This is the essay version of a recent Toastmasters speech. Hat tip to David at Rapitude whose piece We are not Materialistic Enough Inspired this speech/essay.
To be ‘Materialistic’ means ‘excessively concerned with material possessions, money-oriented’ and I’m not advocating that you, or anyone should be ‘excessively concerned’ with anything. But, in common usage, we mainly say ‘materialistic’ to describe people who aren’t sufficiently concerned with material possessions but who instead are interested in status and image and the appearance of wealth (and who are often quite unconsciously so). To illustrate, let me tell you a story about my daughter.
At two and half years of age, my daughter is innocently materialistic. This last Christmas was her third Christmas; her first Christmas was just another swirling cascade of sights and sounds without much context, her second Christmas was dominated by the crinkle joy of pulling wrapping paper apart, but this was perhaps the first Christmas wherein she understood that she was being given things that would be hers.
She would be given a present, a book say, and after opening it she would immediately want to read it with us. But we would take it from her, give her another present to open (as my parent’s only grandchild, she received *many* presents). And so she’d open up a doll, and again immediately want to start playing with it but -again- we would take it from her so we could place yet another present in her arms. Was continuing this cascade of gifts what she wanted? Was it ‘materialistic’ to keep shoving something new into her arms despite her frustration that we kept coaxing her not to play or engage with the thing that had already caught her eye? Not at all, we did this because of the social obligations around gift giving, wanting to honor the time/money my parents (and we) had poured into her Christmas.
In the same way, so often we do not really see, really engage with the things in our life; we barely touch that shiny object before it is taken in favor of another shiny thing in a stream that makes clear that isn’t about the things in myself.
I’ve been trying to be more materialistic in my life; to engage more with the things I bring and keep in my life to produce more pleasure and more meaning. First and foremost, is trying to buy higher quality, better fitting clothes (and in the coming year I hope to have these things tailored) to help me plug into the experience of being fully conscious about how I dress and why. I write with a fountain pen, because the satisfying feel and sounds that emanate from the act. I’ve been trying to savor my meals, the feel of the food in my mouth and the scent of food in my nose… but this means buying or preparing food that is worth being savored. In everything, I’m trying to own less, but better quality, more meaningful things.
Because the modern ‘minimalism’ movement is also materialistic, as is a practice of tidying up; of spending a portion of your time evaluating your material environment and thinking ‘What needs to be fixed/modified/replaced?’ I try to be more materialistic in this way too, as without dutiful practice here it is all too simple to fill my life with broken or barely functioning things.
It is a difficult (but oh so useful) discipline to take only what you need, only what will add to your experience; no more and no less.
And that’s the conclusion I’ve been driving at. Everyone who truly thinks about the material of their life passionately, will ultimately that the material is only as good as the experience it facilitates. By all means, if you want to go running buy a high quality shoes that fit perfectly; but merely the purchase will not get you moving along the trail only moving your legs can provide that. In all things, I’m trying to be more materialistic in ways that add to the lived experience I envision for myself instead filling my life with more stuff to get in the way or -worse yet- filling my life to signal values or identities that I am failing to practice.