14 Tips for a Less Materialistic Lifestyle

Zen of Money

“The things you own end up owning you.”Tyler Durden in Fight Club

Beyond a minimum threshold of poverty, having more things doesn’t make people happier. But in a society driven by consumption, it can be hard to realize this truth.

Living a less materialistic lifestyle doesn’t mean becoming a monk and abstaining from all of life’s pleasures. It means shifting your focus away from possessions so they become less important by comparison.

Materialism Fills a Void

Owning things becomes important when you have an internal void. When your internal world is deprived it is only natural to want to fill it with external things. Unfortunately, this is like filling a sieve with sand. The sand may fit in the sieve temporarily, but it will soon sift through the holes, leaving you empty again.

What do you fill that internal void with? Here are a few aspects that fill the void better than possessions:

  • Relationships
  • Passionate Work
  • Service to Others
  • Personal Challenges
  • Knowledge

At the core of all these things is your philosophy towards life and understanding of the world you live in. You can be rich, but you can’t be wealthy unless your life philosophy and internal world are healthy.

Reducing Materialism

Ending materialism doesn’t mean forsaking all your possessions. Ridding yourself of everything you own would only prove you are still too preoccupied with possessions themselves. Someone who has developed a healthy inner world would see possessions as neutral. This shift is more about attitude than specific actions.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. You aren’t the things you own. The problem is that you view things as possessions in the first place. Ownership is just a societal construct to keep order, it doesn’t have any deeper meaning. Separate your identity from the things you own.
  2. Relationships are about doing, not having. You can’t have a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse. Although those terms are fairly commonplace, they demonstrate that many people still view relationships as possessions. The more you see relationships as possessions, the less intrinsic value you can get from experiencing them.
  3. Create a system of goals and challenges. Materialism fills a void. Replace that uncomfortable filler with goals and challenges. Although many of my challenges are directed towards material gain, that isn’t the real point. Just as winning Risk isn’t about world-domination as it is about a fun challenge.
  4. Serve. Invest your energies into helping other people. I don’t view acts as being on a continuum from selfishness to selflessness, as acts that directly benefit me can benefit others as well. But even in that case, shifting your focus onto the needs of others can replace materialism.
  5. Trash it. I’m the opposite of a packrat. When I need to do a major cleaning, I usually toss just about everything I haven’t used recently. Getting rid of old possessions can be a liberating experience, stripping away from you what isn’t important.
  6. See wealth as a challenge not a result. I view earning more money as an interesting and complex game. I expect my minimum comfort threshold would only be around $15,000 to $20,000 per year. Beyond that, earning more is simply a bigger challenge.
  7. Experience over objects. The only reason to buy an object is because you believe it will (directly or indirectly) improve the quality of your experience. Going straight to the source helps you avoid the middlemen that are material goods.
  8. Build intangible assets. Habits, time-management, discipline, emotional control, understanding and learning are just a few of the non-physical assets you can hold. Building intangible assets replaces your need for physical ones.
  9. Use money to free, not chain, yourself. When you have a larger income, don’t simply adapt by increasing your lifestyle. Instead work to create a buffer between your income and lifestyle so you live below your means. This will give you more freedom to pursue goals and ideas that may not immediately contribute to your productivity.
  10. Go basic. Simplify all your material possessions so they don’t consume your mental resources. Simple, even if less glamorous, requires less maintenance, offers fewer distractions and uses less thinking. A simple lifestyle affords you the ability to focus your energies on your inner world.
  11. Avoid the status game. Seek friends from all social layers. Don’t buy into the game that decides a persons worth based on their money or profession. I know people I would consider smarter and more enlightened who live on a fraction of the income that others do. Keeping pockets of connections within all levels separates you from the competitive aspects materialism brings.
  12. Judge yourself by your ethics and your understanding. I’d be far happier with myself if I were poor but I understood the world and lived true to a system of ethics, than if I had the opposite. Don’t base your self worth on how much you’ve achieved or the admiration of your peers.
  13. Let go. Buddhism teaches that attachment to things creates suffering. Again, this is all in the mindset. I’m not a Buddhist, but as I understand it, this doesn’t mean the only path to true happiness is to abandon everything. It simply means that you stop trying to hold on to all the things you own and the relationships in your life.
  14. You can’t take it with you. What is going to matter to you on your deathbed? Looking back at your entire life, what was important? Use that to prioritize.

  • http://www.pseudopower.com Carl of PseudoPower

    Awesome post.

    A couple of months ago, I had all of the stereotypical items in my bachelor pad. Huge tv, nice furniture, etc. I also had my corporate job.

    I realized it didn’t deeply satisfy me, so I made a radical change.

    Now I’m on the path of minimalism. I’ve been following all of those tips above. :) I’m glad i’m not the only one thinking this way.

    It’s sad to see people, even my own family be depressed because their neighbors has a nicer car. Then they try to fill it by buying something. :\

    Anyway, great post! It hits the spot for me.

  • http://www.onlinecashwithharveen.com Harveen

    LOVED THIS ARTICLE!!!!! Your list is simply fabulous, and I’m telling all my friends to read this!!!

  • Eric DelValle

    Very nice post. I had this printed out and tacked on with some other favorites. Keep up the good work bro!

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Thanks everyone. I’m glad you enjoyed it.


  • http://www.stockkevin.blogspot.com Kevin

    11 & 14

    Everyone gets caught up with possessions and fitting in a particular social class. I think you hit it right on when you explained how material possessions should or are viewed as neutral by people with strong inner worlds.

  • http://www.talktoyourself.com Gene

    There was a time when I thought more money and more “stuff” would help me fill that enormous void inside of myself. I worked hard at having more and made a great deal of money and felt empty, I spent the money on things and still felt empty. Finally I looked inside and discovered myself which was what I had been secretly looking for all of my life.

    I care only about having enough and that could be remarkably little if truly necessary.

    That was a good and timely article! It helped me think again of my core values and goals.


  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments everyone.


  • http://lifecho.com/ Conn

    A less materialistic lifestyle is the necessary condition for a more spiritualistic lifestyle but it isn’t a sufficient condition. A less materialistic lifestyle doesn’t lead us automatically to a more spiritualistic one. We have to do something towards it.

    Watch your title: livestyle to lifestyle.


  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    Thanks for the typo info. I completely missed that in my editing. Doh!


  • Kali

    I think this is a great post Scott. That quote is so true.

  • max night

    I totally agree with all of this. I intend to get rid or leave behind a lot of useless objects or other junk I dont need. A very good reason for me to keep something would be for its sentimental value.

  • http://www.s427.ch s427

    I’d use the word “consumerism” rather than “materialism”, because materialism is also an important philosophic standpoint that has very little to do with the accumulation of material possessions in order to achieve happiness. In fact, it is perfectly possible to have a materialist point of view on the universe AND to agree with all you say in this article. (Which is what I do, by the way 😉 )

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  • Robbie Yohn

    My advice: Save things that really really really mean a lot. I threw out my pictures and instead put on disk. Compactability is the key.Less is more.
    I try to own less clothes because as a survivalist, you have to learn to do without. Also I believe in storing things in caches in places one would never even imagine. I try to live simple, without so much clutter and garbage. I could live naked on an island, eat healthy fruits and vegetables, build a house of mud and straw. Who said having everything means you are better than anyone else. There are “poor” people in other countries who actually live better than we as americans do. They do with out and live life.
    I never owned a car, never traveled abroad yet. I never been to college. I learn from reading and from living life. Learning from experiences and knowing what mistakes not to make.

  • Dave

    I’m interested in becoming less materialistic, but I am an atheist and a skeptic, so in the conventional sense, I have no intention of becoming more “spiritual.” So what other benefits are available to me?

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    I should have used the word “consumerisitic” instead of materialistic, as that’s the argument of the post.


  • mahler

    Why grab possessions like thieves, or divide them like socialists when you can ignore them like wise men?

  • Haley

    Thanks for writing this, I think I’m in the Dave category. I’m not looking for any spiritual insight, but I am working towards changing my lifestyle to live a life free of all the possessions that are tying me down. I just found your article on a Google search and I’m glad I read it. It’s the perfect length, and I think the points were made very clear with the right amount of elaboration. Anyway just wanted to say thanks from another college student.


  • http://aimbotdownload.com Aimbot Download

    A well thought out article, i’ve bookmarked it so I can read through it properly later when i’m back from work.Thanks for the article again! :)

  • Carol

    I learned too well materialism. Holidays, I was always upset growing up because our family compared what each got and got upset. I charished personal items I bought and when they got broke dwelled on them. I have wanted what others have had many times. Slowly the last 10 years I have realized my errors in thinking and am much happier following many of these wonderful steps. I am still working on the clothes thing. Very good article.

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  • Lisa

    This article is beautiful. I wish that more people in the world saw life in this way. Great job Scott.

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  • Brandy curfman

    I had moved to another state, and couldn’t take my possessions with me. Even my nursing license was left back there. So, struggling for the past few months I’ve been sleeping on my floor. I have no furniture. I have two pillows and a blanket. At first, I thought of myself as savage. Worthless. Horrible. I was depressed because I didn’t have things. The thought became an obsession, and I cried at night. On te floor of my empty apartment. But Over time, that went away. I noticed my posture is better than it’s ever been from sleeping on the floor. And I don’t mind so much that I don’t have things.
    I’m getting paid less than half I was back in Pennsylvania, until I can afford to get my nursing license transferred. But I’m working with autistic children and feel like I’m making a difference.
    I think the biggest changes within ourselves happen when we least notice them. And as I’m not really sure how much I’ve changed yet, I do know that somethings different. Something great.

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  • tom

    As a visual artist concerned with making art objects a problem arises. I will be bringing another object into this world, another material possession. If this material possession does not lead a useful life or provides any gains is it worth creating it. I see problems with most objects including art objects. One of the main ones that bothers me is the pollutive processes of manufacture and after the objects is discarded. I was thinking about individual objects like a cup. What would be the best material to make cups out of. What are the pros and cons of each material and manufacturing process. For instance a metal cup could last forever but the processes of making metal are very pollutive. Really every item we buy, every object we own should be analysed for its pollutive, ethical and usefulness according to certain philosophical principles. Having no possessions isn’t necessary but being aware of each objects reality is. Unfortunately the manufacturing companies of objects do not always think ethically about their objects but rather on profit. So think again before you buy that cup, shoe, watch or car.

  • Daniel

    I like your ideas, I find them to be sound advice.

    I have arrived at the same conclusion after months of thought. Life is about living, learning and being free to walk the path you disire. Material possessions can go to easly from servant to master.

    I have rounded up all my treasured possessions that have personal meaning incuding photos and letters from friends now passed away. All fit in to a box the size of a beer carton. Everything else can be replaced.

    I hear people say what they would do if they won Lotto. A more powerful question is “what would you do if you lost everything but your health, the clothes you are wearing and your money in the bank?”

  • Harry

    Very good !! Sound advice.. One thing to add is that Attachment creates detachment. If you have rubies and diamonds you won’t chase after pebbles and stones. Therefore what you need is something greater to attach yourself too, you need to attach yourself to a greater pleasure than the worldly pleasures and then automatically your mind detaches from the worldly pleasures and stops its material pursuits, stops going after women power fame wealth and property.

    Good post.


  • Rohit


    First, Thanks for this great article and gr8 speech at TEDx. I am comp engg from india, I went to germany to do my MSc in comp engg but failed to do so cause of some personal reasons. I wasted 4 yrs of my life and all the money my parents saved for my me. And now I regret sometime my decision of going to germany, cause of this I went to severe depression and tried suicide attempts as well. But never the less I dont wanna quit and dont wanna give up at this critical stage of my life.

    Now when I think about if I was doing a job in germany. I could have a nice car a nice home and lots of money to spend on gadgets and nice clothing, I was not like this (materialistic) before but dont know how I turned to being materialistic. But now i decided to find out real meaning of life, I want to live rest of my life in peace and enjoy every bit of it without thinking that how much money I am going to make out of my job. My first and last interest was how much knowledge I can earn and now I will focus on that only. I want to become rich in terms of knowledge I have instead of money.

    And your article gave me that path to achieve my goal. Thanks a lot, you are making huge difference through your writing.


  • Aubrey Semple

    I’m writing this as a soon to be college graduate in one of the most toughest places on Earth in terms of living in a “consumerist” lifestyle, New York City. After reading this article (and please correct me if i’m wrong), I’m more convinced that having material possessions can be both a blessing and a curse, identified under the symbol of the almighty dollar ($$$) sign.

    Very soon I will have to make very crucial decisions that will determine how I live my life. Being a savvy Hip-Hop head, Maze and Puff Daddy (now P-Diddy) in the 90s once said “… the more money we come across, the more problems we see). As consumerists blind themselves by their material possessions, we attempt to playing the tireless game of “keep up with the Jones'”. So much that we forget who we are, what are want to be and how to make goals to live a comfortable life.

    Note how I said comfortable, not happy. I believe that happiness comes from being comfortable of who you are, your surroundings and how you identify yourself by the environment you live under.

    I’m far away from being “less materialistic”. But I know that this is a goal that I want to achieve before I am laid down to rest.

    So, I want to end on this note, Scott makes a point about having a materialistic lifestyle can affect the way one’s interaction with relationships. Now, a single bachelor from a 2+ year relationship, my “materialistic” behavior that was solely focused on work, good grades and striving for the ultimate end goal of being wealthy severely hurt my relationship. I cared more about being a success more than understanding that I had success; the ability to share my happiness with another person. So I end by saying… you make the money, don’t let the money make you. Sorry if its too cliche to everyone.

  • Aubrey Semple

    sorry for the typos… I was rushing.

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  • Yassine

    I just read your text and I found it extremely useful. It emphasizes the greatest issues of the materialistic culture oriented societies.
    My heartfelt thanks to you.

  • Jasminda

    As the product of money fueding parents, I didn’t realize until recently how much emphasis I place on material items. They not only run my life but I’ve found it hard to figure out what my passion or true calling is. Whatever it may be, it’s always been inside me, buried beneath decades of uneccessary rubble. Your post was the lantern which opened my eyes to the chaos. It is up to me to end this cycle now. Thank you for sharing!

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  • mohanjit dhaliwal

    Great article indeed. I am organic farmers from India. I just wants to add one point in this article. Materialism comes at the cost of nature . So as you reduce materialism from your lifestyle you are automatically supporting environment to come back to it’s natural form. And in this way nature provides you with natural materialism leaving behind fake man made materialism . I means pure air, pure water ,good pure food etc. Greed for natural materialism keeps you going n going to next level what’s called spritulism.

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