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materialism - simplicity - letting
nothing inherently wrong with possessions. There are many things that we can own that can improve our quality of life,
that can add new dimensions to our experiences here on this
planet. Possessions can't be bad on their own, for they are,
for the most part, just things. The things themselves can't
do anything to us, and they can't make us do anything that we
don't want to do or become anything we don't want to become.
Whether we're talking about cars or stereos or cd's or books or
clothes or anything else, things we own do not determine who we
are as human beings.
choose to let them do so, that is, and many people do so.
Possessions seem to be seductive by their very nature--having
something empowers us, and power is one of the most seductive
forces known to humankind. We often feel that owning a
certain item can make us more desirable to others as a person, as
a friend, as a significant other. Having a certain car can
show others that we have good taste, that we have a lot of money,
that we're a certain type of person (practical, rebellious,
strong--whatever). Owning a certain set of books can show
that we're cultured, intelligent, broad-minded, appreciative of
good humor--again, whatever.
all of us get satisfaction from our possessions, and we use our
possessions to establish common points of interest.
see someone who has the same type of anything that we have--cd,
car, shoes, or even a calculator--we have an immediate point in
common, a place where we can start a conversation about the
object. "Oh, you have that, too? I love
mine--what do you think about yours?" They're very
convenient that way, and they serve a vital social role for many
people who haven't yet learned to start such interactions on a
should reflect who we are. We usually choose our possessions
carefully based on the image we wish to project. This shows
up most obviously in our clothing, but it certainly extends past
our clothes. Problems arise when we allow our possessions to
do our talking for us, and they no longer reflect who we are--we
become the kind of person who we think owns that type of
possession. I own the car I own because of the type of
person I am--I was looking something practical, affordable, and
economical, and the car I own shows those traits. I wasn't
looking for anything to send a message to anyone, but I was
looking for something that was proven to be safe, that got good
gas mileage, and that wouldn't take too much money out of my
checking account each month. In those ways, it's a
reflection of who I am.
the other hand, I have a friend who bought a car based on the
image he wanted to project. He wanted people to think he was
powerful (he's not), that he had good taste (his taste tends to
run with whatever's popular at the moment), and that he had money
to burn (he didn't). So he bought a car that he couldn't
really afford, and he struggles now to make payments and to keep
the gas tank full.
worse, though, is that he changes when he's around his car.
He's a bit more arrogant, and he's always looking around to see
who's noticing his car. Few people notice, which gets him
very frustrated--in this way, this "great car" has hurt
him and his image of himself. His expectations of what life
would be like with a cool new car never were met, and he feels bad
because of it.
one way that possessions can be an obstacle to a full life--they
can disappoint us when we expect much out of them. We may
expect the fact of ownership to be fulfilling or to make our lives
better, but it won't. And that leads to disappointment,
way that possessions can hurt us is when they start piling up,
never being used any more. When we constantly need new
things, we're looking for something outside of ourselves to
provide us with satisfaction. There are many people who live
to buy--they always want to find the newest gadgets, games, or
fashions, and the older ones pile up in the house. This is
most disastrous when you need to move, but even if a move isn't in
your future, keeping all of the things around can be a very
unpleasant reminder of the failed attempts to find gratification
through an object, through a possession.
me, music has been a major obstacle in my efforts to simplify my
life. My music collection was vast, and I hadn't listened to
much of it in years. I could go searching and find cd's that
I hadn't even seen in years, much less heard. They
took a lot of time and effort to manage and to maintain, and I
didn't even listen to most of them. It wasn't until I
started to get rid of them that I started to feel a weight lifting
off my shoulders--letting go of the music was one of the best
things I could do for myself. And I find that I don't miss
the music that I've gotten rid of--there's plenty of new stuff
coming out that I can hear (but not buy) to keep me interested.
do have other possessions that I haven't used for a long time, and
they also just kind of hang around--they've also been marked to
go. And getting rid of them doesn't hurt like I thought it
would. In fact, it's a very good feeling to get rid of the
time to beware of possessions when they start to control
you--either when they make you act as you normally wouldn't act,
or when they make you keep them around long after their usefulness
has worn out. Our lives are our lives, and it's important
that we develop who we are, not what we have. Possessions
are a very positive part of life--there are many things that I
have that I love to have--but if we ever let them control us, then
they've become an obstacle to our happiness.
of the things that bring delight should not be owned.
They are more enjoyed if anotherís, than if yours;
the first day they give pleasure to the owner,
but in all the rest to the others:
what belongs to another
rejoices doubly, because it is without the risk of going stale
and with the satisfaction of freshness. . . the possession
of things not only diminishes their enjoyment, but
augments their annoyance, whether shared or not shared.
is given can be at once taken away.
We have to learn never to expect
anything, and when
it's no more than a gift on loan.
wealth not by the things which you have,
the things you
have for which you would not take money.
If we did
but know how little some enjoy of the great things
that they possess,
there would not be much envy in the world.
Chinese tell of a man of Peiping who dreamed of gold, much gold, his
He rose one day and when the sun was high he dressed
in his finest garments and went
to the crowded market place. He
stepped directly to the booth of a gold dealer,
snatched a bag full of
gold coins, and walked calmly away. The officials who arrested him
were puzzled: "Why did you rob the gold dealer in broad
daylight?" they asked.
"And in the presence of so many
"I did not see any people," the man replied.
"I saw only gold."
wealth can buy superfluities only.
Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.
Sages do not
accumulate for themselves. The more they give to others,
they possess of their own. The way of Heaven is
to benefit others
and not to injure.
is the preoccupation with possession, more than anything
that prevents people from living freely and nobly.
you possess in the world will be found
at the day of your death to belong
to someone else,
but what you are will be yours forever.
Henry van Dyke
I am often reminded of the early mountain man who roamed freely
the Rockies far before that area was settled. He was able to
along beautiful mountain trails where very few people
had ever been able to go.
Years later in his life, he had obtained
more possessions and wealth. While traveling
through the area in a wagon, he
was forced to take a desert road instead of his
beloved mountain trail. As
he gazed at the beautiful mountain peaks in the distance,
he realized that his
quest for a few material things had changed the course
of his travels and the
course of his life.
desires always increase with our possessions.
The knowledge that something remains yet unenjoyed
impairs our enjoyment of the good before us.
possible to have too much in life. Too
jade our appreciation for new ones; too much money
can put us out of touch with life; too much free time
can dull the edge of the soul. We
need sometimes to come
very near the bone so that we can taste the marrow
of life rather than its superfluities.
We must always
remember that possessions have no inherent value.
They become what we make them. If they increase our capacity
to give, they become something good. If they increase our focus
on ourselves and become standards by which we measure
other people, they become something bad.
When we seek a possession, we should ask ourselves if it will make us
better people, more able to share, more willing to give, more capable
of doing good in our daily lives. Possessions that increase our own
sense of self-importance are empty in comparison to those that help us
contribute something of value to the world.
are possessed by the things we possess.
When I like
an object, I always give it to someone.
generosity--it's only because
I want others to be
enslaved by objects, not me.
Jean Paul Sartre
When we put people
before possessions in our hearts,
we are sowing seeds of enduring satisfaction.
|A man hoping to find wisdom traveled to Poland to see the
Rabbi Hafez Hayyim. When he arrived at the celebrated rabbi's house,
he was surprised to see that it was nothing more than a room. There,
the rabbi sat on a bench at a small table surrounded only by the
numerous volumes of books he continually pored over in study.
The seeker asked, "Good Rabbi, where are all your
Where are your furnishings?"
Hafez answered, "Tell me, where are yours?"
"Where are mine?" said the startled man.
"But I only
came here for a short visit."
"So did I," the rabbi said.
traditional Chassidic Jewish story
it is not the rich person only who is under the
domination of things; they too are slaves who, having
no money, are unhappy from the lack of it.
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|Frugality is one of the
most beautiful and joyful words in the English language,
and yet it is one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and
The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having
and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.
One is not rich by what one owns,
but more by
what one is able to do without with dignity.
for security is often marked by the collection of things.
They seem a fortress against need. We get caught up in the belief
that "more is better." Piles of objects often take more
time to clean
and store than they save. We exhaust ourselves taking care of our
property and social roles.
How many things do you have stored away for the future, like
squirrels with their nuts? If you were asked to give away one half,
what would you keep? When you dream about a fire, what do you
rescue in the house? Make a list. Figure out what is weight
helps you float. . . . When you let go of the constant urge to acquire,
what you truly need begins to flow into your life.
|You can never lose anything that
really belongs to you,
and you can't keep that which belongs to someone else.
remember a dear lady, who was up in years. She was working so hard and
always complaining. I finally said to her, "Why in the world do you
to work so hard when you have only yourself to support?" And she said
have to pay rent on a five room house." "A five room
house!" I replied. "But
you're alone in the world. Couldn't you live happily in one room?"
she said sadly, "but I have furniture for a five room house."
She was actually
working her fingers to the bone to provide a proper home for that
And that happens all the time. All I can say is, don't let it happen to
My wish simply is
to live my life as fully as I can. In both our work and
our leisure, I think, we should be so employed. And in our time this means
that we must save ourselves from the products that we are
asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves.
The Art of the Commonplace
materialism - simplicity - letting