Our Obsession With Stuff And Status Is Out Of Control

by Christine Organ
MStudioImages / iStock

Over the summer, our family took a short road trip. We spent time with friends, relaxed, and generally had a great time. I only took a handful of photos. At the end of the weekend, as I scrolled through photos of friends doing fun summery things, I felt a familiar pang of envy. If I didn’t have something Facebook-worthy to post and show that my kids did fun things, too, did we even go on vacation?

Last weekend, I saw Hamilton for the first time. (Yes, I know, finally.) It was every bit as amazing as everyone says it is, but was it less amazing because I sat in the nosebleed section and didn’t have backstage passes like a friend of mine did? Maybe. Was it less exciting because I didn’t post a selfie in front of the marquee? Did it even happen if I didn’t post photos about it on Facebook and Instagram? I don’t think so.

I am, admittedly, a social media addict. I enjoy the hell out of scrolling through Facebook to get news headlines, see cute photos of friends’ kids, and keep in touch with friends and family who live all around the country and the world. Social media is, quite simply, all kinds of awesome, and its impact on the world cannot be overstated.

But it also kind of sucks sometimes.

Because, sweet mother of photo filters, thanks to social media we aren’t just trying to keep up with the Joneses anymore; now we’re trying to keep up with the Smiths, Johnsons, McCarthys, and that distant cousin we never really even liked that much. And it is freaking exhausting.

Folks, our fascination with stuff and status is out of control. Our obsession with bigger and better is relentless and draining. And social media is partly to blame.

Here’s the thing, as a wannabe minimalist, stuff stresses me out. Believe it or not, I don’t want to have hundreds of pairs of shoes, designer handbags, or a bathroom full of high-end styling products. And not that there’s anything inherently wrong with having those things, but social media would have you believe that we are all aiming for this “goal.” That’s not the case.

Our family makes do with just one car, we live in a modest (i.e., smallish and unfancy) house, and for the most part, our family of four shares the same bathroom. I prefer experiences to belongings, hands down. Too much stuff triggers my anxiety and clutter makes me ragey.

I know all these things about myself, and yet just one look at social media and I’m salivating for things I don’t even want. A bigger house. More stylish home décor. A remodeled kitchen. Another car. More shoes. Lavish vacations. More likes and shares on a Facebook post. Maybe a boat.

Deep down I know that I don’t want these things, but something about the in-your-face flashiness of social media makes me think that I might want these things, or makes me ponder what it would be like to have those things. In comparison to the airbrushed and filtered images of other people’s lives, my own starts to seem dull and boring. The things I value — a comfortable and welcoming home, meaningful relationships, giving back to my community — seem like not enough compared to stylish shoes, an HGTV-worthy home, trendy parties, and a thousand friends.

I don’t think I’m the only person who feels like this sometimes, nor do I think that social media is entirely to blame. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, to want just a little bit more and a little bit better than we have now. But unchecked, this natural tendency can lead to discontent, anxiety, and a general state of unease.

Given social media’s omnipresence, it’s hard as hell to battle these penchants for more, bigger, better. It means focusing on things that matter to us, and not what’s important to other people. For me, that’s things like strong relationships, volunteering, donating to causes I believe in, and spending quality time with people I love. If you’re someone who loves decorating, fashion, and baking fancy pies, by all means, go for it. You do you. Life is too short to spend time and energy on things that don’t bring us joy or satisfaction, including other people’s passions and interests just so we can attempt to keep up.

It’s a constant struggle, but I’ve learned a few other tricks to fight the “keeping up” urges. For instance, I constantly remind myself that I don’t want more things, or more stuff, despite what social media and advertisers tell me. I’m trying to teach my kids that people matter more than things, and I don’t ever want someone to feel uncomfortable in my home because they are worried about breaking a fancy vase or staining the carpet.

I’m learning to let go of some of my own Type A inclinations to have everything in its place and embrace the chaos a bit. I firmly (but politely) tell family that we’d prefer gifts of time and experiences (or nothing at all!) over toys and stuff for birthdays and holidays. I make a lot of trips to Goodwill to donate things we don’t want, need, or use anymore. I try to remind myself that social media is the highlight reel, not the outtakes or behind-the-scenes clips.

And sometimes I resist the urge to post the highlight reel on Facebook. It’s okay if people don’t know what I bought at Target, or that we upgraded our washer and dryer, or that we spent the weekend at the beach.

And above all, it takes perfecting the art not of not giving a fuck about things like stuff and status and whatever the hell the Joneses are doing. Social media might have exacerbated our obsession with stuff and status, but we don’t have to fall victim to it.