Fasting from Materialism March 22, 2024

I own a lot of shoes. After a day’s work, I kick off my work shoes, and slip into my Birkenstock loungers with the woolen fleece lining. If it’s winter, I take the dog for a brisk walk and pull on my Sorel boots with the ice grips attached. My closet is a menagerie of shoes for work, tennis, running, golf, and going out. Most of the leather, cork, plastic, fabric, glue, chemicals, and metal that go into making my shoes often end up in landfills, which means that these materials may end up in the water we drink, the ocean we swim in, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. I don’t need all these shoes, but I do want them. Admittedly, these shoes represent conspicuous consumption and materialism, and they are just one example of how things we buy to satisfy our wants can negatively impact God’s creation. 

For me, it is shoes, for others, it’s clothing, electronic gadgets, tools, jewelry, or cars. Buying stuff isn’t a new phenomenon. Even people in the New Testament wanted to look good and of course, the Lord noticed. “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘what will we eat?’ or ‘what will we drink’ or ‘what will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “ (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Matthew 6:28-33.) Exactly!

We sometimes forget that original sin began with want. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate….” (NRSV-CE, Genesis 3:12). I know that feeling of “delight to the eyes” and “desired” when I see a pair of Italian boots that I want–on sale. Simply put: we want. In fact, we have unlimited wants and limited resources, the very core of economic theory. Americans are deeply rooted in “materialism” which is defined as the act of valuing material possessions over spiritual or humanitarian values. In 2020, households spent an average of $65,098 on consumer goods and donated an average $1500 per person to charity. Fashion, the top e-commerce sector, earned about $667 billion, electronics, appliances, and jewelry another $426 billion, cars, $174 billion: highlighting the focus on acquiring non-essential items, often driven by peer pressure, marketing campaigns, or the fear of missing out (FOMO). Even our most sacred holy days, Easter and Christmas devolve into spending sprees and the underlying Christian message of sacrifice, solemnity, joy, freedom of spirit is lost when 48 percent of Americans feel compelled to overspend. 

We consume too much. We buy things to prove our status in the community and we buy things to make us feel good about who we are. Yet, materialistic people are less satisfied with life, and suffer higher levels of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Maybe we tell ourselves that we will donate the thing to charity which will help someone who has less, but we ignore the fact that these donated things also end up in landfills. The EPA reports that Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste a year, roughly six percent of the waste stream and 10 million tons get sent to landfills. The average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing annually and textiles are the third largest source of water degradation and land use. We produce, use, and toss too much.

Through creation, God teaches us how to restore balance. Nature reveals truths to us about God because He created it. Nature throws nothing away but is able to use and reuse its elements. Leaves fall from a tree and are turned into nutrients for the tree. Forests are carpeted with healing organisms that funnel nourishment to the sick plants among them. One of the most effective ways to fight waste is to reduce production and instead opt to reuse the things that cannot return to the environment. 

This season, when “want” starts bubbling to the surface, hesitate first and seek God’s creation in nature to restore calm and inner strength. Know that God will provide for our needs, but we will still want things. We can reorient by focusing on the lasting abundance of God’s gifts.

And try these 12 steps:

  • Learn the names of 12 plants.
  • Smile at 11 sunsets.
  • Go on 10 short hikes in nature.
  • Shop at a local produce market 9 times.
  • Compliment 8 strangers at Sunday Mass.
  • Grow 7 vegetables.
  • Swim in 6 new locations.
  • Plant 5 native trees.
  • Find 4 treasures at thrift stores.
  • Spend 3 hours organizing and recycling waste.
  • Read 2 books about climate solutions.
  • Join 1 climate group making positive changes. Have you thought about joining the Basilica’s Creation Justice Committee?

Turn to God for prayerful reflection of His abundance in our lives and offer a Fast from buying more new things. Instead, repair and cherish your existing things.

Embrace secondhand electronics, fashion, and furniture.

Look for recycled content producers to create demand for recycled textiles.

Support ethical and sustainable brands. If it’s broken, fix it. Reduce impulse purchases. And my personal Fast is to recycle and repair my shoes instead of buying a new pair. If shoes are in good condition, give them away, sell them or donate them to Arc’s Value VillageGoodwillNorth Face, or Salvation Army. See more shoes & leather donation opportunities on the Choose to Reuse website. See also, Other options include recycling limited brands of athletic shoes that are no longer usable at Nike Reuse-a-Shoe drop-offs at Nike and Converse stores. Just do it! Just did! 


Deborah Sundquist