Materialism and the psychology of spending


I’ve had a MacBook Pro for 5 years. Apart from the occasional frustration with the slowness, the need for software upgrade or a charger replacement, it serves its purpose well: I need it daily for work, communication, research and entertainment. Does it make me happy? I wouldn’t say say, no, but would I be unhappy if it broke or got stolen? Extremely (mostly because it would inconvenience me or present an additional expense). Does that make me a materialist? I don’t think so..

So, what makes someone a materialist anyhow?: getting sentimentally attached to things and exhibiting obsessive dependence on them.

This is part 2 of the series on (anti)consumerism and related topics.


Money can provide us with a certain level of happiness, in the sense that we have enough to ensure our primary needs, but as soon as that’s covered, we tend to seek more. It’s been reported in the Wall Street Journal that there, in fact, is a notion of ‘enough’, a line beyond which we shouldn’t seek happiness in money.

Moreover, there seems to be a consensus that there is a ‘shelf life’ of happiness after a purchase of a product, especially if that product was intended as an upgrade, to replace something already owned. sicknessTypical materialists follow one of these two development paths: 1) they could either be lacking respect, affiliation, belongingness, or appreciation and self worth in society; alternatively, 2) their everyday life does not have the desirable or expected gratification, thrill or enjoyment, thus they turn to materialism as as a way of compensation.

Does that resolve the issue(s)?


Spending money on inessential things is most likely a sign that we are trying to acquire something we are lacking emotionally or intellectually, in other words – internally. When we satisfy our basic needs for food, warmth and shelter, what remains to be effectuated are emotions, self-realisation, growth and development.

The problem is that, growing up in a consumer culture, one is less aware (or even entirely unaware) how these components can be fulfilled without reliance on material things. Partaking in the materialistic value system usually means fewer tendencies toward self-actualisation, self-acceptance, thus a poorer quality of life. Materialists also believe that such a state of mind and lifestyle are completely normal because it is common.

Is materialism the new global framework for gratification and complacency?

chanel Consumption (the purchase of goods and services) and consumerism (the preoccupation of society with the purchase of goods and services) have come to define the last few generations. Consumption has become a notable social activity, and the scope of materialism is now more prominent in the construction of social identity. It has become a means of maintaining class barriers and social differences. As such, the social logic of consumption is not related to the logic of satisfying the needs, but as the stimulus for the production and manipulation of social status. More on that in the next instalment, Modern Slavery: The Sociology of Spending.

The use of resources for the production of goods or services created to fulfill different individual and collective needs determine the volume and structure of consumption. In the modern, 21st-century society, however, consumption has turned into a building block, far beyond the basics identified as needs. Instead, nowadays, mass production and mass consumption have become a privilege of the majority due to the prevalent competition among status groups over forms of consumption. More on that in the upcoming Identity Formation in the Culture of Consumerism post.

2 thoughts on “Materialism and the psychology of spending

  1. I agree very much with your cause and a lot of your writing, but wouldn’t you say that actually ‘getting sentimentally attached to things’ would slow down consumerism? In a throw-away society the attachment seems rather low. Maybe redefining materialism would be something?

  2. Pingback: The trickle effect of (over)consumption - Culture-ist

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