Is Materialism Bad? On Why It's Okay To Want More, Clothes Included

As a woman who concerns herself with fashion, I have a tendency to struggle with the eternal question: Is materialism bad? While I’m not someone who comes home heavy with shopping bags, I do have a tendency to fall in love with things. And I mean fall in love with things. The same type of love you feel when you lock eyes with a brown-haired boy in the coffee shop window, or a kind-smiled man who gives up his seat for you on the train. The feeling is instant and warm and it runs down to your palms — something you can curl your fingers into as you feel your heart do a slow spin in your chest before it plops. There’s usually a sigh accompanied in there, and the feeling is sweet if not (or because it’s) fleeting.

The same happens when I lock eyes with a denim shift dress with its cuffs rolled up at the sleeves, or a leather cross-body bag, with a charming tassel attached to its strap. We lock eyes and I want to bring my hands to my cheeks as I sigh over my new love affair. I begin to think of all the restaurants we can go together and all the white wine we could order; all the summer picnics in the park we can spend time over, and all the slow evening strolls through neighborhoods we can take together. Oh, it’s going to be a wonderful time.

And then I immediately feel guilty over it. Looking away, I let go of the sleeve and I leave. As I sigh and make my way towards the door, I imagine myself looking like Ilsa as she walks toward the plane in Casablanca, leaving Rick behind. With one last look over my shoulder, I say goodbye.

Alright, while violins might not soar and the scene might not be that dramatic, it’s still a occurrence that I struggle with. You see, I’ve been trying my hardest to move away from wanting things and instead funneling that energy into wanting experiences. I’ve pared down my wardrobe by taking steps to create a capsule wardrobe, I learned how to shop only to fill gaps rather than create new outfits, and I have been trying to shake that constant ache that spells out “more.”

When I ask myself if I would rather go on an off-the-cuff road trip with a girlfriend this weekend or buy those flatforms, the answer is always the trip. If I ask myself if I would rather sit in a speakeasy in Chicago while ordering drinks that fizz, or go get yet another bucket backpack, the answer is always the drinks. The answer is easy. But the trouble is, even though I know I could funnel those 50 dollars into something that would stick around in my memory longer than a backpack, that doesn’t really stop the gnawing feeling that I want it. And as I feel it, I make myself incredibly guilty over the fact that it’s there. “Why do I let myself be so affected by things?” I berate myself.

That is, until I came across this article from Zen Habits that pointed out that wanting more isn’t a bad thing — it’s inevitable. Human nature isn’t to be sedentary; we’ll always be growing and evolving, and as a result, we’ll need more. The trick is to cut yourself off right at the point of too much. That way it leaves you excited for next time, rather than leaving you feeling wiped and guilty. And that’s the trick: To leave you excited. By cutting yourself off from getting too much, you’re creating a situation where you can leave yourself looking forward to the next chance. The same concept can be applied to shopping.

Rather than struggling with my slight greed for pretty things and putting that type of stress on myself, I should re-frame the feeling and see it as a need to give myself a break. Indulging in something that tugs at your heart shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing.

The trick is to reward yourself with these small treats, but then leave something to be desired for later. That way there’s still some gas left in the tank — both emotionally and in your wallet.

Sometimes you’ll come across a dress or a pair of shoes and you’re a goner. You slip on the straps over your shoulders and you feel like you’ve found yourself a poem — how can you let that go? Or even worse, how can you label that as something negative? In this case, the item might be more worth than the brunch-shindig you were planning on going to this Sunday afternoon. Both would give you much happiness. Now you just have to choose which one to indulge in.

With a mentality like that, wanting things wouldn’t hold such a heavy connotation to it. The trick is to reward yourself with these small treats, but then leave something to be desired for later. That way there’s still some gas left in the tank — both emotionally and in your wallet. This isn’t a groundbreaking idea, but it’s a reassuring way to restructure your feelings on shopping. Instead of continuing to train yourself to feel like that constant pang of wanting more makes you into a materialistic person, let yourself enjoy it.

Appreciate a lovely item, and enjoy the fact that you like it and that it speaks to you. Sometimes let yourself get it, and sometimes don’t. Like with all things, it’s about exercising control. And when you deny yourself, don't feel like you're missing out or you're losing something. Instead, consciously decide you have something to look forward to later.

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