At what point do you decide you have enough stuff? In Western countries that feeling of being satisfied with what you have is not encouraged, yet most of us have far more possessions than our grandparents or great grandparents and much, much more than people in less affluent cultures. So why do we continually try to accumulate more?
As a society I feel we truly are starving in a sea of plenty. We can change the level of satisfaction we have in our material lives simply by changing our perceptions, by looking through a different lens. I believe that if we fully appreciate what we already have then our feelings of material neediness will evaporate and contentment will take their place.
We are bombarded with advertising images whose job is to persuade us that our lives would be so much better if we owned a certain product, looked a certain way, or visited a particular place. Companies have to convince us that we are unfulfilled without their product and that it would enhance our lives, otherwise why would we buy? If we are happy with what we already have the adverts would have little impact. Contentment is an advertising executive’s nightmare!
The idea that our source of happiness lies in owning more things is a cultural trance that we can choose to wake up from. Happiness and material possessions do not go hand in hand. We only need to look at the high rate of depressive illness in consumerist cultures to know that more possessions do not equal contentment.
Compulsive shopping, like other compulsions such as comfort eating, is a way of suppressing a deeper unhappiness that comes from within and which needs listening to, not papering over with more stuff. In the UK there have been several television programmes about hoarders who try to cover up their unhappiness with a mountain of material possessions. Without exception the hoarders have experienced traumatic life events which they have not processed and they have surrounded themselves with things to insulate against the pain. Of course this strategy doesn’t work, the issue is still there and at the very least the hoarding clutters up their available living space; at worst it can even become life threatening as hoarders have been known to be crushed or trapped under their own collapsing piles of possessions.
Of course most people do not let material goods take over their lives to that extent, however how many of us have thought that if we just had that particular tv/camera/dress/perfume/car then life would be so much better and more satisfying? When we give in to temptation and buy the desired item there is usually a brief euphoric rush, but it doesn’t take long for that high to fade. Depending on how much real satisfaction and usage there is in the item the pleasure ebbs away and you are back to the same emotional state you were in before you made the purchase.
We do not have to buy into this mass illusion. We can choose to wake up out of the cultural trance and look at our lives and our possessions with clear eyes. I believe most people in the West are not lacking material goods, on the contrary most people are suffering from too much stuff! All those possessions tie up our energy circuits and keep us from focussing on what is really important in life.
Take stock of what you possess right now. Close your eyes and take your mind from room to room looking at all the things you own, not just the things you like, everything. Make a mental inventory. You’ll probably notice that you already have a lot of stuff! You may even notice a desire to lighten the load!
Do I feel grateful for my material possessions? Do I truly appreciate them?
Do I make the most of what I already have?
Do I look after my stuff?
Do I have things I don’t use that I’m ready to pass on to someone who could use them?
A good affirmation to work with is "I always have enough." Working to install this belief counteracts a habitual 'needing more' mindset. Next time you want to buy something non-essential check in with yourself:
Do I already have one or more of these?
Do I need this item? Really? Why?
What do I expect this item to add to my life?
Am I buying this because I expect it to make me a happier and more fulfilled person? Is that likely?
Pause before you purchase and make sure that you aren’t trying to fulfil an emotional need with a material thing. If you are ready to release loads of stuck energy by having a big clear out then I can heartily recommend Karen Kingston's book to motivate you.