning up and deciding if I want to keep a particular item or not, I ask my self these questions:
1. Do I feel happy/peaceful when I look at this object?
2. Have I really needed to use this object in the last year?

If neither of these is a resounding “yes,” then the object needs to go to a new home. I happily throw the trash away and take those things I no longer need to the thrift store. You might want to hold a garage sale. Whatever works for you to clear out your clutter is a good thing.

By the way, don’t forget your office or car; any space you use can be de-junked.

4. Shop smarter; Shop less

Have you ever noticed that when you run to the store to just pick up some diapers and a gallon of milk, you come out with those two things, plus a bag of chips, 2 12 packs of coke (because they were “buy one, get one free), and a newly released DVD?

It doesn’t matter if it’s the grocery store, a clothing boutique or the giant sports center . . . stores want to sell you things. When you go there, you will be bombarded with messages: “buy me.” “buy me now.” “you will look good in me.” “I taste delicious.” These messages are hard to overcome, especially when “it’s just one!”

You can actually shop smarter by planning your shopping trips. If you keep a running list of things you need, shop once a week, and buy only what’s on the list, you will save money, save time, and cut down drastically on impulse buys.

Shopping smarter will be easier as you de-junk your spaces because you will really like living without clutter. As you live with less clutter, you think twice before making purchases–”How often will I use this? Where am I going to put it? Do I really need it?”

5. Set a buying waiting period

Predetermine a waiting period from when you decide you want to buy something to when you allow yourself to actually make that purchase. When you do find something you really want, put it on a list; the “Waiting List,” with a date. When your waiting period is up, reevaluate and decide if you still need the item. If so, go get it. If not, scratch it off the list.

How long should you wait? It’s up to you, but take the size of the purchase and your personal spending habits into consideration. You might choose to wait a week, a month, or even six months; the length of time can be different for each object on the list. Whatever the amount of time is, it should be longer than you think you can really wait. You can do it.

Think of past purchases that you now regret. Why did you buy those items? How did you buy them (is pulling out your credit card just too easy for you? Or was your cash burning a hole in your pocket?) Did they bring the joy you thought they would? How long did it take before you regretted your purchase? Use past experience to guide you in setting up your waiting period. Leave your credit cards at home if you need to.

6. Fill yourself up with other things

So often we are buying Stuff to change who we are or how we feel. And it usually works, but only for a minute. The next time you feel the need to buy something you don’t really need, try one of these activities instead; they will help you feel better, and they are great habits to get in to.
• exercise
• get in touch with nature
• play with kids at the park
• volunteer to help with a cause that’s meaningful to you
• take time to write down what you’re grateful for
• do something spiritual

Each of these 6 suggestions requires you to take control of the direction of your life and be smarter with how you spend your money. As you take responsibility and guide yourself into smarter purchases, you will feel powerful as you Shut the Stuff up!

gulls in flight

You Really Live Here?

Last spring my husband and I were working in our front yard when an acquaintance happened by. We said Hello and chatted for a minute, and then he looked up at our house and said to my husband, “So, Mike, you live here?!”

“Yes,” was the obvious answer, but the question (and my insecurity about it) got me thinking: why was he so surprised Mike lived here? Is our house too big? Is it too small? Is the courtyard too much? Do we have the front lights wrong?

What is it about our house that didn’t match up with what our new friend’s impression of my husband? And why was he judging us based on something as materialistic as our house?

Other peoples’ Stuff

The short answer is: we all do it. We all look at other peoples’ Stuff and make assumptions about who those people are.

Think about how it feels to walk into a business conference where you don’t know anyone. Where do your eyes go? What do you focus on? How do you size up the room? Admit it: within 5 seconds, you have noted first, the gender, ages, and good looks of the other participants, but then your eyes went to watches, jewelry, clothing, brief cases, purses, laptops, planners, whatever people are carrying to this particular gathering. You’ve instantly compared their “Stuff” with your “Stuff” and determined your status, and the status of many in the group, just by looking at and comparing the things you are carrying.


Status is a necessary thing. We all feel a lot more comfortable relating to each other when we know our status in the group. In fact, we humans automatically position ourselves in relation to others, and we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. When our ancestors lived in caves, they positioned themselves under (or tried to become) the alpha male–the best hunter and protector, the one everyone relied on for survival.

We still see that kind of positioning today. When our “survival” is at stake (think “Survivor” or “Lost”), our status in a group is determined by our skills and abilities as they relate to keeping the group alive. But rarely are we in the 21st century concerned with basic survival in our day to day lives. The things we seek, (such as success and happiness) are much less easily defined. So, to position ourselves in a group, we look to material goods: who has the most expensive car, the biggest ring, the largest house, the most toys? The reason we do this is because we want to make instant judgments about our status in a group and material goods offer the easiest measurement.

If you think about it, this is ridiculous, and we are lucky our cave dwelling ancestors were a lot smarter in determining status, or the human race might not still be here. Consider for a moment if our ancestors had chosen to follow the member of their group who found the biggest rock, or the one who could pile dirt the highest. What if the group decided that whoever had the longest hair should be the leader? Those examples sound silly now, but are they any more silly than us determining a person’s status according to the brand of jeans he is wearing or the number of diamonds on her Rolex? Is it not ridiculous to allow Stuff to be the deciding factor as to how we stack up among our fellow humans?

Who spent the most?

Remember, exterior materialistic symbols tell us only who spent the most money. They say nothing of success, happiness, fulfillment, or longevity, all things we say we want. Do you really care who has spent the most money? Do you want to be the person who has spent the most money? No! No one cares who has spent the most. The problem is we make the unconscious assumption that the person who has spent the most money must have the most money to spend, and money, like it or not, is a sign of happiness and success in our culture.

Don’t make that mistake. Don’t burden your psyche with that mistake. In this day of oversize mortgages, home equity lines of credit, skyrocketing credit card debt, and a pay day loan store on every corner, the person who has spent the most money is probably the person with the most debt.


You don’t want to measure your worth against someone else’s debt. You don’t even want to measure your worth against someone else’s assets. We all know in our heads that happiness, fulfillment, freedom and peace do not come in a Nordstrom bag. You can’t pick them up at the Mercedes dealership. We need to get that understanding down into our hearts, down where it really matters to who we are. Then, and only then are we each free to pursue the things that really do matter to each of us individually. Then we can measure ourselves as people and not as collectors of Stuff.