18 Nov Empty Closets, Full Hearts: How to Escape Materialism

Materialism is defined as a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. We are constantly on the chase for the next best thing and in this society, delayed gratification is a foreign concept.

According to a recent survey by Slate Magazine, one in 11 American households owns self-storage space—an increase of some 75 percent from 1995. Over the last 45 years, the average new US house has increased in size by more than 1,000 square feet, from an average size of 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,687 square feet last year (AEI.org). Americans also spend $1.2 trillion annually on non-essential goods—in other words, items they do not need (The Wall Street Journal).

These statistics aren’t only staggering, they are heartbreaking.

Materialism isn’t a ‘stuff’ issue. It’s a ‘heart’ issue.

How do you know if you are struggling with materialism?

  • You use words like “need” and “deserve” when purchasing things.
  • You use shopping to bond with friends.
  • You buy things that are on sale not because you truly need them but because “it’s a great deal”.
  • You can only pay the minimum on your credit card.
  • You own things with tags still on them or still in the bags.
  • Shopping is something you do when you are stressed, anxious, etc.
  • You hide your shopping habits from your family.

Materialism is an addiction. Like all other addictions, we go in search of the next “fix” as soon as the “high” wears off. We become dependent on shopping or collecting to provide us with fulfillment, and we never have enough.

Maybe your materialism addiction is small, or maybe it’s big. No matter what, we all struggle with materialism. How can we not? We live in a culture that bombards us with words like “Have it your way,” or “Just do it,” or even “You deserve it.”

Nearly a decade ago, I lost my house and moved with my kids into an apartment. Downsizing was necessary. My mindset changed that year as I sorted through my stuff as I packed. I have never been a “keeper,” but this move had me looking at things very differently.

What would the kids really want from me when I pass away? What would be more important to them – the bassinet from my infancy or memories of our Friday night pizza dinners on the floor in the living room? An apartment full of stuff or an open space to invite their friends? Six casserole dishes I didn’t use or a cookie sheet for chicken nuggets and cookies?

Then I made myself some rules.

I wouldn’t purchase anything except on Saturdays. That’s when all my shopping would get done. If we ran out of something during the week, we made due. I learned to plan my time and budget for what was necessary. If the kids needed a shirt for a play or field trip money, I’d better know it on a Saturday.

I stopped attending at-home shopping parties. That was a hard one because I felt like I was letting my friends down, but it was the best thing for me. I no longer felt (or feel) pressure into buying things I didn’t want so that others could get more free stuff. Today, everyone knows not to ask me – because I won’t compromise.

We rarely spent money on activities. We went swimming in the apartment complex pool, we went to the playground, we took walks in the park, we went to the library. We did a ton of stuff, and we didn’t spend money.

The funny thing about that time in life is that my children don’t remember how I spent those years feeling like a failure. Like I wasn’t “providing” enough for them. That I was comparing their childhood to other people’s kids. That as a mother I felt like I was failing them. Nope. When asked about the “time in the apartment,” their eyes light up and they only have beautiful memories.

Stuff breaks, gets thrown out, fills up your closets, and takes up room in relationships. On the other hand, doing things together and creating memories will shape character and connect souls to each other.

Maybe that’s why Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Materialism, like any other addiction, will never fill what Christ can; it takes surrendering yourself and your struggles to Christ repeatedly. Being real about what is happening in your mind and heart – and not making light of it – is the first step to turning away from the stuff and turning towards the One.

I challenge you to stay away from purchasing “things” for yourself and your friends this holiday season. Instead, focus on purchasing time and experiences—a play to watch together, a concert to attend, driving through neighborhoods to see Christmas lights, grabbing some museum passes, going to see local attractions, etc. Take the time to dive into relationships with friends and family, but especially with Christ.

Renee Beste is best known for her no-nonsense take on living a stuff free life.