Materialism is not the same thing as consumerism, David Cain argues.
Here’s a heretical thought: As a culture, we are not materialistic enough. This suggestion comes from David Cain, who writes the Raptitude blog. In an elegant post published earlier this year and inspired by the Minimalism documentary, Cain argues that the terms ‘consumerism’ and ‘materialism’ are used interchangeably to our detriment. These concepts are not the same thing at all because, if we were truly materialistic people, we would care much more about the quality of the goods we buy, rather than being content to acquire junk.
“Our rampant buying has little to do with a taste for nice things. Our shopping culture does not suggest a close relationship with the physical and concrete parts of our lives. In fact we have very low standards for what physical objects we trade our money for, and for the quality of the sensory experiences they provide.
“So much of our stuff is so crappy. Seams on brand-name clothes undo themselves under normal wear. Our grocery store vegetables are bland. We drink coffee that was roasted a year ago. Everything that can conceivably be made of plastic is made of plastic. We might be in love with buying, but we are not in love with things.”
It’s the same idea as fashion reporter Marc Bain’s decision to spend a minimum amount of money on clothing so as to break free from the fast fashion mentality. Clothes are not meant to be cheap, and by agreeing to purchase them at shockingly low prices, we perpetuate a dangerous cycle that does no one any good except instantly gratifying our fleeting desires for new looks.
You see, a truly materialistic person in the way Cain envisions would not be content to pay $10 for a t-shirt that they’ll only get a few wears out of. Instead, they’d invest ten times that amount in a handmade designer shirt bought at a local boutique that will last 25 years – because they care how it’s made, they know how to recognize quality, and they’re committed to caring for it.
This mentality is not limited to fashion. Cain describes purchasing a $63 stapler, something that gets endless laughs from his friends: “It’s made of thick gauge steel, and it will still be operational eight or ten presidents from now. How many flimsy mass market staplers had I gone through before I made a point of buying one whose physicality I actually respect?”
It's some good food for thought. So before you denounce materialism next time, take a moment to ask yourself if you’re actually materialistic enough.