After relocating to Paris from Los Angeles several years ago and more recently combing through the belongings of Mommy Dearest, I’ve had, once again, time to consider the mixed bag that is material possessions.
More precisely, I’ve had the chance to identify what makes a worthwhile acquisition, even as we try to streamline our lives and declutter our living spaces.
First, we have to acknowledge the never ending search for balance in our lives, not just regarding material possessions, but in all things. We want to accomplish things in our careers. We want to spend time with our loved ones. And there are only 24 hours in a day…and we sleep about a third of those. We want to be healthy, but a lot of food choices are delicious. And we want to enjoy our lives and indulge…every once in awhile. We want to be spontaneous, but we must think ahead. The contradictions are endless.
Striving for balance is, therefore, a lifetime endeavor. So we must accept that we might never get it quite right, but as long as we’re aware and working to improve, we’re okay.
Second, we have to accept that some material possessions are really, really nice to own and use. They give us a certain amount of emotional satisfaction. We’ve either acquired them after an accomplishment at work, while on a memorable trip, or they were given to us by a loved one. They have meaning beyond their price, beauty, and usefulness.
Another aspect of this enjoyment is the sheer pleasure of using a high-quality product. The goods produced by name brands or passionate artisans can be so superior to mass produced items in their design and construction that we inherently recognize why they are priced as they are, and why they last as long as they do.
Third, we have to admit that sometimes we just don’t care about having the ‘very best’ of a material possession. We just need it to function. I’m that way with ink pens. Yes, it would be lovely to have an S.T. Dupont writing instrument, handcrafted right here in France, but I use pens recklessly: I simply need one nearby when I have a thought, and I need them to dispense blue or black ink upon command. I don’t keep up with them much, and therefore always have a standby in a jacket pocket, a briefcase, on the table, pinned inside my calendar, or just anywhere. Having an expensive pen would be just something else to keep up with and remember not to throw at the wall anytime I get frustrated with whatever I’m writing.
Fourth, linked to ‘meaning’ which I mentioned earlier is the concept of ‘value’. A premium or luxury material possession must present itself as a value to us, even if it does not have that value to anyone else. This, again, requires that we know the product…and ourselves, that we know what we like and why we like it. This will enable us to wait patiently for its timely acquisition, as well as to enjoy it fully without reservation or apology.
Fifth, we must be honest with ourselves and know that the pleasure we get from our choicest of choices is, end the end, our own. It is not to impress others. It is to suck the marrow of pleasure from each use, to inhale the aroma of craftsmanship, whether anyone else knows or sees us wearing, using, or simply admiring our favorite material possession.
As a familiar example, the bespoke Charvet shirts I often wear are, to many other people, ridiculously priced. They don’t see the value, and that’s fine by me. I appreciate them, even if no one else does. Furthermore, 99% of the people I pass on the street don’t notice my shirts. (They’re white.) And that, too, is fine by me.
In contrast, the merino wool sweaters I wear with my shirts are from Banana Republic and retail for a whopping 90 dollars the last time I checked. I’m not interested in spending 300 euros on a sweater at this point in my life. (I always qualify these statements.)
I use this shirt example not to brag, but to offer insight and clarity: I have chosen my premium, luxury material possession, and I think I’ve chosen well. My solid white shirts may go unnoticed on the street, but the fabric will, to lift a lyric from Mick Jagger, make a grown man cry. Furthermore, the shirt is cut to fit me alone. The collar and cuffs sculpted to my preferences. The monogram hidden on the shirttail. Those are the invisible qualities that I enjoy. That’s what gives this product meaning and value to me.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to contemplate and consider the material possession that provides the same satisfaction to you. Of course, we have to continue to streamline and discard as we go (remember the recent Pretend Your Moving post). This discipline on our part will only enhance the pleasure, value, and meaning of the possessions that we choose to keep and use.
We also have to set aside the concept of ‘status’ that products with prominent logos often employ to satiate our self esteem and, we hope, impress others. This isn’t about other people. This isn’t even about price, really. This is about defining and refining our choices, our tastes, and our purchases. We need most of our material possessions to be functional, a good value, and sensible for our individual lives.
But there are a few that we need to invest in, to savor, to appreciate fully with each use, to remember in the context in which we first encountered them or received them.
It is best that we see ourselves as spiritual beings having an ongoing physical experience rather than thinking we are only physical beings who have the occasional spiritual experience.
Still, we live in this world. We must enjoy it…wisely.