Some Materialism is Good For You

by Sandy L on November 29, 2011

On this blog, I make Babci sound like some kind of super granny.  She is awesome that’s for sure, but there are some things about her simple living philosophy that make me go absolutely bananas.   As I analyze why Babci would do some of the things that press my hot buttons, I try to understand why it is that she behaves a certain way.  Today, I’m going to talk about how Babci’s total lack of materialism can get on my nerves.

Generally speaking, she has an easy come and easy go philosophy. She never pays much for the stuff she has, so she doesn’t have any kind of attachment whatsoever to those things.

Materialism: The Rug Example

$10 Yard Sale Rug

If you’ve been reading First Gen for a while, you may remember this rug I scored at a yard sale for $10. It is a real oriental rug and has great coloring but smelled musty.  After a couple of hours of baking soda, vinegar and steam cleaning, it was as good as new.  I decided that it would go nicely in my mom’s new bedroom.  It looked incredibly cute and I was still impressed at the great deal I got on this adorable wool rug.

Babci had issues with the rug from day 1.  I put it a little too close to the door and the corner would sometimes roll up when she opened the door on it.   A normal person would just move the rug over a little so the door doesn’t get stuck on it.   What did babci do?  She lopped off a hunk of the rug with scissors.

butchered rug


When I saw that she butchered the rug, I was livid.  What kind of person destroys a perfectly good rug like that?   Then a couple of weeks later, she decided she didn’t like it at all and tossed it on the back porch.

We were over there again this week gutting her bathroom and the rug reared it’s ugly head again. I had almost forgotten about it and my husband needed a scrap carpet to work in the basement with and my mom  once again produced the rug.  My blood started to boil again.  Why did she have to ruin this rug if she wasn’t even planning on using it.  She could have given it to someone. It was a nice wool rug, not some el cheapo walmart special.  My husband decided it was too nice to use as scrap and he saved it from further abuse. We brought it home and put it in my office.  You can’t really see the lopped off corner from the doorway now, so I may be able to get over it..that is until it starts unraveling because it’s missing it’s binding in one corner.

Why a Little Materialism Is Good

Babci doesn’t care about personal possessions full stop.  She and my dead uncle were probably the least materialistic people I knew.  The downside to this is just that: Babci doesn’t care about her personal possessions.  She has no vested interest in keeping her furniture nice or her pots scratch free or her stuff without stains.  So when I spent over $1000 refinishing her hardwood floors and she started raking metal chairs across them and putting big gouges in the floor, I had to step back and count to 10.  I did have enough foresight to put those little sticky things on all the feet of the chairs, but these were the kitchen chairs that she put in the dining room and it didn’t phase her one bit that she was scratching up the floor.  After a month, her floors looked worse than mine have after 10 years of use.

Just like most things in life, when you’re at the extreme end of the spectrum on anything, there are negative consequences.  For me, that means I have to be okay with my mom not taking care of her stuff because she really doesn’t care about it at all.  She is even the same way with her garden.  She ripped out over 100 strawberry plants one year because she got mad that the chipmunks were eating them.  If she couldn’t have them, neither could the chipmunks. Anything I give to her, I have to assume it’s not going to make it to the end of it’s useful life.

I realize it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks so I just have to adjust my own expectations of what she will do with the things I give her.  If it’ll make me mad that she wrecked something I spent money on, I should just not spend the money.  And that’s why I think a little materialism is good. It’s good because you actually care enough to take care of your possessions. Maybe you’ll even save a few bucks along the way because your stuff will last longer.  So that’s my little gift to the readers today. Don’t feel guilty that you enjoy and like the things you have.  It is that attachment that allows you to value and rank your possessions.  Placing no value on your possessions is almost as bad as valuing all of them equally (aka Hoarding).

What do you think of materialism? Do you know people who don’t take care of their stuff. What’s your take on it?


{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicoleandmaggie November 29, 2011 at 7:34 PM

I think another big lesson is that sometimes one just has to adjust one’s own expectations because it’s easier to control one’s own actions than someone else’s. An important lesson to learn for sanity!

I was taught that we could do whatever we wanted with our own stuff, but we have to take extra special nice care of someone else’s.


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 1:42 AM

Nicole and Maggie – yes. trying to change people is a losing proposition but you can’t help but try on some things.


Jacq November 29, 2011 at 8:30 PM

I guess Babci never had much TO value either until now? Probably can’t get her head around the concept. At least she’s not like one of my child-free aunts who would freak if anyone touched her cabinets with their bare hands (oil on your hands I guess wrecks them?) and provided slippers for everyone at her doorstep. Needless to say, we didn’t visit often. 😛


Everyday Tips November 30, 2011 at 9:01 AM

I think your child-free aunts must be related to my father in law, who was always grabbing my kid’s hands and wiping them when we visited. His house was a museum, even though it was nothing special.

We are estranged now though, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I think I might just put jelly all over my 17 year old’s hands and have him go knock on the door.


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 1:43 AM

Jacq, yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. It wasn’t until the last few years that I even had the means to buy anything of significant value for her, so when you spend the first 70 odd years with things that really had little to no value, it’s hard to adjust to thinking otherwise.


Kara November 29, 2011 at 9:37 PM

Is it materialism to value what you spend money on? It’s hard to put a label of materialism on a $10 yardsale rug, even if it was an expensive rug originally. I think even if you’re not materialistic .. or maybe even especially if you’re not materialistic, you care for the things you have. You see the value in them, no matter what the $$ price tag. You consider every dollar you spend and every product you buy to be something of value.


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 1:51 AM

Kara – this is what webster says: a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things. So I guess I was preoccupied with the rug and attached a value to it that was greater than the actual price tag. My take on materialism is kind of what the Buddhists believe…that if you have trouble letting go of your personal possessions, then you are materialistic and preoccupied with your stuff vs your spiritual pursuits. Babci could be a monk if she were so inclined.


101 Centavos November 30, 2011 at 7:21 AM

I really *really* like our rugs, not only for their practical use, but also for their aesthetics, the visual beauty. I would have gotten physically sick at the scissor treatment… I guess this is one part of Babci I don’t understand either. Good practical tools are purchased with money (or time and effort, if traded) that is hard to come by. Therefore, they have value.

I also have a strawberry patch in our yard that the birds plunder every year. I’ve also considered ripping it out, but now I’ve come to think of it as a catch crop. As long as the birds are sated with the strawberries, they leave other things be.


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 1:55 AM

101 – yes. I have an attachment to rugs too. I’ve brought them back from business trips and have had friends buy them for me when they went back to their home countries. I took the rug butchering a lot more harshly than I did when she scratched the non stick pots I gave her that she proclaimed as junk.

Don’t tell babci but my husband got her a have a heart trap this year for christmas. I’m sure it’ll provide her with hours of enjoyment.


101 Centavos December 1, 2011 at 6:12 AM

OK, help me understand, what’s a have-a-heart trap?


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 5:19 PM

It’s a way to trap vermin without killing know squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, etc. I don’t think babci really cares if they are alive but I don’t think the neighbors would like their pets poisoned or in leg traps. I’m sure it’ll be hours of fun for her trying to catch all the chipmonkeys (as she calls them).


Everyday Tips November 30, 2011 at 9:04 AM

I don’t know why, but I find Babci’s penchant for destroying things to contradict with her personality of being so frugal. You would think she would want to preserve things for as long as possible to avoid spending money in the future. Maybe it is what Jacq said above, she is just not used to owning things that were of value?

I would have been furious myself, and I think I am still a bit frustrated on your behalf. The scratching of the wood floor thing would drive me insane, especially because you put so much work into that house.

Couldn’t she have put netting over the strawberries? Or was it more an act of revenge? I can totally picture the scene though…


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 2:02 AM

Everyday Tips – Yeah, you’d think she’d handle more of her things with kid gloves, but she doesn’t. I’m sure she thinks she can just maguyver a replacement whatnot out of the trash or pick up another one at a tag sale for $1…really doesn’t matter what it is. She has another rug sitting in the garage that is waiting to get cleaned that she bought at a tag sale later in the summer. Old rugs are cheap and easy to come by in her mind. Jacq I think had it right. She never had anything she needed to take care of so she never learned how.

It’s interesting but I’ve seen the same behavior with my mom’s poor people tenants. You wouldn’t believe the stuff they leave behind in apartments. One lady left almost all her stuff, food, furniture, clothes, etc. I think it’s incredibly wasteful, but also in a way, these people aren’t materialistic because if they were, they wouldn’t be able to just dump their possessions because it’s easier to do that than move them.


Molly November 30, 2011 at 6:48 PM

I have to admit I giggled and gagged (it hurt me to see the rug) when I saw the cut rug. My mother-in-law has 2 sets of china she’s tired of storing. She’s been storing these dishes for 50 years and has maybe used them twice. A few years ago she offered them to me and I jumped and said I would love them. She never handed them over and I never ask. JUST THIS MORNING (I kid you not) Mike told me that she was not giving us the china because he told her that I would use them probably daily and not store them. I guess it would drive her into her grave to come to our house and see the china being used at a normal meal. Sigh…it’s fine, I have too many dishes.
Here’s my piece: 1) If you give someone something let them have it. I mean, really have it. You gave it to them and now it’s their’s to do with what they will. 2) Don’t give your mom nice things ever! She will drive you crazy with how she uses them.
Enough scolding from me. I’m glad Babci makes you a little crazy! Isn’t that what mom’s are suppose to do?


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 2:08 AM

Molly – I never asked or received fine China for my wedding. I break stuff constantly and I hate the idea of having something that’s only used 2/year. I definitely implemented rule #2 a little while back. It’s not because I’m cheap with her, it’s because a) she doesn’t care or want expensive things and b) I don’t want her treatment of these things to lead to fights. My relationship with babci isn’t always perfect. I’m sure it’s good to know she’s just like every other parent that can drive you bonkers every once in a while.


Linda December 1, 2011 at 12:31 AM

I’m not sure why, but I have a hard time treating any object harshly, even if it isn’t mine. I’ve been on the road this past week with a friend and have stayed in different hotel rooms every night. Even though I’ll never be in any of these hotels again, I still treat each room and the items in them as if they were my own. I do this all the time: at the homes of friends and strangers alike. I can understand that mistakes will happen that can lead to stuff getting beat up, but I’d never seek to mess it up on purpose.


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 2:12 AM

Linda – you’re just conscientious and it’s just a good feeling that if it were your hotel you wouldn’t want people trashing it either. As I’ve gotten older and I could imagine myself owning some of these businesses myself, I have a lot more empathy towards businesses and business owners, especially small ones. I guess I got that experience first hand when I was managing my mom’s apartments and I just couldn’t believe what people were capable of doing and destroying, but they saw me as a landlord with money..the man, not some old lady living off her $700/month social security check with only her rental income to supplement it.


retirebyforty December 1, 2011 at 5:08 PM

OMG, she is a bit crazy! That’s an awesome rug. I would love to get a nice rug like that someday. 🙁
My dad drives me crazy with his antics too. He drinks about half a bottle of red wine a day and sometime more. The kids keep bugging him about it, but he can’t change. I don’t bother him anymore. At least it’s better than when he drink hard liquor. I know, not the same problem as Babci, but similar craziness.


Sandy L December 1, 2011 at 5:22 PM

RB40..thanks for sharing. Yes, when I was younger, I thought my mom was completely off her rocker. Now that I’m older, I just think she’s amusingly eccentric and very wise about certain things. Although last week she was telling me something completely batty..I wish I remembered what it was about. I should keep notes.


Barb Friedberg December 1, 2011 at 11:15 PM

OMG, I totally agree with everything you said. I am obsessed with taking care of my belongings. I am certainly thrifty with money and look for high value at a low cost, and I am materialistic!


The Biz of Life December 3, 2011 at 9:23 AM

The people who don’t value and take care of their stuff are probably not the kind of people who’d be reading blogs about personal finance, saving, investing and frugality…… to me frugality is all about placing subjective values on material items and only purchasing those high-value items.


Squirrelers December 8, 2011 at 7:09 PM

We can’t change some people, no matter what we think. I’m dealing with that on some levels too!
What’s interesting is the dichotomy – on one hand, resourceful and frugal – and on the other hand, showing little regard for preserving material things. I’m sure that as we all get older, our kids will shake their heads at some things we do too.


Invest It Wisely December 10, 2011 at 8:41 PM

I would have cringed at the scissor thing, too. I personally believe that nothing is wrong with materialism so long as you use it to improve your own life. Keeping up with the Joneses might be too much materialism, but having a well-kept car and a comfortable home might be just enough.

The part with the strawberries made me laugh, sorry! I can feel your pain for the hardwo0d floors though, especially with all the time and effort you must have put into that. Not always easy to find a happy medium!


David December 28, 2011 at 5:18 AM

People that don’t know how to value a small things is like a don’t know how to value their life. It is hard to give to those people that you know never value even small things.


Lisa @ Cents To Save December 30, 2011 at 10:07 AM

I am the one that does not take care of things. I don’t destroy them….. but I am not OCD about that sort of stuff. My OCD tendencies flare up in other area of my life. My mom on the other hand is totally OCD about taking care of stuff. It is what makes her happy.

We have learned to accept each other. Finally.


youngandthrifty December 31, 2011 at 11:26 AM

I love that rug! Babci sounds like quite an interesting individual. I guess a little bit of materialism isn’t such a bad thing…


Financial Samurai January 8, 2012 at 7:45 PM

Sandy, are you around? Sent you an e-mail and a post. Please respond by tonight. If not, it’s cool and will just move on.




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