How To Be Less Materialistic: 9 Tips That Actually Work!

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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you be less materialistic if you’re struggling to overcome that mindset by yourself. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

Are you surrounded by things you don’t really care about, but feel like you can’t get rid of them?

Or maybe you feel a compulsion to keep accumulating more “stuff” as long as it’s better, bigger, shinier, and has a higher status than the things you have now?

Many people feel “owned” by this pressing desire, and then feel overwhelmed by both their belongings, and the pressure they feel to collect even more.

Furthermore, modern society rewards and encourages materialism much more than it rewards simplicity. The adage “live simply so others can simply live” hasn’t been uttered by mainstream media for nearly 30 years. Instead, people are prodded to get the latest, shiniest smartphone as soon as it comes out, and achieve better social status via their shoe brand.

If you feel obliged to buy things rather than pleasure in doing so, this might be the right time to re-evaluate your priorities and take action to change your current behavior.

Below are a few tips that may help you step out of the seemingly endless loop of materialism and into a more grounded, grateful, and simplified lifestyle.

1. Take a challenging holiday away from everything you own.

This one might seem weird, but it does wonders to put things into perspective. You’ve probably become accustomed to being surrounded by all your “stuff” all the time and spend a great deal of time focusing on the other stuff you feel that you need and want.

As a result, one of the best things you can do to lessen your attachment to material possessions is to force yourself to spend time away from them for a while.

If you have the means and opportunity to do so, book some time at a retreat where you’ll take nothing with you except a couple of changes of clothes and toiletries. Make it more than a week-long retreat at that, since it takes at least a couple of weeks to start breaking a habit.

Consider someplace like an ashram or monastery/convent where you’ll be spending a great deal of time meditating and doing acts of service for others. Bonus points if you spend most of that time in silence. Or, if you’re not religious or spiritually inclined, try to experience two to six weeks in a historical or backcountry setting.

Go on a camping trip somewhere that you can’t just bail on after a few days if you get bored. Or book a cabin somewhere and get someone to pick you up after two to four weeks. You’ll have essential tools, food, maybe a couple of books and craft items with you, but that’s it.

After “roughing it” for a little while, you’ll soon realize how little you actually need versus how much you think you do. Furthermore, you’ll develop a lot more appreciation for the truly important and beautiful things in life.

2. Give yourself 15 minutes to pack a bag and get out of the house.

If you’ve never been in an emergency situation that demanded that you gather up essentials and GTFO in just a few minutes, then you’re a very fortunate person indeed. For the sake of this article, we’re going to pretend that this is a new experience for you, and I sincerely hope that it is.

Imagine that a serious calamity has occurred – or will occur shortly – and you have exactly 15 minutes to pack a bag and go. Don’t plan anything in advance: taking a few days to sift through your stuff and keep it at hand so you can pack quickly and easily will negate this exercise. Try to do it as spontaneously as possible so the experience is authentic.

Set your timer for 15 minutes, grab a large bag or suitcase, and pack it full of the things that you think are most essential to you. Furthermore, pack items with the mindset that you will never be able to go back to get anything else from your home ever again.

When that timer goes off, don’t add anything else to the bag, even if they’re within reach. Just get out of the house.

Then, you can either do the next step outside, or go back into your home and settle down somewhere quiet to look at what you’ve packed.

Ready?

This is where you learn that the items that you’ve packed are the only items in your home that truly matter to you.

Literally everything else in your home could go up in smoke without you lamenting their loss too much. Sure, you might feel a pang of loss now and then when you think about a shirt that you really liked or an heirloom you miss. But if it didn’t make its way into that bag when you were in an emergency situation, then it wasn’t actually vital to you.

Furthermore, these items may give you a significant amount of insight about what truly matters to you. Some people are surprised to discover which items they chose under duress, and doing this exercise caused them to do a fair bit of soul-searching. Some even shifted direction in their life/career because recognizing what they considered important on a subconscious level put everything else into perspective.

For example, when I did this exercise, my bag was full of practical items and tools such as herb and vegetable seeds, knitting needles, and a drop spindle, along with some of my favorite clothes. Meanwhile, my partner had journals and spiritual books, plus a multi-tool and a water purifier.

Look at what you packed and compare that to what surrounds you on a daily basis. Then consider where your focus and attention should really be placed from this day forward.

*Please note that this exercise isn’t about animal companions, plants, or other living beings. We’re strictly talking about inanimate objects here. Of COURSE you’d take your loved ones with you in an emergency situation. That goes without saying. Our focus here is on material possessions and their true worth to us (or their lack thereof).

3. Practice sincere gratitude.

Whether you do the above exercise or not, you can take time to be grateful for all the little things going on in your life. We’re not talking about objects here, but rather your circumstances, your companions, and every moment of beauty you get to bask in on a daily basis.

Do you live in a place where you can sit in the sunshine to drink your morning coffee? Then take the time to really appreciate every sip, as well as the kiss of warm light on your skin. Be fully present as this is happening, rather than being on your phone or thinking about how your day will unfold.

Right here, right now, this is where you are, and things are pretty amazing.

If you aren’t in severe physical pain, nor suffering from a debilitating illness, then be grateful for your health. Celebrate your well-being with physical activity that you love, and revel in the incredible things your body is capable of doing.

Consider taking up a low-cost creative endeavor that you enjoy.

4. Go full KonMari on your home.

Marie Kondo is an organizing consultant from Japan who has created a wonderful method for de-cluttering one’s home (and by extension, one’s life). Her “KonMari” approach encourages people to look at every single item in their home, and discard whatever does not bring them joy.

We’re not talking about a momentary blip of nostalgia or amusement, either.

This encourages people to focus on what they want to keep in their lives, rather than what they want to discard. As a result, they surround themselves with items that bring sincere joy and fulfillment; that have real purpose, rather than solely taking up space.

It’s a great way to be less materialistic, because doing this gives you the chance to be honest about which items are most important to you. When you take time to analyze every single item in your house and why you’re holding onto it, you can glean a greater understanding of your motivations about it.

Simplify everything about your home and you’ll be amazed to see how content you can be. You’ll use items that you sincerely love, without taking anything for granted, and no clutter will accumulate around you.

5. Examine your motivations.

This expands upon one aspect of the above tip, and it revolves around understanding why you have the various items in your life, as well as why it is that you feel you need or want more. Be honest and realistic in your answers, as they will offer you a significant amount of insight as to how you’ve gotten here, and what to do about it.

First and foremost, ask yourself whether the compulsion for more, better, shinier stuff is coming from you, or from those around you.

For example, do you prefer minimalism, but you have in-laws that keep giving you things? Maybe it’s just you and your partner at home but your family insist that you have a full dinnerware service for 20 people “just in case” you throw a big party. Oh and another one for everyday use, since you don’t use fancy plates for scrambled eggs on toast.

Or perhaps you work in a career in which everyone is one-upping each other with items like cars, electronics, designer clothes, etc. Do you feel pressure to keep up with them so you don’t end up being mocked or treated like an outcast? Or do you sincerely enjoy all of these items, as well as the never-ending quest to upgrade them?

6. Step away from entertainment and social media for a while.

Are you familiar with the expression “monkey see, monkey do”? It refers to how primates mimic one another’s behaviors: essentially “aping” one another. This can go a step further to “monkey see, monkey want,” where a creature might have no idea that it wants (or thinks that it needs) an item until it sees someone else with it.

Since humans are also primates, that mindset can affect us as well. Consider a toddler who’s perfectly content playing with a stuffy animal until it sees another child with a toy car. Suddenly the joy it was experiencing with its stuffy dissipates, the stuffy is thrown into a corner, and the child will howl until it gets THAT CAR, or at least another one just like it.

Many of us don’t ever get past that mindset. We think we’ll be a lot happier or more fulfilled if and when we get our hands on items that we want. Maybe getting that car, that phone, those clothes, that house, etc. will finally make us happy. The key is to recognize where it is that we’re seeing all of these items that we now yearn for.

Grab that handy journal of yours and write down all the items you’re currently coveting. Then push yourself to remember where it was you saw them. Write those sources down beside the items and see if there’s a common thread.

Did you see adverts for them in magazines? Or were your favorite actors using (or wearing) them in the last TV show or film you watched? Do your friends and family members have these items? Or did you come across them on social media and now can’t get them out of your head?

Tally up the sources for all of these desires, and then do your best to cut back on that influence in your life.

You can’t desire certain things if you don’t know that they exist, and you won’t know that they exist if you remove yourself from the spheres of influence that advertise them to you.

7. Replace physical items with wonderful experiences.

Things break, but memories last a lifetime. Think about some of the most amazing life experiences you’ve had so far. Do they revolve around the giddy little thrill you got when you purchased something? Or when you got to experience something amazing that left a lasting impression on you?

I remember a camping trip to a tiny lake one late summer weekend. I’d gotten up at dawn and sat by the water, when a great blue heron flew over and landed right beside me – almost close enough to touch. The sky was magenta and everything was still except for that enormous bird and me, staring at each other. That was over 20 years ago, but the memory is still as fresh as it was that August morning.

Do you think I remember what I was wearing when that happened? Or what brand of water bottle I was drinking out of? No. But I remember that ancient bird’s eyes staring into mine, and the tiny water ripples that formed as it hunted for fish.

Instead of going shopping, consider using the money you’d have spent on physical items on wonderful experiences instead. Go have some incredible meals with people you love, or visit some museums, sports games, or concerts. Or save that money for a bit longer and take an extra-special holiday somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Basically, look at your bucket list and if there are experiences you’d like to have while you’re still able to do so, make them a top priority.

Now, just because you’re focusing more of your attention on experiences doesn’t mean that you need to stop purchasing items completely.

If you’re the type of person who likes to keep souvenirs and mementos from your travels, then by all means continue to do so. Just make sure they’re only small keepsakes that are either useful or mean a lot to you, and that emphasis is placed on the experiences you had, rather than the stuff you picked up en route.

8. Spend more time outside.

You might have noticed that many tips on this list involve getting out into nature. There’s a reason for that, aside from the noted health benefits associated with breathing fresh air and getting sunlight into your eyeballs.

Some of the most beautiful, fulfilling experiences can happen simply by spending time basking in nature’s beauty and wonder. Most people experience a great deal of calmness and joy after “forest bathing” or sitting near water for a while.

When was the last time you hung out near a waterfall, stretched out on the beach by a lake, or went for a long walk in the woods? What wonderful things did you see and hear while doing so? And furthermore, how did you feel afterwards?

Nobody lies on their deathbed and regrets that they didn’t buy more electronics, but countless people wish they had swum in the ocean more, read outside on a sunny day, played in the grass with their pets, or taken long walks on gently snowy afternoons.

All the time you spend indoors twiddling with the stuff you’ve bought will be lost forever. Be very aware of the time you’re spending on things that really aren’t important, versus watching a sunset that’ll never happen the same way again.

You can be guaranteed that an afternoon spent outdoors will do a lot more for your physical and mental well-being than a new handbag or computer component ever could.

9. Turn your efforts towards service to others.

One of the best ways to be less materialistic is to put time and effort towards those who have very little. Seeing how people make do with next to nothing, and have incredible gratitude for what they do have, can work wonders to shift someone’s priorities away from materialism.

When was the last time you volunteered at a soup kitchen, or helped to build shelters with an organization like Habitat for Humanity? Doing outreach work like this can give a person some much-needed perspective, and can break the cycle of materialistic grasping.

If these endeavors don’t appeal to you, then use the strengths and skills you do have in service to others.

What is your skill set like? What are you good at, and what do you enjoy doing? You undoubtedly have a wide range of abilities under your belt that you can tap into to help other people. If you have a green thumb, consider volunteering at (or starting) a community garden to help the hungry in your neighborhood. Or, if you’re an animal lover, spend a few hours a week walking shelter dogs or cuddling kittens to socialize them.

Sew or knit clothes for refugees if that’s where your heart lies, or write letters to the elderly or to inmates. Basically, instead of going shopping, turn that amount of time towards pouring some goodness into the world.

Some people turn to material objects in order to fill a void within themselves. They might feel like something’s missing in their lives, or are wracked with anxiety, depression, or PTSD that they’re unable to face and work through for various reasons. As a result, they turn to retail therapy and project their emotions onto the items they buy.

Unfortunately, to quote Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.”

It’s up to you to decide who you truly want to be, and whether a collection of ephemeral material objects will bring you true happiness and fulfillment. Once you can answer those questions, you can start working on the steps you’ll need to take to live a more authentic life.

Still not sure how to be less materialistic? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process of changing your thought patterns and behaviors surrounding material possessions. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.