Opinion | I’m an anti-capitalist Material Girl — and you can be too

By Grace DeLallo, Assistant Opinions Editor

Hi there, my name is Grace and I am a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist Material Girl — and you can be too. And don’t worry if you’re not a girl, because anyone can be a MG at heart.

If you’re like me, you like stuff — more specifically, junk. My definition of “junk” basically includes knick knacky items that have no intrinsic value, but sure do make me happy. Think thrift store glassware, ceramic and crystal animal figurines your grandma would have, a handmade butterfly suncatcher or a coffee bean-shaped ice cube tray — ya know, for the serotonin. 

Although I love to consume, I do not love the economic system under which I consume — modern capitalism. Whether it’s the utter destruction of the planet, profit over people mentality, manipulation of how I view my own personal worth in terms of productivity or the foundation for unbelievable corruption, it’s the absolute worst. 

For those who are unaware, capitalism rules our lives. It’s a system under which ownership of trade and industry is privatized for the owner’s profit — emphasis on the owner. Modern capitalism, which is the applied and lived form of capitalism we exist under — some, including myself, even believing we are in the midst of late–stage capitalism — details a truly horrific economic and inherently political picture.

For years, articles about the American wealth gap have stated that the margin is worse than when the French Revolution first began … yep, the same revolution where monarchs lost their heads and the term “eat the rich” was coined. As a result of our suffering we see 37.2 million Americans living in poverty, medical bills are reported to be the leading cause of people filing for bankruptcy, and millennials and younger generations are unable to afford homes. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 10% of Americans own 89% of mutual funds and stocks in the market, billionaires’ wealth increased during the pandemic while people increasingly experienced hunger, and money was ruled as a form of speech by the Supreme Court both in 2010 and this past month

Because the very foundation of capitalism is based on competition and profit, it creates a system that cannot sustain itself on ethics. When corporate net worths and profit margins are the priority over a healthy and thriving workforce, we see working people forced to survive on unlivable wages that do not correlate to the millions, billions, sometimes trillions of dollars companies are raking in from the workers’ efforts. Because a business owns the means of a company, the workers are not entitled to more wages than what is legally defined — in today’s case, a federal minimum wage that has not been increased since 2009.

After all of that, you may see why I hate capitalism and how it’s made it difficult to live out my material girl dreams. Not only am I a lover of stuff, I also love people and the planet. Even though I want to indulge my maximalist wishes and fill my life with frivolous things, this doesn’t mean that I will ignorantly do so at the expense of others. 

After contemplating this complex predicament, I applied an understanding I use in other parts of my life but wasn’t a core value for my consumption. I began to understand that above all else, you must do what is within your capabilities — and that includes being conscious of how you’re using your purchasing power.

I tried to only buy socially conscious, low-waste, sustainable products and found a ton of things I thoroughly enjoy, but as a 21-year-old college student, I do not have the funds to afford such a conscious, time-consuming lifestyle. Even though I’m doing what I can, in addition to making unnecessary purchases at Target and placing the occasional order on Amazon, I get upset with myself — but why? 

It’s because we, the consumer, are made to feel at fault for our unethical behavior instead of the corporations who spawn it all. My responsibility is to simply do the best I can with the means available to me. Today, I buy the $3 gallon of bleach to clean my bathroom with at Walmart; tomorrow, I purchase an ethically sourced-and-made dress for $80 I’ve wanted for months; then I don’t purchase anything for two weeks. It’s about striking a healthy balance that rewards you without a grotesque impact. 

When we consume intentionally, we consume less. It’s fun to follow trends, but they’re designed to fade. Trends are not sustainable because they constantly encourage new production, and they place a seasonality on items. A material girl will love her things through the season, even if they’re out of style. That’s because we love the item, not the influence behind it. My “Legend of Korra” shot glasses and vintage postcards can attest to that. And even if we follow a trend that doesn’t mean it’s unsustainable — we just have to take greater precaution to ensure we actually like the item instead of being made to believe so. The trends themselves aren’t bad, just the premise and practice of trend rotation. 

Overall, being a material girl is not about having the finest things in life, nor the most. Instead, it is a value of intentionality and awareness during the purchase-making process, filling your surroundings with things that enrich your life in whatever ways that tickle your fancy. Living the material girl way is supposed to cultivate an environment that makes you feel like you’re most fulfilled, as well as creating a reflection back in the mirror that satisfies your desires. Anti-capitalism just means you don’t want to see anything abused in the pursuit of making that real. 

The world may be on fire, but you deserve to have nice things that make you happy. Filling your life with items you appreciate can help you achieve your Anti-Capitalist Material Girl dreams, because above all else, a material girl LOVES their things through and through. 

Grace DeLallo writes about social, environmental and political issues. Write to her at [email protected].