Piles of Stuff: A Reflection on Consumerism


I went straight to my room after returning from my uncle’s janazah (funeral prayer). He died from Leukemia and had just returned from umrah a few weeks before his death. Upon entering my room, the thought that he was being placed into the ground and the men covering him with dirt was so heavy. I thought of how much he helped others whenever he could, whether financially or psychically. I thought of how he would drive my mom every Saturday for nearly an hour to take her to a Qur’an class in a different city because she was scared to drive for such a long distance at night time. He would drive around in his bright blue hatchback from 1995, even though he was more than able to afford a newer, shinier car, because he thought it was a waste of money. I thought of his small apartment and his belongings and who would sort through his things. I then started to look around my room, books here, clothes there, CDs on that side and packages on the other.

I couldn’t hold back the tears.

I finally understood Surah At-Takathur:

أَلْهَاكُمُ التَّكَاثُرُ
The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you,

حَتَّىٰ زُرْتُمُ الْمَقَابِر
Until you visit the graves (i.e. till you die).

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This was nearly four years ago. I didn’t realize how many useless things I had until a loved one moved on to the next life and left behind all of his belongings. I thought of my useless belongings and who would go through them after my death.

We live in a word of consumption. We are consumed with consumerism – constantly buying and buying – to the point where we run out of space in our homes for everything we buy. We are transfixed when we see a store that has “BLOWOUT SALE!” written in its window. We can’t help but line up in the freezing cold for that newer model, telling ourselves that we can’t be seen with last year’s model. We swipe and swipe until our cards are worn out. We compete with friends and family to see who can buy the shinier and fancier product first.

For what? For stuff.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Ruined is the slave of the dinar, dirham, and fancy clothes of velvet and silk! If he is given, he is pleased, and if he is not given, he is displeased.” (Bukhari) Who is a slave? A slave is someone who is bound by his master. He must answer to his master when he calls, and he spends his time in servitude to him. Similarly, the slave of money constantly has money on their mind. They think of ways to get more of it while they spend and spend. The slave of money always wants more, and he cannot bear it when he does not receive it. It runs their life, and it is their first priority. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says this person is ruined because he will never be able to be thankful for what he has. Allah says,

وَكَانَ الْإِنسَانُ كَفُورًا

And man is ever ungrateful. (17:67)

This cycle of consumerism has turned us into slaves of Dollar Bill, while we should only be slaves to Allah (The Most High). Our servitude belongs only to Him. This worldly life is not meant for us to fill our homes with stuff. We should be using this life to come closer to Allah and not to be diverted from Him. Just as a slave is exhausted from his labor, our constant consumerism tires us. We are consumed with consuming. We are tired. Even if we may not spend constantly, we still own too many things, most of which we cannot even remember purchasing. Piles and piles just lying around.

Allah ‘azza wa jal reminds us in the Qur’an,

إِنَّمَا هَذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا مَتَاعٌ وَإِنَّ الْآخِرَةَ هِيَ دَارُ الْقَرَارِ

This worldly life is only [temporary] enjoyment, and indeed, the Hereafter – that is the home of [permanent] settlement. (40:39)

These possessions that we hoard may be our safety net and our “cool” factor in this life, but the reality will come after we die. These things that we worked so hard for, saved up our salaries for, and stood in line for don’t really belong to us. They cannot keep us company in our graves, rather they will be taken by other people. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Three things follow a dead man, two of which will return and one will remain with him. His family, his property and his deeds follow him but his family and property return, while his deeds remain with him.” [Bukhari]

It will be hard for us to break free of the shackles of Dollar Bill because it is the nature of humans to always want and want. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) tells us, “If the son of Adam had money equal to a valley, then he will wish for another similar to it, for nothing can satisfy the eye of Adam’s son except dust.” [Bukhari]

This is how we were created. We will always look to what people have around us and desire it for ourselves. We will slowly walk past that store, and gaze longingly into all that shiny-ness. It is not impossible though to remove ourselves from it. Allah does not burden anyone beyond what they cannot bear. When we taste the sweetness of freedom after slavery, we will see how much it was weighing us down.

We find our best example in the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). He was undeniably the ruler of Arabia at the time of his death, yet his home was bare. When Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) asked him why he lived in such a way while the kings of Persia and Rome were living lavishly, he responded, “The example of me and this worldly life is like that of a rider traveling on a hot summer day, so he took shelter in the shadow of a tree for an hour, then left it and went on his way.” [Tirmidhi]

After I realized how much stuff I had that day, I’ve taken measures to keep myself from falling into the cycle again:

1- Avoiding malls unless its necessary. Malls are designed to make us buy things and window displays are meant to lure us in. You can keep yourself from the temptation by not putting yourself in that situation.

2- When you get something, give something. It is so easy to forget how much stuff we have piled in our homes. It is only when you move or travel that this realization comes. When you buy something, find something else to give as sadaqah (charity) or give it to a sibling or a friend.

3- Ask yourself if this item will bring you closer to Allah or if it will benefit you after you die. Do you really need it? Most of the time, the answer is no.

4- Stick with people who don’t remind you of at-takathur, the competition to see who can get the best. Surround yourself with friends who compete with you in good deeds instead.

5- Keep it simple. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to be in this world as a traveler. We’ve all seen those poor souls at the airports  struggling to carry and lugging around way too much luggage. Don’t be one of them.

6- Go to a developing country and see how the vast majority of humanity lives. If you can’t go, then read the World News. I’ve never witnessed poverty like I saw in Egypt. I felt disgusted in myself and in our culture for how wasteful and ungrateful we are, while they were so thankful for the simple piece of bread they were able to have for dinner.

7- Read the biography of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the lives of the Companions and righteous and see how they lived. We may not be able to live how they lived, but we can be as simple as they were in our own way. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Do you not hear? Do you not hear? Simplicity (in life) is part of Faith, simplicity is part of Faith.”[Abu Dawood]

8- Count your blessings. Literally. Reflect on how much you have, and how much Allah has given you…and how much you given to Him.

9- Try not to be wasteful, and teach any young ones around you not to be wasteful. Be it with food or even when taking notes. Why leave a whole page blank when it can be used? Allah says, “and eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He likes not those who waste by extravagance.” (7:31)

10- Focus on the hereafter, and Allah will give you the dunya. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “For the ones whose concern is this world Allah will scatter his affair, and place poverty between his two eyes. And he will not get from the world except what is written for him. And for the one whose intention is the hereafter Allah will gather for him his affair and place contentment in his heart, and the world will come to him willingly.‌” [ibn Majah]

11- Ask Allah (Glorified is He) to make you content with what you have, and to make His Pleasure your goal. Ask Him to make you among those who are grateful and patient, and among those who race in good deeds and not of those who race in amassing possessions. You will realize that contentment is the real treasure.

If these tips aren’t enough to help you, then think of the last ayah of Surah At-Takathur:

ثُمَّ لَتُسْأَلُنَّ يَوْمَئِذٍ عَنِ النَّعِيمِ
Then, on that Day, you shall be asked about the delight (you indulged in, in this world)!

Can you imagine standing in front of Allah, Lord of all that exists, and being asked about the stuff we spoiled ourselves with?

Free yourself now from the shackles of Dollar Bill, before your time is up and your belongings will be left for someone else to sort through.

23 / View Comments

23 responses to “Piles of Stuff: A Reflection on Consumerism”

  1. inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon

    jazzak Allah khair for the reminder and practical advice – these are my thoughts exactly every time we have to pack up for a move, subhanAllah.

    أَلْهَاكُمُ التَّكَاثُرُ
    The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you,

    حَتَّىٰ زُرْتُمُ الْمَقَابِر
    Until you visit the graves (i.e. till you die).

    ^ another practical tip would be to post this ayah on your credit card or wallet so it can serve as a reminder inshaAllah :)

  2. Avatar UmmSarah says:

    MashaAllah. Our current state of ummah needs serious change of focus to reality which is death.

  3. Avatar Amina says:

    Jazaakillahu Khairan! A timely reminder indeed.A much needed one.May Allah enable us to be among His beloved slaves.ameen

  4. I have benefited from this. Thank you. I ask Allah to grant your uncle His Divine Mercy.



  5. Avatar Chocolate Addict says:

    JazakAllahu khayr for this very beneficial post dear sis…I have too benefitted immensely May Allah azza wa jall grant your uncle the highest of jannah and cure us all from this obsessive love for wealth ameen

  6. Avatar Brian says:

    Jesus said similar things in Luke 12:16-21 ““The land of a rich man was very productive. 17“And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18“Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21“So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

  7. Avatar Amad says:

    Wealth is indeed a great fitnah… just look at some of the world’s richest men, they couldn’t spend what they had in 10 lfetimes, yet they can’t stop wanting more…

    On the other side of this, though, you have miserliness. People who will just not spend at all, even when they should!

    The balance, like all things in life, is critical.

  8. Avatar Madeeha says:

    mashaAllaah excellent reminder, jazakillahu khairan!

  9. Avatar Leo says:

    Assalamu alaikum. Thank you for writing the article- Good reminders and good advice.
    I have a few questions to ask if I may. Is it wrong for me to occasionally treat myself by buying something I don’t need but can give me pleasure? What are your views when it comes to ambition in dunya- is it wrong? How about when it comes to progressing in my career? As I progress I earn more. Is it wrong for me to earn or want to earn more?
    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Avatar Amatullah says:

      wa alaykum salam wa rahmatullah. No there is nothing wrong with that, and there is nothing wrong with being wealthy. The only thing we have to be careful of is being wasteful and extravagant (and that varies from person to person based on their wealth and ability). Abu Bakr, AbdulRahman ibn Awf, Uthman ibn Affan were very wealthy businessmen but they did not let the dunya take over their focus on the aakhirah. Allah knows best.

  10. Avatar Sabeen says:

    Jazakallah Khair for a beautiful reminder :) Br. Nouman has an amazing Tafseer of Sura Takathur on Bayyinah Podcast.

  11. Avatar Hena Zuberi says:

    I went on a spending fast Amatullah- it was hard and I wanted to go spend & spend afterwords but Alhmadulillah I controlled myself.

    I thought of my useless belongings and who would go through them after my death.

    and then we will have to carry it on our backs on the day of Qiyamah, May Allah forgive us all.

    My sister and I made a pact that if we would make any fancy clothes esp wedding clothes- we would see if we could spend at least 50% of the amount in charity, if we couldn’t then we wouldn’t buy it.
    Alhamdulillah made us realize how MUCH we spend on clothes- we could pay for someone whole wedding in Pakistan. The worst is when you control one aspect and then go out and spend it somewhere else.

  12. Avatar Fear Allah says:

    the tips were very helpful -esp. the give something away when you get something. this way the resources can get circulated around and won’t be hoarded up in your graveyard of things, half of them unused…

    BarakAllahu feeki

  13. Avatar Umm Ibraheem says:

    Excellent reminder! Many of us, especially in the ‘practicing’ crowd are in denial that we are victims of consumerism. I know that this is one of my biggest weaknesses, I get lured very easily by the false promises that these products give.

    Whenever I meet some one who is very simple and has no love for these things I am fascinated and pray that Allah make me like them for my hereafter’s sake.

    The more you buy the more you hoard and the more time spent cleaning, storing, washing, ironing, finding, disposing, these consumables truly consume you. May Allah save us all from this and keep us busy in His remembrance and focused on the ultimate destination.

  14. Avatar Haseeb J says:

    This may be of benefit….its only 20 mins long


  15. Avatar Haseeb J says:

    This may be of benefit….its only 20 mins long


  16. Avatar Mariam E. says:

    Asalamu Alikum

    MashaAllah, this really is a great reminder. Jazaki Allah khayr Amatullah.

  17. Avatar MuslimAmerican says:

    Right on. Jazak Allah Khair.

    I guess, that’s the reason that people of ILM (Aalims & Scholars) are simple and are not so much obsessed with ‘things’ in this life. I’m humbled when i see them.

    And Allah Knows Best.

  18. Avatar life is a test says:

    Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh!!

    JazakaAllah Khayr!! this is a very beneficial reminder!!

    I would add another thing related to this… lets open our fridge and kitchen cabinets and see the excess stuff in there….many of us are guilty (including me) of not realizing some stuff reaching the expiry date and thus throwing them away :(

    seriously moderation is the key….only catering to our “needs” instead of our never ending list of “wants” will save us not only in the akhira but also will save us in this world from the burdens associated with these “wants”.

  19. Avatar Rafa says:

    Jazak Allah for the article, really needed the reminder.

    Here’s a relevant video that really made me think. Highly recommend it.

    Jesus (PBUH) • Third Loaf of Bread • The Life of This World

  20. […] I reassured him that it would not happen, but honestly I was asking myself: Why didn't he use some of his money to pay off his home that he's lived in for almost 20 years? This way, one of his largest monthly expenses could have been avoided. He could have rented the house and moved into a smaller place, providing him with income in hard times. Read Piles and Piles of Stuff here for on consumerism […]

  21. […] to believe is that we don't actually have to buy into the ideal. We can stand up against the world of consumerism and societal expectations, and we can fight against its constant hunt to swallow us […]

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