I’m a very materialistic person, in that I love and value objects. There are many items in my home that are precious to me and that I would be grieved to part with. Musical instruments. A bookcase that belonged to my great grandparents. Gifts from friends, handmade items, objects made with love and skill. Some of my grandmother’s artwork. The artwork of people I admire. Books. So many books. I’ve collected the objects that share my space with care and attention and some of them have been with me a very long time. They have stories, which weave their existence into mine. They have utility and beauty. I am attached to them.
Materialism gets a really bad name. It is used to imply greed and consumption, and fixation on the wrong things. Many (but not all) religions divide the physical world from the spiritual, and to be involved with things material is to be less spiritual in such paradigms. To own little and feel nothing for it may be a spiritual goal for some, but it doesn’t really work for me, because I become fond of things.
To my eye, consumerism, and the kind of materialism that sees objects as the means to status works in very different ways. The object is not valued for itself, but for what others might think of it, for the status or power it gives. If a better object comes along, the old one will be discarded. There is no affection for the object in a consumerist mentality. Equally, greed is about stacking up as much as you can that has a value. It’s not about having things you can use or that are beautiful, it’s about having things for the sake of having them and in the hopes of having a bigger pile than someone else. Things are bought because buying is soothing, display empowering, ownership appealing. There is no other connection between the person and the object.
Where there is a relationship between person and object, created by history and story, gifting, use, beauty and fondness, the object is not disposable. I would not replace my great grandparent’s bookcase with the most expensive bookcase in the world even if someone offered it me for free. I like the things around me and am not on the lookout for ‘upgrades’.
Peltless, squishy things that we are, we depend on objects to keep us warm, to act as tools, and we’ve got very good at making things that help us do more than just survive. I sit at a chair by a table, and I am glad of these things. Glad of the window, the bed and all the other useful things in my space. There’s not much here for anyone else to covet, or be awed by, or that could cause someone to think I had power, which is fine because I don’t. There is no desire to impress, just a small space I find comfortable and pleasing.
I find it curious that religions can teach poverty as a virtue and argue against any affection for the material, whilst accumulating great wealth for temples and turning a blind eye to the excesses of the rich and powerful. It is my suspicion that poverty as a virtue has bugger all to do with spirituality and everything to do with keeping the poor meek and compliant. The absence of care and affection for what is around you is a far greater spiritual shortcoming than liking your own small nest. The throwaway, status obsessed careless attitudes that go with the desire to display wealth and own precious things, the mindset that takes beautiful art and locks it in vaults as an investment, seems a lot more suspect to me than any small scale homely materialism ever could.
Poverty is not piety in any faith, and affluence is not virtue. Care and kindness, generosity and warmth are things you can do with whatever you have.