How Materialism Hurts Us and Our Environment

Updated on May 24, 2016

A Humorous Look at Stuff

For many Americans, the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of material wealth lie on the same playing field. But is it possible that this pursuit of material goods in our search for happiness is more damaging to ourselves and our environment than we think?

It was Douglas Horton, clergyman of the late 19th century who realized "materialism is the only form of distraction from true bliss." Despite this observation and others, most strive for much more than simply food, water, shelter and clothing. The desire to buy bigger, better, newer and more stuff is what fuels the American dream and the world economy. How does the desire for material wealth hurt us? How does it hurt our environment?

How materialism hurts us + solutions

The constant desire for stuff is what drives our global economy - and many suffer because of it. The environment suffers as well. The cost of goods for many of us is not the issue, but the true cost to the environment is one that cannot be labeled with a price tag. As cute, awesome or impressive the item is, it costs human labor, water, fossil fuels to manufacture and transport it. The outcome, aside from owning this cute, awesome or impressive item is increased pollution, destruction of precious land, harmful working conditions.

Yes, we know the costs and result of producing and consuming things, and many of you can name quite a few more. Let's set that aside. Time for solutions. Is there a way we can live in a developed world without having materialism consume us? Every day we are assaulted by peer pressure from friends, family and advertisements, promising that buying a particular product will make us better, stronger, faster, thinner, sexier, smarter and more. Many of these things we do in fact need. Or do we? Only when we understand the line between things we need, and things we desire, can we overcome the pressures to buy.

No matter who you are, or how much money you have - the things you buy have an effect on you, your environment, and the unseen people in far off lands who are connected to those things through manufacturing, production, packaging and transportation. The bright light at the end of this often dim tunnel is that there are ways to live in abundance of everything you need. How good it feels to live free of destroying your own home? Be excited, with a small mental shift, and few small actions, you can help to avoid over-consumption, help the environment, and return to a slightly more blissful existence free of clutter, both mental and physical.

Map of world consumption

world consumption cartogram
world consumption cartogram

If you are one of those living in an area bulging red at the seams in the map above like myself, do not get down. None of us should feel guilty for the cards we have been dealt - for we have no control. It is not the ideal hand. What we do have control over is how we play them. Tomorrow is another day. We have the choice put on our best poker face and carry on in a positive light - here is how

What can we do?

1. Upcycle: Not just bottles, cans and cardboard. With some creativity, you can find a use for what many would call trash.

Use the wood from that old bookshelf to make a chair.

Turn that empty wine bottle into a vase. Cut in half and sand for a candle, pencil holder or drinking vessel. Break into shards and mix with cement to make bricks for a new walkway or resurface your kitchen counter. Upcycle is the new recycle.

2. Buy local: The energy and resources used to make and transport goods from one end of the world to the other are immense. Food is the easiest connection to make. Imagine the environmental impact of eating a banana from Guatemala in Canada on a winter day? Eat according to seasons, buy from farmers markets, participate in a CSA program. Search out local purveyors and manufacturers to boost your local economy and protect your mother.

3. Drink tap: Nearly 42 million water bottles are used per day. Compared to tap water, 800 times more energy is wasted and it's 10 times more expensive. If you can't stand the taste of tap water, buy a re-usable water bottle and filter for the kitchen sink.

4. Plant: There isn't a more local source than your own backyard. Even a small container garden is easy to grow and maintain vegetables and native, local plants.

5. Transportation: Ride the bus. Ride the train. Carpool. Imagine the joy you will feel when you bring a book and relax on your way to work while doing your part to protect the environment.

6. Litter no more: A simple, yet far too often broken rule to live by. All drains lead to the ocean, and that cigarette butt will look like candy and eventually kill some beautiful young pelican. Re-think the concept of litter - maybe it can be used or re-purposed again after all?

7. Downsize: Your home, car, closet and storage unit. Ask yourself how these things make you feel? You might discover a natural calm once these things are no more. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

8. Vote: For local officials and candidates who share an interest in helping the environment and not oil. The business of oil is what drives the factories and machines that lead to more things.

9. Buy used: Whether it is clothing from a second-hand store, used books or music, or even a used car. The more you buy used, the more precious resources are saved instead of consumed.

How much do you consume?

What effect do your daily buying habits on the environment? You can calculate your personal global footprint or ecological footprint to find out. This looks at your lifestyle and level of resource consumption, and then determines how much land area it takes to support it. The website below explains that "humanity uses the equivalent of 1.4 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and five months to regenerate what we use in a year." For Americans, this number is even larger. Much like an old car engine, neglected of it's essential fluids, it will one day, break. Calculate your personal footprint, and learn ways in which you can help by visiting the website provided below.

ecological footprint by country
ecological footprint by country
To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one's own in the midst of abundance.  ~Buddha
To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one's own in the midst of abundance. ~Buddha


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Agree with you about using less stuff and simplifying our lives. Although I do recycle a lot, there is always more that can be done.

      Do grow some veggies and fruits in the garden though - they taste so much better when they are fresh.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Until industry adopts better policies, a few consumers will only be a drop in the bucket. Sustainable commodities that can be recycled. Products that maintain longevity instead of being throw away made for shelf life and greater consumer purchasing. Modular construction that allows for upgrades, additions and cheap repairs to existing products. Low energy use with reverse energy ideas. Imagine a refrigerator that you can change the color of, can change the shelves, can upgrade and replace any part easily. Imagine it is lower cost in energy, and continues to be upgradable. Imagine everything in it is recyclable. The longer you live the more you find yourself buying the same junk that is going to break in the next 20 years tops and everything you already purchased might be in a landfill some where. Until business sees more profits in long term products I doubt that all this waste is going to put any dent in the amount of energy and commodities we waste every day.

    • Nathan Orf profile image

      Nathan Orf 

      6 years ago

      Great hub jdavis! I will try the things you talk about here. Good read and I voted up!

    • jdaviswrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Davis 

      7 years ago from California

      Thank tiffany. What you say is true - but I believe it's just as easy, and more enjoyable, to look the other direction. You can control whether or not you are controlled by materialism. That is all. Secondly, we live in a very, very blessed time - where anything you could ever want, you already have. Thanks for reading - be well.

    • tiffany delite profile image

      Tiffany Delite 

      7 years ago from Wichita, KS are right. we in america, especially, have become consumed with it. it saddens me at times. it also makes it somewhat more difficult to raise well-balanced children because everything seems to come so "cheap and easy" these days. we live in a very, very sad time. i pray that we can come to realize that our very life and this earth is gift enough...we really don't need anything else. blessings!

    • jdaviswrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Davis 

      10 years ago from California

      thanks bingskee. it is a sad thing at time. some people never do realize the concepts you talk about and understand yourself...that is a start. thanks for the kind words...

    • bingskee profile image


      10 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

      anything in excess is always not good in my own opinion. material things do not give us satisfaction than what the intangibles can give. in a third world country such as mine, it is funny that there are people that hug what they cannot hug and usually it involves the compulsion to acquire/buy things that they do not really need. as a result, many dysfunctional individuals depend on material things rather than on the strength of what love and hope can give.

      very nice, very nice hub.

    • jdaviswrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Davis 

      10 years ago from California

      that's the kind of insightful comments i love to see. glad we can agree on somethings. thanks funtowrite...

    • funtowrite profile image


      10 years ago from Montrose, CO

      So true! The Buddha comment is one I have come to live by. It has brought freedom in my life. Growing up in a so called "simple lifestyle" like I did, there was still a lot of materialism going on because it is a mentality so many people have. But by letting go mentally of whatever you have or don't have, will lead you to do things you never thought you would act upon, in a good way! Great hub, I think the topic of materialism and recycling go hand in hand and should be made aware of everyday.

    • jdaviswrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Davis 

      10 years ago from California

      awesome. i love these thoughtful and sincerely inspiring comments. thanks peeps.

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 

      10 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hey jdavis,

      Thanks for that post. ..which I found myself nodding along to. While we are encouraged to believe materialism is the path to happiness in my experience *things* only offer us short-term gratification.

    • LRCBlogger profile image


      10 years ago

      Another "rate up" hub. Thanks. Under "what can I do" section of your hub, I find myself doing most of those things (if not all). Just 4 or 5 years ago, I would probably be doing only a few. Spreading information and education is the best source of medicine for ourselves, our environment, etc.

    • kcreery profile image


      10 years ago from Whistler Canada

      Great Hub. Your comments are very relevant. Why do we need so much stuff?


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