When I bring up the fact that I’m economically conservative, people usually assume I’m referring to the political use of the term. In reality, the government’s spending isn’t what I’m referencing, but personal spending. The modern epitome of success can be exemplified through the richest human beings on Earth: celebrities. Movie stars, rappers, CEOs. The list goes on. What they make in salary, they turn around and flaunt through car collections, rare gems, and properties around the world. Unfortunately, it’s not just the top 1% that enjoy brandishing this kind of wealth, it’s everybody.
Well, not everybody, but you can see where I’m coming from; it’s hard to strive for something off the beaten path when the standard for “success” is set so rigidly. Gold. Diamonds. Cars. Fur. Today, there’s more to be bought than ever before in history – and people are buying. According to Forbes, Americans were projected to spend one trillion dollars for the winter holidays.
One trillion dollars. That’s twelve zeros. To put that into perspective, that could almost pay off all of America’s student loan debt.
Sometimes, I ask why the American culture is so ingrained to gravitate towards such lavish displays of material wealth. Is it just capitalism at work? Going back to when I was growing up, I now realize that this kind of display happens even before we become adults. Even living in a comfortable household, I was surrounded by classmates whose parents easily made triple or more of my parents’ combined income. And it showed, too. I would see a BMW pull into my high school’s parking lot, the kid driving it brimming in expensive clothes, and my peers would immediately make comments about his apparent wealth. In the end, I saw nothing but a superficial object.
Now, please don’t assume that I’m a person that doesn’t like having nice things. I actually do. But in my mind, it’s less about how much stuff you have and more about how you can make use of it. Look around the room you’re in right now. How many things do you use on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly?
My goal for the future is for everything I own to be something that I use at least a few times a week.
As I’m browsing the shelves of Target or browsing on Amazon, I have the mindset of a pure utilitarian. In my head, I tell myself, “You’ve worked hard to earn the money you have, so why waste it?” There’s a difference between using your money and wasting it. A waste of money is to dish out cash on something that won’t better your life. Using money is the opposite of that.
[adjective] having regard to utility or usefulness rather than beauty, ornamentation, etc.
The above has become an idea that I’ve adopted on a regular basis. As someone who designs graphics daily, I relish in being able to create something beautiful and functional. Whether it’s a living space in the smallest square footage or an infographic that’s both visually appealing and informing — efficiency is my mantra. And if it looks good? That’s a bonus.
The reason that retail therapy exists is because every time the door rings and you see a package on your doorstep, your brain releases a little bit of that feel-good chemical. Repeat that enough and eventually, you’ll become a full-on shopaholic. The reward center of the brain keeps nudging you to add that item to your cart or make it 2-day shipping. Not only is obsessing over material goods a waste of monetary funds, but it also shifts your focus to the things you own and away from your relationships with real people. When you do as such, a person’s identity turns into nothing more than something with a price tag.
If items are giving you more feel-good chemicals than friends are, then you have a problem on your hands.
As I’m going through The Minimalists‘ game, I notice that although there’s been less clutter around my living space, simple tasks become more tedious and time-consuming. I’ve counted the number of casual shirts I own: seven. Oh, well then you have a shirt for every day of the week, smart, you may think. But every six days I have to put all of my old shirts through the wash before I continue. For tasks like this, there’s no room for variation, and you get caught in a sort of constraining mess that overall decreases your efficiency. Having to wash cutlery and dishes every time you use them can also be a hassle, for example.
At some point, however, you do hit a ceiling, one where there’s nothing left to buy. In my room, I have five sets of footwear: athletic shoes, winter boots, flip flops, shower sandals, and casual shoes. Maybe add in a pair of dress shoes, but anything more than that seems to be a bit excessive. It sometimes boils down to the question of “How many do you really need?” where the need is the focus.
Then, it becomes, “How many things in total do we really need?”
As much as I wish everyone would think this way, I have a single takeaway from taking a step back and evaluating everything my life has to offer. I realize that objects will always be, but people won’t.
80 years is too short to even give 30 minutes of your love to material goods.
Thanks for reading,