Materialism is sold to us in the form of aspirational lifestyles with luxury goods, fancy cars, and expensive houses. Success is presented as possession of many items of high dollar value, and this is supposed to make us happy. The increasing obsession with celebrities and their lifestyles places an importance on both wealth and the outward displays of wealth. This materialism is sold to us constantly through advertising companies that need to suck people into black holes of spending.
As a teenager, I absolutely loved shopping for clothes. I would always save up for after-Christmas sales, and bought new clothes whenever I had enough money. I would obsess over things that I bought and believed that it brought me some sort of joy. I accumulated so many clothes, but often bought things that I would barely end up wearing, or didn’t even really like that much.
A lot of people don’t understand the sacrifices that you have to make to travel. I have rejected materialism in many forms so that I can save money and prioritise travel in my life. No doubt I still spend too much money on food, but I still make an active choice to save from every single paycheck, and have done so since I was 18. I realised early on that material goods wouldn’t bring me any sort of joy in life, and that travel is what my heart truly desires.
How is materialism harmful to your mental health?
Materialism traps you in this cycle of wanting more. You are never truly satisfied, because there are always newer and better versions of products on the market. Fashions change, technologies are upgraded to the next version, new cars are designed, and new stores are always popping up online.
You get stuck in this weird competition of consumption with everyone around you. Certain brands give you status, and can be the target of envy from your peers. You may be satisfied with what you own, only until you learn that someone else has something better. A lot of this is happening at the subconscious level, where you don’t realise the deepening unhappiness that comes from mindless consumption.
Advocates of minimalism also argue that owning less overall is beneficial for your mental health. They explain that having many possessions adds extra stress and work to your life, because of extra energy that has to be dedicated to storage, organisation, extra laundry, and keeping tabs on possessions.
Simplicity is beneficial for the human brain because it allows you to dedicate time and energy to things that actually benefit you and fit your values. I think that a lot of people find a sense of security in owning many things, without realising that they are adding anxiety and stress. When you own more expensive things, you have a lot more to lose if something goes wrong.
How have I reduced my materialism?
People often remark that my phone screen is cracked all over, and that the phone in general is poor quality. I actively make the choice to own a cheap phone and not pay it off on an expensive plan. It also helps to have an unlocked phone so that I can use local sim cards in other countries.
I rarely buy new clothes. I source most of my clothes from op shops like Savers, and only when I need them. I only have two pairs of jeans, and replace them only when they are torn or completely worn down. I often wear shoes into the ground, and will only throw them out when they are tearing apart at the sole or have holes in them.
In my plans for the future, I have no intentions of owning a fancy car or my own house. I see many people my age getting caught up in car loans for cars that are outside of their budget, and which they will want to change over in a couple of years anyway.
With the fact that most millennials will not be able to afford real estate in the same way that previous generations could, it’s not something that even crosses my mind. Owning a house would also mean committing to living in one place and choking my finances with mortgage repayments that would detract from my ability to travel.
Overall, I think that rejecting materialism is about adopting a new mindset towards possession and your priorities. Obviously if you are racked with debt or unable to get a job, then you will be unable to travel either way, and I don’t suggest that everyone has the financial means to travel. However, there are many people who could easily save more money for travel and still live within their means if they adjusted their attitude towards materialism.
Why do I value travel over materialism and accumulating wealth?
Travel has done wonders for improving my mental health. It has helped me to overcome social anxiety to a large degree, reduced my body dysmorphia, and taught me how to be fully independent and look after myself in unfamiliar environments. Travel itself didn’t do these things of course, but put me in situations where I had to rise to the challenge and face my own mental limitations.
Every time I travel, I learn more about the world around me and it adjusts my worldview towards global politics and international development. It also brings me pure joy in the opportunity to sample different cuisines and visit sites of great natural beauty. Travel has brought so much more value to my life than any material good ever has.
Everyone values different things in life, and not everyone wants a life entirely based around travel and saving all of your money to explore the world. However, that is exactly what I desire, and so I will choose travel over materialism, every single time.
What have you given up to travel?