Are Mormons more avid consumers than other Americans? Materialistic has joined the list of pejoratives which critics level against the Saints. Hearing Mormons censured for materialism jolts me because throughout most of my life, the church emphasized thrift. When my Seattle Relief Society organized a rummage sale to raise funds many years ago, I wondered who would come. The Mormon slogan at that time was “Use it up, make do, do without.” Who would want to buy worn out stuff Mormons finally discarded?
But somewhere along the line, we Mormons acquired the national taste for newer, bigger and better. Our old Sandy ward of ‘60s and ‘70s homes began losing member as families moved to newer housing developments across the valley. Mostly non-members bought the existing homes. Finally our ward was combined with another. The same thing happened in neighboring stakes. While the number of Mormons in SL Valley increased, the number of Mormons in older neighborhoods decreased.
When George and I returned to the Wasatch Front two years ago, we rented a townhouse in Draper. The farms we remembered along 126th South had been replaced by a stretch of shopping malls and fast food outlets. We could visit every major big box store within a mile of our house. Tai Pan and IKEA were only a few miles away. “Does anybody here do anything besides shop?” I asked. Apparently not. Although the townhouses in our development were spacious, every opened garage revealed shelves rising to the roof, crammed with plastic storage tubs. By all appearances, the Saints were prospering in the land.
A recent blog speculated that it is easier for Mormons to live a provident lifestyle in California than in Utah Valley. That was not true for our eldest daughter and her teacher husband. While living in the SF Bay area and saving for a home, they were the only Mormons living in an apartment complex of mostly minorities. Although both were employed, ward members knocked on their door a couple of days before Thanksgiving and presented them with a turkey. Choosing to live within their means was perceived as poverty by members of this affluent ward.
Our current Bountiful ward of ‘40s and ‘50s houses is full of wonderful families who chose older homes with yards big enough for kids and gardens. The RS sponsors clothing swaps. Garden produce and outgrown baby equipment are regularly exchanged. Keeping up with the Joneses is easy here since, except for used book stores, the Joneses hate shopping.
Mormons who choose to live within their means can be found—although possibly not in new housing developments. And that will probably change if the economy continues its stall. Certainly we’re hearing the call for careful management from the pulpit once again. The Book of Mormon does promise prosperity to those who keep the commandments, but it doesn’t define prosperity. Perhaps the proper definition of prosperity is “sufficient for our needs.”