“Ask a Priest: What If I’m Too Attached to Nice Clothes and Cars?”

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Q: I am a practicing Catholic and I have recently began to feel like I place too much emphasis on nice brands. I have always really liked nice clothes, and have normally held the practice of buying specific brands such as Polo, North Face, Columbia, etc. (when they go on sale) over St. John’s Bay, etc. I have to admit that not only do I prefer the designs of these brands over lesser esteemed brands, I also like the real or imagined opinion of others as to the overall quality of my dress. The same is true for cars. I recently bought a used Infiniti over more basic companies because I like the design quality better and the opinion that I have “good” taste in cars (though used). I’m not sure I know how to overcome this, as my preferences are deeply engrained. Is it a mortal sin to think this way? Thank you for your help and all you do! -D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: If you are aware of the extent of vanity in your life, that is a grace in itself. At least you know the foe you need to face. The Holy Spirit is already working in your heart.

Vanity is one of the three root sins, along with pride and sensuality.

Vanity reflects insecurity. We desperately want the esteem of others, so we end up doing all kinds of things to keep up appearances. Living on the surface, we glide through life hoping that no one notices how frail we are underneath.

Vanity arises when we put the opinion of others ahead of the judgment of God. Instead of worrying how we stand in the eyes of God, we worry what everyone else thinks of us.

Left unchecked, vanity can sap our energies and divert our attention from the really important things of life. Moreover, vanity can leave us feeling even more insecure, because in effect we put our happiness in the hands of others. We leave ourselves vulnerable.

So what is the remedy for vanity?

One part of the solution is to live with purity of intention. That is, do things solely for love of God and for love of neighbor. Treat everyone as you would (presumably) treat Christ himself.

In practice that means being kind to everyone, treating everyone with respect. As you do this, other things begin to click into place. You might become more aware of the poor around you, and look for ways to live more humbly and to share your resources with the less fortunate. And try to forget yourself.

You also might become less impressed with the external appearance or position of other people. This isn’t to say we don’t respect people in authority, etc. Rather, we don’t consciously try to win the approval of others at every moment. All this weans us off the praise of the world and helps us focus more on Our Lord who alone is our judge.

None of this is easy, however, and it won’t come quickly. So be realistic. You won’t change overnight. Still, there are steps you might consider taking immediately, to move in the right direction.

First, look for ways to avoid standing out. The next time you buy clothes, look for no-name brands — and even think about donating the difference to a good cause. When you make bigger purchases, go to prayer first and see where the Holy Spirit is leading you.

Second, meditate on the humility of Christ. He chose to be born poor, to live poor, and to die with nothing left to give away but his heartbroken Mother at the foot of the cross. Try to see the lesson he is giving the rest of us.

Third, think about getting involved in volunteer work. Being around people who suffer from terminal illnesses is a great way to put things in perspective; they won’t be impressed with your Polo shirts — and you need to experience that kind of indifference. Spend some time around people who are really suffering, and you start to see the relative value of material possessions.

Although it takes a while to tame vanity, the task is possible with the grace of God. (For more reading see this post.) I hope some of this helps.

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2 Comments
  1. I am reminded of a documentary you might be interested in called Minimalism. It helps people understand the true nature of designer things.
    It is not a religious movement or anything like that. But it shows how people are caught up on buying things and that it is causing unhappiness. I will link the trailer here :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Co1Iptd4p4

    It is about getting a balance in your life, and not letting “brands” control you in the way that you are getting controlled. Marketing and design is in order for you to spend spend spend. But it does not make us happier. I do not like the idea of brands, but as a girl I get into wanting some more clothes from time to time when I could make do with what I have, I am getting better at it, slowly. Even then I live quite simply but I think that by trying it is making me more aware and more thoughtful. I need to improve though. So I can understand the struggle you must face.

    God’s love makes us happy. I know this as it makes me happy.

    Pray to him and ask for healing.
    I hope that you find a balance in your life.
    I hope that branding does not control you anymore and that you turn to God and ask for a bit of help. As it is easy to get drawn into these things. But to me your question to the Priest makes me feel that you feel trapped and not in control. You may feel in control as you make the decision to purchase these things. But that is an illusion, it is the marketing team of companies that strongly have a hold over a lot of people and they structure advertisements that can get us spending spending spending. They in the end are the ones that have the control.

    If you have money to buy a designer car then 1) think do I need a car can I use public transport and help the environment if the answer is no I still need a car then 2) buy a useful car not a designer one and give the left over money (that you saved on not buying a designer car) to a good cause.

    I hope things get happier for you, and that you go onto help others in life and help others in need.
    While there are still people in need in this world and need help then we really have no right to be getting flashy designer things. Would it not be nicer if we could live a bit more simply and then give a hand to those in need so that they can have a better standard of living can we reach out to them and bring them up to our new simple way of living so that they can have food, clothes, heating etc?

    We see adverts each and every day, in newspapers, magazine, on television on the internet. hundreds of adverts a week almost hypnotizing us into spending money. It is so so false and unfeeling.

    But we as humans are not reading the bible every day some humans are not praying everyday, or saying a kind thing to others or helping others.

    We are letting adverts and money rule us!!! It makes me so sad that money and adverts and marketing is ruling us. That we see and pay attention to more adverts than we say prayers!!

    Think of it if we said a prayer in place of every advert we saw think of how things would be better.
    Praying gives us time with God and it helps us connect with him and in turn can make us better people and kinder to each other as we become closer to our Father.

    It just makes me sad that humans have came to this ! that we are turning more and more away from our father towards a heartless goal of money and ego and wearing a bit of material with a logo printed on it. We have started to put God second to this, we have to get back to praying we have to. We have to put God first and our fellow brothers and sisters. Instead of the illusion marketing creates.

    I sometimes imagine what it would have been like if I were a nun, as a child I used to sit with the nun’s in the church to sing with them. I would just wonder over to them and sing hymns. I still imagine what it would be like. It is not my vocation to be a nun. But I think that by imagining what it would be like it helps me in my current life. For example nuns pray more, so I am slowly trying to say more prayers for the world (I sometimes forget, I sometimes get caught up in things but I am improving 🙂
    I think how peaceful it could be being shut out of the world a bit more, yes nuns help people etc, they are serving God and they are aware of society but they really are not living the way we are all living it. They do not get drawn in by logos as they wear simple clothes, So do priests.

    Our life outside of priesthood, and being a nun is I think moving more and more away from religious life. I think that although we may not be priests/nuns it is good to look to their way of life and try to adapt some of their ways into our lives. Such as prayer and simplicity, etc. It is hard to do this outside of priesthood or being a nun as we live in a world lead by greed and money. They live a life following God. But imagine if we all followed God too and left the money and greed behind. Think how wonderful the world could become. And how much happier we would all be.

  2. Hi also this youtube video about a man that gave up his 80k job to downsize and live simpler might be interesting for you:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2aQ2e0ch8k

    If you do like your job and it is well paid, you should think about living simply, for example live in a smaller place that still suits you, save some money for retirement/or in case your job is made redundant. Buy a small place to live if you can so it will mean that you always have a roof over your head.

    So say you did make 80k a year, and you were happy in your job then could you live happily on 40k of that? that is still a lot of money! Could you buy a home and save enough for emergencies etc? then if the answer is yes then the other 40k should go towards perhaps a mix of creating jobs for others and giving to charities and helping people.

    Think about it a flash expensive car cannot save lives. But if you use that money for good you can help make a difference to so many lives. That is more important.

    Yes we are consumers and buying things keeps people in jobs , but as i said a basic car is fine if you really need a car. And some clothes are fine, maybe buy from independent clothing makers who are not designer status who need the money to pay their bills and keep food on their table. But don’t be buying more than you need ! Think about the poor and suffering and help them. If you have great wealth which you seem to have then help those with nothing. Do your research and make sure your money goes to help make a difference in lives, perhaps you will come across someone in great need you could help them. Some cars are the same price as a small apartment! can you not buy a very small apartment for someone in need?

    Living more simply is more peaceful.
    I hope things get better for you and you are able to stop obsessing over things.

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