A few weeks ago, my spouse purchased a Fitbit to track her workouts and her vitals. Neither of us had owned anything similar prior and had relied on cell phone apps to track exercise. Both of us were enthralled with the device.
The next week, I spent several hours reviewing various fitness watches with the intention of purchasing one for myself. From $400 units, I worked my way down to a few $60 ones, aware that I was sacrificing quality and name recognition in exchange for a reasonable price on a gadget that would address my particular wants.
I point out that these were “wants,” not “needs.” The features that each of the final three watches had were the same features that I already had on my cell phone app, with the exception of heart rate and sleep patterns. However, the watch would always be with me, tracking my movements. And, it was somewhat stylish – a marker that I had some prestige and that I was concerned abut my fitness.
It was at this stage that I realized that I was falling into the material trap.
If I wanted to track my sleep, I could do so by recognizing when I was tire, when I was awake, what triggers were involved in any insomnia episodes and so on. If I wanted my heart rate, I could press my thumb to the veins on my wrist and count. And, when I had a cheap fitness watch on my wrist, there would always be others who would point out the superiority of their watches.
In reality, I only wanted the watch for vanity purposes and to keep up with my spouse and her friends, who had similar units.
That is the trap of materialism, encapsulated in a simple techie gadget. We want, and, most often, we wat because others have. But do we need? A minimalist lifestyle is constructed around the idea that we can enjoy more, with less. Without the watch, I make myself more aware of my own self and body rhythms, less aware of what others are showing off as their latest possessions.
My spouse is not overly material. However, she does like her assortment of clothes and jewellery. And it is easy to follow that path, without recognizing it. Last year, I cleaned my own closet, donating in excess of two dozen items of clothing. Some, I had not worn. Others, I had worn less than five times. Others were very similar to shirts and pants that I already owned. How had this happened?
Like most of us, I love a deal. Almost every item had been purchased, over the prior ten years, at a minimum of fifty or sixty percent off regular price. But I hadn’t needed them. Again, when I shopped with my spouse, she would see these deals and convince me that they were too good to resist. Then, I would take the item back to the rack and find a cheaper one. Still, I was buying needlessly.
A friend recently donated two of her husband’s three-thousand-dollar suits to charity. He had not worn them in a few years, but loathed discarding them. She was able to convince him that they were worth nothing of he did not wear them and, if donated to a charitable group, someone would get use out of them. He agreed, Somewhere in the city, a homeless person may be wearing a $3000 outfit!
It is difficult to resist the urge to acquire, but the most effective way to do so is to pause (maybe even for a day or so), and reflect on whether we are satisfying a need or a want.
I am no suggesting we shun all our wants. But, effective minimalism enables us to prioritize our wants, so that we can obtain what we value the most in our lives, at the least cost to benefit ratio. Let the family live the way they choose, but walk your own path regarding your material needs.