Material Possessions: A minimalist’s view on Things


One of my most prized possessions: My Mechanical Keyboard (Corsair K70).

There is a common misconception that minimalism is just about having less things than your friends (or just less stuff in general). This is partially the fault of minimalist bloggers’ mild obsession with counting their stuff and showing off how little they get by with. Thus you get blog post titles like ‘My 100 Thing Challenge‘, ‘All 55 Things I Own‘ and ‘Tour my Minimalist Apartment‘. These posts are meant to show personal examples of minimalism in action, but they may give the wrong impression if you aren’t already knee-deep in minimalist philosophy.

Minimalism is not a competition to see who can own the least amount of stuff. You don’t reduce the items in your life to an arbitrary number and (poof!) you are suddenly a “minimalist”. I am glad these same bloggers that show off their things (or lack thereof) always remember to take the extra step to clarify this:

“It’s important to understand that the reduction of physical possessions is often a RESULT of Minimalism, not Minimalism itself. Just giving away a bunch of things doesn’t make you a Minimalist, any more than buying a statue of Buddha makes you a Buddhist or doing yoga makes you healthy.” – Colin Wright, Minimalism Explained

“If you desire to live with fewer material possessions, or not own a car or a television, or travel all over the world, then minimalism can lend a hand. But that’s not the point.” – The Minimalists, What is Minimalism?

“…I’m not going to be a zealot here and try to convince you to throw away all of your possessions and go live on a mountain or something.” – Mark Manson, Minimalism

Minimalism is, above all, an attitude towards things. 

Below, I will specify the facets of this attitude:

Minimalists mainly view things as tools for us to get something done. This is opposed to the view that things are collectible items. Things are bought to be used on a regular basis.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with material possessions. We all need to own a certain amount of things to live a healthy and happy life e,g., toothpaste. The evil lies in owning things that add no value to your life, or worse, subtract value from your life. Example is owning a car you never drive but still pay parking and insurance on it every month.

The thrill that comes from purchasing something (however exhilarating) should never be the primary reason to buy something. Minimalists purchase something for the thrill of actually using that item in our day-to-day lives; where we acquired it and how we felt at the moment of purchase is totally irrelevant.

Never buy something you do not need nor want. It will most likely never be used and you end up wasting money and space (to store your thing). The item could have gone to someone that actually needed it.

Never buy something if the only reason is the item is on sale or the price is cheap. See above.

The ultimate value of a thing is judged by how much utility and/or pleasure we can personally derive from it over a long-period of time. My blender, of which I use every other day, brings me great utility (in achieving the goal of smoothie-making). Because minimalists try to maximize the use of their things, they prefer things made of high-quality materials to endure the test of time. Ample time is given to research the quality of a product prior to the time of actual purchase. Never hesitate to pay a bit more money for a superior product, it will most likely be worth it in the long run.

Prior to a purchase, investigate deeply into whether you actually need it in your life. A thing can be made of the finest material and is the highest quality product of its kind. But none of that matters when you are personally never going to use it. Make sure the thing you are buying is going to fit into your life.

Can you be a minimalist and also an avid collector of things? That is a really tough question. My friend (not a conscious minimalist) is of the collector type. He likes to buy things for the sake of having them. They come mainly in the form of toy figurines and various posters. As long as you are conscious of your purchases and your collection genuinely brings you pleasure, I see nothing wrong with collecting things. However, I recommend trying to collect positive (and potentially new) experiences rather than material things. By all anecdotal accounts of minimalists, they all swear that positive life experiences are by far more rewarding than the chase for more things. You can even document your experiences in a journal and this can form a type of collection.

Like many minimalists, I love reading books. I also enjoying buying lots of them cheaply and displaying them proudly on my shelf. I believe I can simultaneously express my intelligence and individuality through my fine selection of books (read: superiority-complex). They also act as my companions when I am without a friend. That being said, I personally don’t think anyone should be merely collecting and displaying their books, they should also read them from time to time. Too often the simple act of appreciation is displaced by the game of acquisition. I am reminded of the documentary on the famous philosopher Derrida when the interviewer asked if he have read all the books on his shelf (the size of an entire wall)? He answered: Maybe 4 of them. I am definitely trying my best to trim down my collection of physical books. I own an e-reader and also frequent the library. I came to realize that what I truly value is not really ownership, but the convenience of access. Oh, I need to look something up? It’s right here within arm’s reach. I think a good way to determine the value of a book is how often you find yourself needing to reference it. If you keep coming back to it, it’s probably a good idea to have your own copy. Otherwise, just get it from the library.

It’s no secret, we are a generation of consumers. We buy things other people made, we eat things other people prepared, and we watch shows other people filmed. There is great joy to be found in buying things, consuming things, and owning things. What is not advertised is the joy found in creating things. You may not be the greatest artist, but you should seriously consider partaking in some form of creative endeavor. You may be surprised to find that the attempt to make something to be both rewarding and empowering. Perhaps you will even discover something you never knew about yourself.

In conclusion, minimalists are not “haters” of things nor think that having less stuff miraculously makes you a better person. But minimalists do believe that getting rid of unnecessary things is necessary for a better life.

For a more “formal” introduction to Minimalist living, see my original post here.


About eleganthinker

A philosopher in practice, but a poet at heart.
This entry was posted in minimalism, Philosophy, Self. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Material Possessions: A minimalist’s view on Things

  1. Diana says:

    Great blog post! I realized after reading this that I am more of a minimalist than I had previously thought. I think when I was younger I wanted to have a lot of stuff (clothes, purses, shoes etc.) but I now realize that I don’t have time to wear it all so I try to invest in quality stuff that I love and can make good use of, even if these items tend to cost more. Thanks for sharing the philosophy of minimalism! I will try to further adopt these practices in my life 🙂.

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