Thursday, February 14, 2013

Coping with the rise of materialism

In our efforts to de-clutter, it can help us to recognize how the rise of materialism occurred in the first place.   If we can learn the causes of materialism and the forces that set it in motion, we will be better equipped to resist it.  If we can resist it, instead of purchasing impulsively and finding ourselves dissatisfied, we will be able to purchase more rationally and enjoy more satisfaction.

Our society is structured around free enterprise.  That means there is a lot of competition for dollars, for resources, and for competitive advantage of any kind.  When factory production first began, it was found that goods could be created faster, cheaper, and better on an assembly line (or with machine labor) than by individuals.  But when a factory can create lots of goods very quickly, that means they also have to find more buyers, otherwise the factory must be closed and workers have no job for a while.  (Can’t have that, can we?)

To solve the “problem” of factory oversupply, it became necessary to create demand.  How do you create demand?  With all kinds of marketing.  In short, the object of marketing became to find all kinds of ways to get the potential buyer to feel that they needed and wanted and could not exist another moment without buying the product, whether it was a new washer, a new car, a new bobble-head doll, or a new pencil.

Thus, to avoid materialism, we must become savvy to as many marketing tricks as we can.  It is those marketing tricks that we fall for.
Today marketing is so pervasive we sometimes have a hard time recognizing it for what it is. 

TV commercials do much these days to make their marketing not so obvious, by making it seem cool with humor or an appeal to our values.  They use emotion to persuade, going to the root of our deepest hopes and fears.  Here’s a list of common emotional triggers they will try to hit:  

  • fear --- “you will be unsafe until you buy our product”; “our product can prevent loss”; “without our product you might lose_____”
  • lust --- “you will get lots of attention from the opposite sex if you buy our product”
  • desire for respect --- “you will impress people if you buy our luxury product”
  • desire for belonging ---“you will not be cool or liked unless you use our product”;  “you will be able to communicate and connect with people and make friends better if you buy our product”
  • desire for fun --- “you will have the time of your life if you buy our product”
  • dislike of difficulty --- “you will have an easier life if you buy our product”
  • self-interest --- “buy one and get two!”

I remember watching TV as a kid and seeing all those toy commercials.  The commercials always made the toys look really fun.  I noticed the toy packaging always made the toys look really fun too.  But when the toy came out of the package, fun didn’t magically appear; I had to create it myself with my imagination.  I also began to notice my actual fun never looked like the fun shown on the commercials.  I started to notice the techniques commercials used to make the toy seem extra fun--lots of close-ups and titled camera shots and motion and kids giggling and happy music, but none of that was anywhere to be found when I actually was playing with the toy itself.  I tried to increase my fun by imagining I was in a toy commercial as I was playing, but after a while I started to feel like I was tying my play to a commercial.  That seemed lame to me, so I stopped, and started looking for toys that were inherently fun.

Catalogue pictures show us a picture of a person using a new product and smiling happily.  We are to conclude that all their problems are over.  The text underneath those pictures is artfully written to describe just how wonderfully the product works and how well it is made (of the finest materials) and how much fun you will have using it.   There is no one around to critique the product you and point out just how unnecessary it really is, how rarely you will ever use it, how expensive it really is, and how little room you have to store it.  (Ramps for your dog to get into your car?  Long-armed extension pole for changing light bulbs in a vaulted ceiling?  Seriously?!)

If you ever find yourself thinking that your problems will be over if you buy something, that’s when you’ve been snookered by marketing.  You have fallen in love with an image.  Image is not substance and reality.  We want it to be reality (and marketers want us to think it is reality), but it is not.

Not only do marketers use emotion, they use lighting, packaging, pricing, location in the store, sales promotions, coupons, affiliate offers, and more to try to get you to buy.

But let’s talk about strategies that can help you see through marketing ploys. 

Don’t go to a store unless you have a list of things to buy that you know you need.  This is supposed to help you keep from buying impulsively.  If you do not find what you want, don’t buy something else; keep looking elsewhere.

Once you have found what you need and have bought it, stop looking.  Allow yourself to feel satisfied with filling your need.

Do not look at catalogs that come in the mail.  Do not look at ads that come in the mail.  Try to avoid watching commercials on TV.  Avoid window shopping.  Use great caution on Pinterest.  This works because often merely seeing something new and fancy makes us start wanting it.  Not seeing stuff that we might want will help us be content with what we have.

If you are an avid couponer, do not save coupons for things you don’t use, and don’t buy things you don’t use with your coupons.  Coupons are designed to encourage more buying. 

Sellers really like to price their products ending with 99.   Like $5.99  or 12.99.  Your mind tends to tune out the end number and only read the first number.  To overcome this marketing trick, you have to consciously remind yourself that the $5.99 is actually $6 + (because of tax).  Tell yourself the truth about the price.

The racks of candy and magazines and little toys and tools in the checkout aisle are there because they are IMPULSE items.  When you are standing in line at the store you are a captive audience and sellers take advantage of this by placing small, inexpensive items nearby that you can look at and think about and then (hopefully) decide you want.  And if you manage to resist, then your kids will still usually get entranced and want something, whine for it, and you’ll be more likely to get it for them to get them to be quiet.   Those impulse items are cheap so that you’ll be more likely to think to yourself, “Oh, it won’t add too much to my total.”  And when you are standing in line, you don’t know your total yet, so you are more likely to underestimate it and decide that you can afford a little extra something.  The strategy to get around this is to make the decision that you will never buy anything that is in the checkout aisle.   Stick to your list like a champ and you’ll beat the marketers.

Be aware of the packaging.  Or perhaps I should say “Beware of the packaging.”  Packaging doesn’t just protect the product, it also markets it.   The graphics on the box, the printing, even the shape and colors all is part of the marketing.  The graphics may show you pictures of happy people using the product.  The text may tell you all the neat things you can do with the product and all the things you get as a package deal.  The people who designed the packaging hope to generate excitement with lush language that gets you imagining the benefits. 

How do you keep your feet firmly on the ground when you find yourself getting excited about something?   You have to think about

·      whether you need it,
·      how often you’d really use it,
·      where you’ll store it

and you have to imagine yourself in a realistic scenario as you use the product.  Don’t imagine yourself in the ideal environment pictured on the box or in the marketing literature; imagine yourself in the midst of your usual crazy life.   Try to articulate to yourself exactly why you are attracted to it and why you find it appealing.   And then try this one: imagine what it will look like when it is dirty and old and think about whether you would still want it then or whether you’d find yourself just getting a new one. 

Remember that just because a new model has been released doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the older models.  Changing a product’s look every few years is a strategy marketers use to try to make us think that what we have is too old to use anymore.  Buying a new one just because of the new look is the equivalent of saying, “Style matters more than function.” 

Hopefully you will be more aware of the subtle marketing tricks used on you to try to make you spend your money on what you don’t need. 

Do you need extra help with organizing and de-cluttering? Hire me! Go to for more information about my services! Did this article help you? Be sure to share it with your friends!

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