Material Things – Things that Benefit Us and Things to Let Go

Material items fill our everyday lives. They are constantly around us, and can sometimes dictate how we see ourselves and how we view the world.

Material items are objects that we acquire as a gift or through a purchase. Some material things are necessary for survival, such as shelter and clothing to protect against the elements. Other material items aren’t necessary but are purchased out of a “want” rather than a need.

There’s the common phrase, “money can’t buy you happiness.” We’ve all heard this, and yet so many of us forget this simple phrase in our need to satisfy something within us. What is that something, and will material things ever fulfill it? 

What are Material Things?

At this moment, take a look around you. What objects can you identify? Before me sits my computer, my coffee mug, a candle, my phone, a crystal, and an empty bowl I ate my yogurt out of. I sit in a comfortable chair in a warm and safe house. 

All of these describe material things. Material things include any resources you use, including a car, appliance, jewelry, a watch, and so much more. 

While material possessions can provide temporary happiness, lasting fulfillment usually comes from non-material aspects of life, such as meaningful relationships, personal growth, experiences, and a sense of purpose. Each person has their own values and priorities, and the importance placed on material possessions can vary greatly from person to person.

A laptop, book, and mug on a simple desk - Material Things - Gone Minimal
A laptop, book, and mug on a simple desk

Characteristics of Material Things

It’s certainly true that materialism has taken a turn for the worst in our society, but let me regress for a moment. Material things aren’t inherently bad or good. In fact, humanity’s survival and evolution have much to do with our ability to craft tools and build items. Having a home one feels safe in, clothes to protect the skin, and appliances to live our daily lives are all part of this human experience. 

So, where did it go wrong? Maybe it began with the birth of consumerism, maybe our need for “more” is a natural human desire that has been with us since the dawn of man. No matter where it originated, it doesn’t change the fact that in today’s society, there is this belief that wealth = happiness. Material items = acceptance. 

Studies have shown that buying experiences (such as concert tickets, travel expenses, etc.), as opposed to material objects, cultivates lasting happiness.

Many participate in a consumerism culture to feel accepted and loved by others. There is also a need or addiction to keep buying things in order to feel happy. Buying that one “thing” doesn’t actually make you happy, so it starts this never-ending need to have more and more and more. The same cycle occurs for ego-driven ambition, greed, and power. 

Here’s a video that explains a bit more about what it’s like to get caught up in “the rat race” of life: 

Non-Material Things

Non-material things are memories, experiences, relationships, and spiritual connections. This is where we find true and genuine happiness that does not fade or break. It is a connection with ourselves, to our highest power, our spirit – and that is where we discover what we truly desire. 

Studies have shown that buying experiences (such as concert tickets, travel expenses, etc.), as opposed to material objects, cultivates lasting happiness. A study published in the Journal of Psychological Science by Amit Kumar, Matthew A. Killingsworth, and Thomas Gilovich states, “experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having).”

Material Things and The Environment

There is growing evidence that the possession of more material items negatively affects the environment. It is affected by the large factories and manufacturing companies emitting large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in order to make and transport products. 

A factory producing smoke - Material Things - Gone Minimal
A factory producing smoke

This includes tech devices, clothing, anything on Amazon, and so much more. While buying “green” is a good step in the right direction, it’s actually the reduction in consumerism that is going to benefit the environment the most. In simple words, buying less is better for the Earth. 

Making wise and intentional purchases is another way to purchase material things without the added cost of the item’s environmental impact. This includes buying from brands that use sustainable resources, supporting small businesses, and buying produce from local farms. 

Whenever money is spent from a place of imbalance, this is a sign that the consumer is looking to satisfy something within themselves.

It’s also helpful to think about where all these “things” actually end up. They are either burned, meaning large amounts of chemicals are released into the atmosphere, or it’s buried miles beneath the earth where it will take thousands of years to degrade. This is why recycling, buying clothes from thrift stores, and reusing/repurposing items are so important.

Quick side note: there is hope. A “plastic-eating mushroom” has been discovered, and it may be the answer to the growing problem of trash and landfills. However, we still need to be wise and conscious of how our consumerism impacts our environment.

Two simple white mushrooms on tree bark - Material Things - Gone Minimal
Two simple white mushrooms on tree bark

What are We Trying to Fulfill with Material Things? 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, impulse spending, which is basically purchasing things without much thought. Impulse spending can also occur when one is buying things in order to escape feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. In this way, material things are used as a way to cope, but peace and happiness cannot be bought, so the spending is ongoing. 

Another reason people invest in material things is to support the image they are trying to display. They want others to think highly of them, to think they are worthy and successful – so they try to appear so with fancy and expensive gadgets, clothes, and vehicles. 

Whenever money is spent from a place of imbalance, this is a sign that the consumer is looking to satisfy something within themselves. They feel as if something is missing, and buying things momentarily satisfies this emptiness. But, it always returns. 

A woman in a simple black dress making a purchase - Material Things - Gone Minimal
A woman in a simple black dress making a purchase

There is something deeper going on. This missing part in one’s self will never be satisfied with material things – because that isn’t actually what they desire. What they desire is connection, love, worthiness, peace, and the expansion of their own consciousness (even if they don’t realize it). 

When these things are sought outside of oneself, they will never find what they’re looking for. These things can only be found within – through healing, deep connection, spirituality, and awareness. 

Interestingly, an article on multiple studies published in The Greater Good Magazine by Dacher Keltner and Jason Marsh about how gratitude beats materialism has shown that people who are more grateful for what they have, consume less. Vice versa, those who frequently purchase material things don’t often feel grateful, nor do they feel peaceful or happy in their lives.

A man standing outside with his hand together - Material Things - Gone Minimal
A man standing outside with his hand together

Material Things and Emotional Attachment

It’s normal to feel attached to material possessions, and there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to take good care of and/or protect our things. The imbalance arises when we become so attached to our things that it affects our well-being at the thought of not having them. In this way, we give material things power to dictate our peace and happiness. 

This could be a result of finding control in material things. Those who grew up in unstable and traumatic homes, as an adult, can find stability and safety in the control of their material possessions. This is a very real response, one which I have noticed in my own life. 

For example, we recently had my roommate’s family visit us for a few days, this included his parents and sister. All of sudden my kitchen was taken over, my coffee mug was being used, the wrong dish towel was being used to wash the counters, and everything felt completely out of my control.

Two women cooking in a minimalist kitchen - Material Things - Gone Minimal
Two women cooking in a minimalist kitchen

I actually experience intense overwhelm with it all and was confused as to why I cared so much about my material possessions. It especially took me by surprise because I’ve never been one to become super attached to my things – at least I thought (nothing like a good ole wake-up call). 

This was an opportunity to evaluate my attachment to material things and work on releasing my control of them. This isn’t an easy process, nor does it happen overnight. It’s an ongoing self-discovery that involves facing my shadows, noticing my thoughts, and healing childhood trauma. Yup, all that to not be attached to a coffee mug. But, it’s deeply worth it because it’s so much more than attachment over a mug – it’s freeing myself from earthly limitations and attachments. 

If you feel attached to your material possessions, I invite you to explore that attachment. There’s no need to judge yourself or think you’re doing something wrong by being attached to something (we’re all figuring out this human life). I encourage you to be open and curious about what you discover. 

A woman simply standing outside with open arms - Material Things - Gone Minimal
A woman simply standing outside with open arms

Related Insights

Why are material things important?

Material things are important because they make up the foundation of what we need in order to survive and thrive in our life. 

What are material and non-material things?

Material things are physical objects, while non-material things are emotions and experiences.

What is material culture?

Material culture is the belief that happiness can be achieved by how you look, what you have, and how successful you are.

The One Material Thing That Is Important To Real People

Buying material things is a normal part of life and isn’t necessarily bad or good. While some purchases come from a place of imbalance, other purchases can truly benefit someone’s life and daily habits. To confirm this, I asked a few of my friends and family what is one material thing that is important to them. Here’s what I discovered: 

Material ItemReason For Choosing
Leatherman:I literally use it for something critical to fix multiple times a week. 
Good pair of shoes:I spend a lot of time on my feet and a good pair of shoes makes all the difference. 
Books: They are an invaluable resource of knowledge and wisdom.
Japanese Digging Knife:One of my favorite gardening tools. Super helpful and has multiple purposes. 
Book: I love being able to escape to different worlds for a little bit each day. 
Simple material items that are important to real people

Other Resources:

Material things are a huge part of our society and day-to-day lives. While material things are neither good nor bad, they can still greatly affect how we view ourselves and the world around us. That’s why I invite you to take an honest look at how you feel about material things. Do you put your worth in your appearance, social status, and possessions? Where do you find your happiness and peace of mind? 

Happy discovering my friends. 

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