I’ll admit it: I like stuff.
I love pouring through sweaters on the rack at local thrift stores, trying to guess what they’re made of. I love richly-colored natural fibers, old wood, and handmade pottery.
I love a $1 basket from a yard sale that I can give new life toting vegetables. Every time I put on a good pair of shoes that I own, I appreciate how comfortable and durable they are.
Is this materialism? I guess so.
For me, though, it’s not about having the newest and most trendy thing, or buying something on sale just because it’s on sale. It’s also not about keeping up with the Joneses or filling every little empty or sad space in myself with stuff.
Maybe my “materialism” is a sort of wistful desire for objects to have meaning again. I could be fantasizing about a past that didn’t exist, but, “back in the day” (exactly when? I’m not sure…) people seemed to treasure their belongings much more before stuff became mass-produced, dirt-cheap, and easily replaceable.
Clothes and household items were cared for, repaired, mended, and passed down in families. Things were handmade or manufactured in small batches, closer to home.
Now, I feel a twinge of guilt when I buy something that may have been made by sweatshop laborers, or a non-recyclable plastic item that will end up in a landfill someday. That’s not to say that things were all historically peachy-keen when it came to creating and manufacturing goods—-they weren’t. But still, something seems missing in the 21st century.
I have a wild dream of being able to buy or make most of my belongings in a way that sustains our environment, local economy, and culture. To share items that we don’t need to own individually. To reuse, mend, upcycle, thrift, or donate things along their lifespan. To appreciate what we have instead of constantly flooding ourselves with more, more, more.
Of course, the dream is never perfect in practice.
I still wear disposable contact lenses. We still drive cars and use computers that can only be repaired so many times. I’m a recovering bargain hunter and shopping still feels somewhat therapeutic to me.
But we can take small steps, and keep taking them every day.
It could start with not buying something, or doing a little research before buying it, or choosing a locally handmade item instead (if possible). It could simply mean giving something you own a little TLC or making it into something new and different.
Little things add up.