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What we can do to put materialist values in their place

' Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.' Margaret Mead, anthropologist

In The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives, Carol Craig ends by giving examples of what we can do as individuals to limit the impact of materialist values on our lives.

As this is a small book, Carol was restricted in what she could write but here she fleshes out some of her suggestions. 

1. Limit your own, and your children's, exposure to the media, particularly commercial media.

This is particularly important as this is the main conduit for materialist messages. How can you best do this?

  • Restrict, or better still eliminate altogether, the type of magazines which are essentially about fashion, beauty, consumerism or celebrity gossip. If you buy lots of magazines currently you might decide only to buy one, for example. After a while you will find you don't miss this content and may actually start to feel better about yourself as you will be protecting yourself from harmful comparisons. Don't worry about becoming out of touch as you will be able to see from what's available in the shops, or from friends, what is currently fahsionable if this is important for you.
  • Monitor how much tv you are watching and then decide how much you want to cut back. For example, if you are an average tv watcher (four hours a day) you might decide to try out what it would be like just to watch for two hours a day. You can do this by introducing a few rules for yourself. E.g. At the weekend look at what's on that week and mark  what you want to watch and calculate how much that will be to make sure that you are within the limit you are setting yourself. Once you have watched an allotted programme make a point of turning the tv off. It may seem odd at first and you wont know what to do with yourself but just think about the hours you now have in a week when you could read, speak to friends on the phone, go to community events, pursue hobbies or spend time as a family together playing games or talking.  IF it proves very difficult for you to cut down on television viewing you may well be addicted. Ron Kaufman has written on this topic and gives helpful suggestions for what you can do.
  • Try to make a clearer demarcation in your house on whether the television is off or on. Don't use it as background noise.
  • Monitor, and restrict if necessary, your children's television viewing. In the USA doctors who are specialists in children's health do not think that any child under two should ever watch tv. Thereafter they recommend no more than two hours a day. It is particularly important that yourefuse (or take away) tv access in children's bedrooms.There is extensive research which suggests that this can lower well-being by interfering with sleep and allowing the child unfettered access to unsuitable programmes.
  • Don't use tv viewing as a reward for good behaviour.
  • Don't allow children to eat in front of the television.
  • The points above also apply to computer use - either internet access or video games. Think of the internet not as a thing but as a place. Would you allow your child to go unaccompanied to varioius places where you don't know what's going on such as gambling or exposure to pornographic images. Put parental controls on your computer so that you have some control over what your children can access on-line.
  • Again get your children to plan their tv viewing and to be much more actively in control of what they watch. Watch with them. Engage them in discussions on what they are seeing, particularly adverts. Help them to think about alternative things to do with their time.
  • Limit your own, and your family's exposure to adverts on-line by installing an application such as adblock. This link takes you to the site for Safari but it is also available for other search engines.

2. Take action to strengthen the various factors in your life which help promote well-being and buffer you from materialist values – e.g. relationships, family time, hobbies and interests, learning for its own sake, volunteering, physical exercise, contact with nature, meditation, and spirituality. This may, or may not,  involve cutting back  on work and income and involve 'downshifting'. 

3. Review your spending habits. For example: Could you make a better distinction between 'needs' and 'wants'? Could you stop using shopping as a social experience and do something else instead ? Could you initiate an 'amnesty' on Christmas presents?

4. To cut down on clothes shopping and to keep clothes for longer try to spend more money on individual items which you really love and look after. This would mean cuttinng out shopping in shops like Primark which encourage people to have a throw away attitude to clothes.

5. Become more interested in your appearance as an expression of your creativity or personality and don't dress to impress. Choose clothes that suit and flatter you rather than items that are fashionable or carry certain logos. 

6. Engage other people in discussions on these themes.Research shows that we are greatly influenced by what others are thinking and saying. This means that conversations can have a transformative effect on people's lives.

7. Try to shift your focus from individual or family wealth and well-being to community assets and well-being. We are not lone individual or families. Our health and well-being are inextricably linked with our connections with others and with the health of the wider society in which we live. 

8. Take part in community or environmental activities, or start your own project. You may find it helpful to read one of the books in the Postcards for Scotland series called The New Road by Alf and Ewan Young which 'charts Scotland's inspirational communities'. But there are lots of inspiring examples of community projects on the internet. 

9. Pay heed to politics and what's happening politically.
 Try to influence politicians' views whenever you can. Remember the importance of inequality and fairness. 

10. If you're a parent, review how you see your role - are you too indulgent and focused on buying them things? Do you establish healthy limits and boundaries? Are you yourself a good example?

11. Take these ideas into organisations – your work, trade union, church, political party, charity, parents' organisations, book group … . It is particularly important that parents start to engage other parents in discussions of these issues as it will be easier to take action as part of a group. 

12Keep learning about the topic. For example, read Carol Craig's book on the topic: The Great Takeover – how materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives and look at some of the other resources we've compiled for you. 

13. Remember you are not alone and seek out like-minded people for support.

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