May 12, 2009 by Austin
A few months ago, I came across the sentence: “Surround yourself with beautiful, excellent things and get rid of all else.” And whoa, has it stayed with me.
When I was 18 or so, I had my mind blown by reading an article by Yvon Chouinard called The Next 100 Years, where he talked about building Patagonia to survive the next century and discussed the notion of buying stuff that lasts even if it cost more up front. Reading it I was confronted with the idea of a company that meant something, as well as the concept of real quality. I never bought stuff the same way again. Whenever I was faced with the prospect of buying one thing versus another, I would always advise myself to “buy it once” meaning – don’t spend money on something you are going to throw away or won’t last.
Many years later, I got good stuff that I still I don’t need.
The ‘buy it once’ mantra was good for deciding to add something, but didn’t help when it came to getting rid of things. So when I came across that sentence, “surround yourself with beautiful, excellent things and get rid of all else” I knew I might be onto a way of deftly dealing with the objects that come into my life. I was introduced to it on BoingBoing and then again on the Nau blog, but it came from something called the Last Viridian Note. A couple of key passages:
“What is “sustainability?” Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time — time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.
It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”
It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed — (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact I do not). You’re spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.”
I think it was the Dalai Lama who said, “everything must go.” It is easier said than done. Holding on is something we do kind of naturally. But at least now I have the framework for subtraction and a case for keeping those beautiful things.