Why paying more for what you buy not only helps the economy but enriches your life. Plus why we prefer things that are wabi sabi.
In this podcast, you’ll learn:
- How the podcast has evolved over the first 25 episodes and what’s ahead.
- What the adjacent possible means.
- What is a materialist.
- Why we often value the imperfect over the perfect.
- What is wabi sabi.
- Why we should pay more for the things we buy and how it helps the economy.
Why Do You Buy What You Buy?
My four sisters have taken up a challenge in October to give away a number of items each day that corresponds to the day of the month. So on October 1 they each gave away one item, on the 2nd two items, three things on the 3rd, four on the 4th etc.
I helpfully pointed out that if they make it through the month they will have given away 496 things each.
They were undeterred.
To date, they appear to have an excess of books, shoes, clothes, stuffed animals, fabric, dishes, lampshades, fans and a green Santa Claus towel.
I know this because I am on a group text, and they post a picture of what they part with each day.
I declined to participate in their fun. Mainly because we are traveling the first two weeks of October, but also because we moved three times in the past 15 months so I have already been shedding belongings.
What remains has personal meaning. Items that bring back fond memories. There are dozens of books that are out of print that I still refer to on occasion. There are journals, photo albums, heirlooms, art, and antiques.
Valuing the Imperfect
These are imperfect items, worn down by time. They have an inner beauty—shibui is the Japanese term. They are beautiful because I chose them and cared for them. They are imbued with personal significance because they connect me to my past and to loved-ones long gone.
Soetsu Yanagi writes in the The Unknown Craftsman,
“Why should one reject the perfect in favor of the imperfect? The precise and perfect carries no overtones, admits of no freedom; the perfect is static and regulated, cold and hard. We in our own human imperfections are repelled by the perfect, since everything is apparent from the start and there is no suggestion of the infinite. Beauty must have some room, must be associated with freedom. Freedom, indeed, is beauty. The love of the irregular is a sign of the basic quest for freedom.”
Among my possessions are the tools I use in my daily life. A watch, phone, laptop, iPad, fly rod, bicycle, camera. These have also been carefully selected.
Still, I keep pruning away at my curated collection of stuff. While the “love of the irregular is a sign of the basic quest for freedom”, there is also freedom in owning less.
Reasons For Buying
One way to avoid being overwhelmed with stuff is to be more aware of why we are purchasing things.
Do we buy things because they are best at serving their inherent functions?
Or do we buy things for the messages they convey about us to others? Items that supposedly show off our refined taste, our sense of style, our financial standing. “Objects that reveal ambition,” as Soetsu Yanagi puts it.
More and more consumers seem to care less about the quality of materials and construction and more about what others will think of them when they wear or use the item.
The problem with valuing the social meaning of goods rather than the goods themselves is it exponentially increases the volume of goods we consume.
A world that values symbolism over quality is a world drowning in garbage. Literally. We become a throwaway society, always searching out the next new thing.
For many, if an object will not enhance their social status because no one will see it or care then their default criteria for choosing it is price. The lower the better.
Buy Less, Pay More
The way to break this destructive cycle is to buy fewer things and pay more, much more for what we do buy.
We need to seek after objects and experiences that exhibit exceptional quality, beauty and uniqueness.
We need to slow down and admire the elegance of how those gifts were packaged and delivered.
We need to relish the stories of the makers and acknowledge what was sacrificed in order to hold that chosen object in our hand.
If we are more mindful about what we buy and why we are buying it, then we will find we own less, will have less to giveaway, and will cherish to an even greater degree what we own.