In defense of the desire for stuff

North American packrat or wood rat, courtesy of USDA and Wikimedia commons.So, if you read my last post, I have to tell you: I’m a hypocrite.

You probably know this already.  You can tell from my many trips to Myrorna and secondhand loppis (flea markets), in search of treasures at low costs, that I like stuff.  I have to stop buying knick-knacks, as our shelves are already full.

And still I want more!  I am a horder, a keeper, a packrat.  I have stacks of books I may never open again.  I am still wearing the same styles from a few years ago, and some of the same clothes from more than 10 years ago, and I still buy more. (Added bonus: I can’t let go of a few items that no longer fit me and that I will never wear again!)

It’s cheaper not to keep buying new, and easier not to go in search of the perfect-fit pair of pants (not to mention less frustrating and ego-destroying, but that’s another diatribe).  At some point, I started to buy some interesting or pretty or classic, well-made clothes that still look fine (and still fit — luckily I stopped growing at some point, despite my fantasies of being tall one day), and slowly edited my wardrobe down to the things I like to wear.

So, yes, perhaps I am coveting that crazy jacket from Acne (yes, that is the name of a Swedish design label; please don’t ask). But I don’t need it, on top of my four other winter coats, nor can I afford it.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t buy it if I had some extra cash lying around.  (As for that jewel-tone red dress in the window at Gucci that would look great on me, I might still go with a knockoff or eBay.)  And it would be so much fun to go on a shopping spree in Paris or New York.

But at the moment, I have no need of fancy rags anyway, and my closet is fairly packed as it is.  I’m leading a pretty lucky life; I have all the stuff I need and more.  Plus, I have access to clean water, good healthcare, etc.  I can make the argument that using less stuff is ethical, good for the planet, fairer to my fellow world citizens.  But in the end, I am human, selfish, and acquisitive; I like stuff.  So if it comes down to human nature, perhaps that’s not all bad:  Our lives are short and can be hard.  Why not have luxuries and fine things that are aesthetically pleasing, to make life more comfortable?

The question is, though, how much is enough? (And of course, what can you afford? See the NYTimes article I’ve linked to below.)  Matt has an ongoing argument with me about the finer things in life that I want to try (or try on), even though I can’t afford them and don’t need them — so why even touch them?

But my fascination persists, with purveyors of old and new alike.  Why not see what’s out there?  And then not worry about owning it, but check it out just to see how it feels?  Maybe someday I will be able to afford such luxuries.

I was reading an article in the New Yorker the other day about a discount luxury goods website, which “curates” high fashion while offering couture at a discount. Someone interview for the story commented that discounts degrade luxury, which is supposed to be just that: expensive fine things that are hard to get.

Clean water and health care should not be luxuries.  But a Gucci dress should be — something you might long for and save to buy, or just admire as it hangs in the window.

Personally, I will be searching for what could be considered luxury goods when we go home to North America later this fall.  That means a trip to CostCo, to the outlet stores for Patagonia and North Face, to the outlet malls near my parents’ homes for seemingly inexpensive jeans and shoes and bras.  I am in search of “affordable luxury,” for inexpensive digital cameras and electronics, for good shoes at a “good” price.

Please feel free to remind me of this the next time I go on an anti-stuff rant.  And in the meantime, while I cannot afford luxury, or when I look at the “luxury” of my packed closet and kitchen pantry, I will continue the pursuit of collecting intangible things: experiences, friends, music, art, delicious food, and so on…

Further Reading: 
“What Work Is Really For”

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