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Materialism: The Shackles That Imprison Us

Posted by on Jun 25, 2012 | 10 Comments

This post was inspired by my previous post about the new gift economy and this recent post by my friend Pete Kemme.

The idea is simple- we’re conditioned to be good consumers. We derive self-worth and approval of others through purchasing “stuff.” This drive to buy newer and bigger things causes us to develop a single-minded focus on making money, which takes time. We’re exchanging a large chunk of our lives for money to buy stuff. Is that new car, iPad, or antique cat statue really worth it?

Even those that may not have the ability or drive to earn money to buy stuff still spend a significant portion of their lives trying to acquire more material goods through alternative means. My friend Christian often joked about spending countless hours developing his blog just to get some occasional swag to review.

Adopting the idea of freely giving and expecting nothing in return does wonders to correct this problem. How?

  • First, it shifts the motivation for work from the extrinsic motivation of gaining material goods to the intrinsic motivation of making a difference. I spend A LOT of time on this blog and get nothing in return. I like it that way. Most of my posts are written to help people in some way with no expectation of anything in return. As such, it never gets old.
  • Second, it makes you carefully consider what you buy and why you buy it. As I said before, it’s impossible to escape materialism. I buy stuff. For example, this post is being written on a laptop which I purchased. The biggest change for me is a true understanding of what we need versus what we want. I rarely buy anything I don’t need.
  • Third, it saves money, which gives us more free time. Once we’re free of spending our time earning money to buy stuff we don’t need, we can spend our time helping others and/or doing awesome stuff. Shelly and I travel the country running in cool-ass places with cool-ass people. When we tell our runner friends our story, most wish they could do something similar. They don’t realize they could. Unfortunately they believe they need more money to do what we do. It’s far easier than that; they just have to give up the stuff they don’t need. The more freedom from materialism you achieve, the more freedom you have.

The idea of giving as a means of attempting to counter our society’s rampant materialism. It sets up a “giving” paradigm instead of a “taking” paradigm. Freely giving gifts has the power to transform your life. Give it a shot. You’ll like the results. 😉


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  1. Samantha
    June 29, 2012

    thank you for this post. I found it by searching for ‘imprisoned by materialism.’ But the last line about giving freely has really inspired me. It is what I needed to hear today so thank you

  2. klanger
    June 26, 2012

    “People still stare blankly, mouths agape, with a subtle hiss of malfunctioning brain, when we tell them, “Nah, we don’t have cable. **** the cable company. Everyone posts their episodes online anyway…and it’s FREE”.”

    I don’t even have a TV (since 2008) 🙂

  3. Rich Frantz
    June 26, 2012

    Very true. A simpler life, free of stuff that takes your time to use and maintain, is liberating. Freedom from monthly payments, which you control, insulates you to some extent from the inevitable downturns in the economy, which you can’t control.
    A penny saved is a penny earned, is true, it is also easier to save said penny than it is to earn one.

  4. John
    June 26, 2012

    “It’s not how much money you make, but how much you spend of the money you make”


    Eat out less. Consolidate autos (my wife and I are down to a 1998 Corolla, paid for, still gets 32mpg). Shop for the better deal. Patronize local vegetable stands and farmer’s markets. Pay cash if you must buy something. Avoid the pitfalls of “deferred interest”. Deferred interest sucks major supernova. Ask me how I know…

    People still stare blankly, mouths agape, with a subtle hiss of malfunctioning brain, when we tell them, “Nah, we don’t have cable. **** the cable company. Everyone posts their episodes online anyway…and it’s FREE”. If I could, I’d get a cell phone that allow us to make…get this…PHONE CALLS. Yep, no need to carry a small PC in my pocket. But, because the myriad of consumers exist to plunk down their dosh on “stuff”, companies will exist to hawk their stuff in the hopes that you will buy. Best thing to do, is ignore them…but it is difficult when you can watch Big Bang Theory on 46″ HD…

  5. Chadisbarefoot
    June 25, 2012

    This is going to sound very cynical, but I don’t believe that there is any such thing as an unselfish motivation. Nobody “freely gives” anything, really. Think about it: you do it because there is some type of personal benefit, real or imagined. Those that sacrifice don’t do it in lieu of gratification; it simply delays it.

    My motivation to do for others is spiritual, but it is a motivation nonetheless. Christians have the promise that suffering and sacrifice for the sake of others will be rewarded, but that reward may not come until after death. Someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife might do for others because it feels good/gives them a deep sense of personal gratification. This makes it more selfless, only more mature and acceptable. Delaying gratification is the admirable quality here and defines maturity.

    Just my $.02. 🙂

    • Angie Bee
      June 25, 2012

      I like that perspective. Thought provoking.

  6. Shacky
    June 25, 2012

    Those who would give up a little freedom to get a little security shall soon have neither

    — Benjamin Franklin

  7. Angie Bee
    June 25, 2012

    We are unconventional without the travel. We work odd contract jobs that come along, for instance I have gotten a few paid writing gigs from my blog and the nuun job was great until it started to suck and then I quit. We save and really put much thought into what we buy. I give most all of the shoes I get to review away and only make maybe $50 on add space. Gotta make the cash when it comes along. Our time is what matters most so we don’t work “real” jobs. We also don’t have cell phone plans or cable tv. Never go out to eat and shop thrift stores for most everything.

    I do feel like I help people withy the shoe reviews. People are going to buy shoes. I want to help thwart buy shoes that in my humble barefoot opinion will or won’t jack up their bodies. It’s fun and why I still do it. I think that my inspiration, perspective, and ideas will make people think. Or at least that’s the goal with my blog.

  8. Tess
    June 25, 2012

    One of the things that seems really difficult about going this route as an individual (in the absence of general societal change) is that we don’t live in a society where we can count on being taken care of (at least in some minimal way) when we really need it.

    I think lots of people, including me, feel tied to their jobs primarily for “protection” rather than because we want more stuff. If you have to save for retirement and college and healthcare expenses, then you think you need a decent paying job now. Work while you can to protect yourself when you can’t. And if you have to have a decent paying job now then you may as well spend some of your money on things that you think make your 9-to-5-driven life a little more fun/tolerable.

    I totally see the appeal of getting out of the system, but it’s not necessarily easy to give up that kind of “life insurance”.

    • Gina
      June 26, 2012

      Thanks for putting my feelings into words. Part of me loves the idea of being free from a lot of the materialistic nonsense that surrounds me, but there’s another part of me that can’t let go of health care and retirement. I recognize that it’s fear talking. However, last year I had a bad biking accident and without health insurance there is no way I could have afforded the surgery I needed. I can’t get that out of my head when I think about selling everything and taking off. I AM glad there are people doing it successfully and I wish them continued good health and happiness. I look forward to hearing about their adventures!