People often comment how ‘material’ others are. Usually the commenter has less than the material person and usually I sense a bit of jealousy. Also, the person doing the pointing is wearing a piece of clothing with a logo, a logo that they paid extra for. We’re all ‘material’, just some more than others.

I once saw an interview with Warren Buffett where he said that he only spends on things that improve his quality of life. I’ve heard that he lives in the same house he got married in years ago and he wears some of the cheaper suits around. He uses a marquis jet service, not to impress but because it makes his life a bit better. Buffett is the least ‘material’ person I know (actually, my grandpa has a similar philosophy on spending).

I think that consumption is uncomfortable for a couple of reasons: (1) excess spending puts us in an economically uncomfortable position and (2) we don’t like to think about why we consume the things we do.

If Americans (and their government) weren’t so caught up with the idea that you have to spend money to get happiness, a lot less people would be in the uncomfortable position they find themselves in now. Mortgages and credit in general stuck a lot of people is a massive pickle (yes, a pickle). We’re raised from a young age that in order to have fun we need to have the new X or Y and that our Z just won’t cut it anymore. We are under huge pressure to upgrade our cars, homes, TVs, and the all important doodad.

I think the second reason actually causes the first. It also causes a lot of dissatisfaction. We use consumption as a stand-in for talking or thinking through things (shopping therapy), supplement confidence, and procrastination (“shit, I can’t start until I get X”). The thing that sucks is that the smile-spike created by consumption is fleeting. When we watch a movie or TV just because it’s on and not because we want to we’re avoiding something else. We don’t like to think about the fact that consumption doesn’t satisfy; because if we did, we would have to face the fact that you can never be satisfied. If you’re sad now because of the shit you don’t have, you’re going to be really confused when you get all those shits and still aren’t satisfied.

We often use consumption as  a way to avoid production. “I got nothing I need to do today, here I come (mindless TV show)/mall.” I spend an absurd amount of time consuming media online – articles, movies, podcasts, everything. If I spent even 20% of that time focused on producing things I’m interested in I would have a much better blog and more videos. I bet my ideas and writing would also be way beyond what you’re reading now.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shows in his book Flow that our most fulfilling activities in life are creative: either producing or getting better at something (anything). He thinks that if we would let ourselves focus on practice a skill or make something we’d … well we’d just be better in general.

I’m not advocating minimalism, what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t buy out of fear. Fear of missing out, fear of losing status, fear of producing. However, I do think we would all be much better off if we used Grandpa Buffett’s rule when buying: if it doesn’t increase the quality of your life then don’t get it.