Are you appalled by McMansions, $4000 barbeques and luxury four wheel drives that never leave the bitumen? Does Clive Hamilton’s book Affluenza strike a chord with you? Do you dream of downshifting to simpler lifestyle but feel you can’t afford it? If so, you could be a PoMa — a post materialist consumer.
PoMas are appalled by consumerism and overconsumption. They believe that happiness comes from relationships with friends and family rather than relationships with things. And they can’t understand why other people get so excited about big screen televisions, luxury cars or huge houses with ensuites and games rooms. PoMas place more value on experiences than on things. They try to live simply and get anxious about the impact their lifestyle has on the environment.
But at the same time, PoMas never seem to have enough money. It’s not that they’re low paid — PoMas are often senior public servants, teachers or professionals — it’s that the money just doesn’t go far enough. Despite living in modest houses, dressing cheaply, cycling to work and avoiding big televisions and home entertainment systems, PoMas are never able to feel financially relaxed.
Three things help explain this apparent paradox — the cost of housing, the cost of services and the cost of ‘moral necessities’.
PoMas want to live near the city so that they can be near family and friends, cycle to work and walk to the library. They don’t want to waste time sitting in traffic emitting greenhouse gases. The ideal place to live is close to an area with cafes, restaurants and the kind of book shop where authors go to launch their latest works.
This usually means living in a run down terrace house or a poky apartment. As a result it doesn’t feel materialistic. Often there’s no clothes dryer or dishwasher. The television and stereo are basic and the lounge room is dominated by books and children’s toys. But in the most sought after PoMa suburbs, even a house that’s falling down costs as much as an outer-suburban four bedroom home with double garage and ensuite. The mortgage can be crippling.
Materialism is about wanting things. But aside from their home, what PoMas are really interested in are services and experiences. Education, health and fitness form a big part of the lifestyle. Working life begins with HECS debt and full-time work is often combined with further study. Children need to go to decent schools and this often means private schools. And if a child is struggling, then there needs to money for coaching or a psychologist.
In a PoMa household there’s almost always someone with a food allergy or intolerance. Getting to the bottom of physical or behavioural problems is a priority and this often means seeing specialists — naturopaths, Feldenkrais practitioners, Pilates instructors or dieticians. Unexplained rashes, poor posture or sleeplessness are all likely to stimulate spending. Treatments are never one-off.
While flat screen televisions, surround sound home entertainment systems and stainless steel barbeques all seem to be getting cheaper, services just get more and more expensive. It’s not uncommon for a child’s visits to the orthodontist to cost more than a house full of widescreen tvs.
Much of a PoMa household’s spending on consumer goods is about caring for people and caring for the planet. A new car is often an unexpected expense. Although a PoMa couple might start out with a cheap secondhand hatch, the arrival of children changes things. Small cars without air bags and crumple zones aren’t safe enough for babies. So the question is now — Should we buy a Prius? In the end it’s more likely to be Subaru Outback or something with a bit more space or style. But inevitably it’s something a lot more expensive than a $14,990 Korean hatch.
Naturally whitegoods like washing machines need to be environmentally friendly. If buying the cheapest top-loader and refrigerator from Harvey Norman means consuming more water and coal than necessary, then it’s not an acceptable choice.
Food costs are also higher in a PoMa household. Who wants to feel like they ’re exploiting third world peasants every time they drink a cup of coffee? And who wants to be morally implicated in the torture of chickens? In a PoMa home coffee is likely to be fair trade and eggs free range. Unfortunately, documentary makers are constantly finding more and more examples of exploitation and environmental degradation. It started with coffee but soon spread to chocolate. And for every food atrocity there’s an expensive anxiety-free alternative available at the local markets.
While outer-suburban families are happy to shop at supermarkets and buy whatever’s on special, the contents of their shopping trolleys would provoke an anxiety attack in the typical PoMa household. White sliced bread, cordial laced with artificial colours and diabetes inducing sugar, and hamburger mince made from burping, farting climate destroying cattle.
Being a post materialist consumer means managing anxiety. Anxiety about caring for children, anxiety about health, anxiety about the state of the planet and your contribution to its demise (note: must remember to buy carbon offsets for that hiking trip in the Andes) and anxiety about whether it’s right to be taking Zoloft instead of persisting with Yoga and St John’s Wort.
Rather than pursuing social status, the PoMa consumer is building a life around relationships and experiences. And spending on goods is often focused on ‘moral necessities’ — goods which are essential for family safety, environmental responsibility or good world citizenship. The PoMa lifestyle isn’t materialistic but it is expensive. Too expensive to allow anyone to quit their job, grow vegetables, write a novel and take care of the kids full-time … although that often seems like an attractive idea.
Note: This all began as a response to a post by Andrew Norton — Do people mistakenly prioritise money-making in their lives? Like Andrew I’m sceptical about the idea that many people overwork because they mistakenly think more money will make them happier.