When Should I Be A Materialist and When Should I Be A Minimalist?
What’s the matter?
When we hear the term minimalism there is a tendency to think that it only refers to material possessions, yet it is about cultivating space; physically, mentally and emotionally.
Whether it is the spam emails that you never subscribed to, the cupboard full of a short-lived hobby, the ex-lover you cannot forget, or other external prompts like your endless social media feed, colleagues, advertisements and even the sound of the toilet flushing. This matter evokes thoughts, feelings and reactions in your mind depending on how you relate to it.
All matter in this world is a novel composition of the same matter in a way that it can be differentiated from all other matter. In a nihilist sense, it’s all the same, yet infinitely different.
Our minds are infinitely complex processing machines. From actions as innocuous as walking around your home merely observing your possessions, there are thoughts flooding in relating to them. Whether you’re neurotically worrying about getting a stain on your expensive sofa, carefully remembering to water and nurture your plants, or mindlessly slam the door shut and enlarging a crack in the nearby wall.
The expensive sofa is a source of anxiety, just as the plants create a sense of life and nurture, just as the door slamming damages the most prized possession of all. The crude examples are how we project ourselves onto our possessions. The hoarder cannot let go of things because they have suffered a great loss, just as the monk releases all possessions due to a difficult pledge of not materialism.
A short parable from the Kabbalah:
The “Essence of Torah” parable tells the story of a man who journeys from the mountains to the city. In the mountains, a man grows wheat and eats it raw. In the city, he tries bread for the first time and enjoys it very much. Next he tries cakes, which he likes, and then pastries, which he loves. When he learns that the pastries are made from wheat, he begins to gloat. He describes himself to the city people as a master of bread, cakes, and pastries, because he eats their essence raw — whole grains of wheat.
This story, while a great example of spiritual egotism, shows how minimalism can show us the essence of the experience, but it is to miss out on the spice of life we know as bread and cake.
Why we consume
We live in the material world, interacting with material goods is inevitable, but materialism occurs when we appraise certain matter at a higher value than other matter, yet to a toddler or alien, all matter is alike. Some is hard, some is soft, some is poisonous, some is rare but they are all just different forms of matter.
We make matter novel by changing its form, trading it in our economic systems or expressing ourselves through it. Making stuff out of matter in unique ways adds a dash of human creativity which elicits desire from others. If enough others agree to this shared desire, then the markets we have created puts a value on it and a product is born. We can express emotion through matter and call it art or music.
We are constantly seeking to fill voids, and we are peddled ideology of acquiring material fills these voids, but the equation is not so simple. How we use and treat these possessions in a meaningful way is what fulfils us. Polishing your shoes which carry you all day is far more respectful to the possession and thus yourself, rather than buying 20 pairs of fast fashion shoes.
While it would be simple to preach about non-attachment here, and while we would benefit from an extreme bout of minimalism in the West in general, it can be damaging to the ego to rid yourself of worldly possessions and very few of us are content enough to go without some home comforts and indulgences. As noted, we still must validate the ego to some extent, as this is the driving force behind our experience in this reality.
How to Invest
Take care of your possessions and they will take care of you. Procuring more possessions will give you more ways to express yourself, but less depth in expression.
This is not a digital fast, but more about spending some time deleting some unnecessary or time consuming apps from your phone and removing yourself from that email list and instantly free up space in your inbox and your mind.
You are no less important now that you don’t have a dozen emails coming in from faceless corporations on a daily basis. Now those dopamine releasing go-to apps that you use to escape from reality are missing from your phone you may actually have to face your thoughts, or worse, read a book.
It’s hard to seek reprieve from the apps which serve us, like Maps, Airbnb, email etc.
To be Ruthless or Not?
This one is tough, as it requires the action of removing material possessions from your life. Things that you may have grown attached to through long term ownership. We also get attached to our emotional baggage because it becomes a place of comfort, though it is holding us back from becoming the person we want to be.
So, if it has been hanging around from 12 months, and provided no real purpose, then consider turning it in to feel good equity and take it to the charity shop. If it is that guitar that comes in and out of storage every few months or years, then consider consciously investing more time into this thing and make an active plan for it.
The one month rule
Had an impulse to purchase something online? Was it an ad that influenced you? A conversation with someone, or just a fleeting thought? Who cares. Stick it in your basket for a month. If it is superseded by another purchase (clearly more necessary) then bin it. If you still want it after a month, you will have had time to consider how this purchase can add value to your life.
Minimalism helps create a sense of mindfulness in that we have less things to distract us from the other, thus cultivate a deeper awareness of our possessions. Rather than attempt to cook with 10 ingredients, we can focus on preparing a few ingredients very well and appreciating the taste of each individual ingredient a little deeper.