the value of objects


This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them.

Like many people who have spent periods of their life living out of backpacks, I love the idea of living without stuff. I relish in those times when all my worldly possessions are of no real material value and can easily be transported on my back to wherever I’m going.

When I was in my mid-20s, I blithely declared that the only material possession I cared about was my beloved Pentax ME Super, a second-hand SLR camera from the 1970s that I had randomly picked up in Australia, and which delivered seriously stunning shots on every click. Adrift in a San Diego youth hostel on 16th September 2001, with mayhem and paranoia round every corner, my prize possession was stolen. It was my birthday. I was alone. I did cry. Now I have no possession that can be stolen or broken that will bring a tear to my eye.

But I’m left wondering why. I think part of it is certainly that I’m not a very sentimental person, but I also think there’s been a shift in how we value possessions in recent years because:

  1. there are so many objects now manufactured in the world and, especially in richer countries, we can lay our hands on almost anything in a sale, in the bargain shop, second-hand or even free.
  2. our prized possessions are our smart phones, our tablets, our latops – and we’re used to dumping the physical shell for the newest version every few years.

I think the value of objects has definitely shifted in this generation. There’s an ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude that previously would have made no sense, in times when objects were difficult to come by, and took time and great effort to make or purchase.

However, as we know, that’s not the end of the story. In spite of this change, people still strive to amass money to make life more comfortable, more entertaining and more secure. There are very few people who glide through life thinking they have enough money – because there’s always something else to acquire. A better car, a better located house, a bigger house, a bigger garden, redecoration, a better holiday, a more comfortable seat on the plane, shinier handbag, faster motorbike, swimming pool, home movie theatre, speed boat, second home, sixth car, housekeeper, gardener, butler … no pay rise can reach the heights that sate the desire for the next improvement on the list.

To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything generally harmful in aspirational living, but I do think it’s useful for people to be carefully conscious of value, and not construct their lives around ever expanding material expectations that keep them trapped in occupations they don’t actually enjoy. I’m convinced life is lighter with less.

While I personally don’t ever want to go there, I can see it would be more pleasant to fly first class …

This post is dedicated to my best blogging buddy, Jim the Quaker, whose continuing search for purpose inspired me to examine Mujica’s words in more detail. (Jim seems to have poor taste in photos, but had a memorable exchange with an smelly old muse of mine that holds him forever in high esteem.)