We Don’t Need More Stuff

God of Materialism by Chen Wenling

"God of Materialism" by Chinese sculptor Chen Wenling. Probably the creepiest thing I've ever seen in my life.

This article isn’t aimed squarely at MMOs although it’s no coincidence that I’m writing it right as the Rift beta is upon us. I checked out their preview movies, thought to myself that it looked nice enough and then wondered why it even needs to exist. I guess I’ve been feeling very Buddhistic (is that even a word?!) lately because I can’t help but feel that we’re now surrounded by so much junk and crap in our lives that it’s becoming a major distraction. Do we really need more things to entertain and preoccupy us?

I suppose we’re lucky that most of us don’t need to worry about the basic necessities of survival (food, water, warmth) although surpassing that hasn’t seemed to have made us any happier. Often we work 9-5 jobs, stuck in front of a computer or counter, doing something that – if we’re absolutely lucky – have some sort of mild interest in. We then spend the rest of our spare time spending the money we’ve earned trying to make ourselves happy. We bombard ourselves with games, DVDs, books, trips to the cinema, meals out, stamp collecting etc all in attempt to feel a sense of achievement and the acknowledgment of our peers. It’s comically ironic too that we (me) then spend a huge amount of time acquiring virtual representations of these items in virtual representations of our real world.

It’s not about the money either. I know/knew quite a few people who are chronic downloaders and spend 24 hours a day downloading torrents of every which-what thing they can imagine. It’s all shite too. It’s not actually decent films or even films they want to watch or music they really want to hear or books they’re looking forward to reading. It’s just stuff for the sake of stuff that sits on their hard drives gathering dust for no other reason than because it can. In many ways, it’s no different from striving to complete achievements in World of Warcraft, tasks that have no meaning and no reward other than some vague faux sense of completion. I guess it’s only human nature and something that video games exploit beautifully.

I’d love to be able to do as this article title suggests and give up all material possessions and virtual hobbies but I know I never could. It’s certainly appealing to me to go and sit on a mountain top in Japan and live the life of a monk but we all know that’s not going to happen. I’m far too immersed in my current life to do anything as drastic as that (yeah, I would be the guy in the Matrix would took the blue pill). So what I’m going to do instead is merely to try to cut out all of the crap, all of the stuff that isn’t actually very good, doesn’t give me any pleasure and I just fills me with urges to buy or own or do for the sake of it.

I’ve already been thinking along these lines for a while now and I’ve been amazed at how much stuff I don’t actually need. Sure, I still buy the odd DVD and still indulge in MMO delights (*cough* addict *cough*) but being more picky and not wasting time and energy on things that aren’t any good is actually very liberating. I don’t feel the guilt of not partaking in the latest MMO beta or seeing the latest movie or buying every comic every week and it’s making the things I do see, read and do a lot more rewarding because they tend to be of higher quality.

Maybe this weak attempt at reducing my materialistic motives makes me a hypocrite or a snob or just a twat (or even a snobby twat) but, heck, that’s something I’m happy to live with. Call me a 21st century Buddhist.

-Gordon

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24 Comments

  1. pasmith says:

    Does it make me a hypocrite to say that I LOVE this post and yet when I get home I know I’m going to log into the Rift beta?

    Curiosity is my downfall. I bought Move, I bought Kinect. Why? I need to know what the experience is like NEED TO! And once I do… meh, they collect dust.

    It’s a hard time of year for people like me. I buy stuff and there’s a little voice in the back of my head shouting “You really do not need this.” And the louder voice says “But it’s on sale! If I don’t get it now, when I DO need it it’ll cost more!” (that voice ignores the fact that chances are I’ll never need it).

    Ah well, time to plant a Banyon tree, I guess.

  2. Scarybooster says:

    I’m not much of a collector of stuff. I like playing MMOs and Gran Turismo 5, but I maybe get 5 hours a week for that. I twitch at the thought if saying goodbye to my iPhone. Your post made me think what I would do without my baby. I’m sure my life would be boring and stupid. I would have never found your awesome blog and this post to make me think about what I would do if I never had my iPhone. It’s a visious cycle, but I think I’ll keep my iPhone and keep reading Gordon the Buddha

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed it is strange when we really think about the priorities in our life, isn’t it. I think I get confused sometimes and put material posessions too far up the list. I can’t help it though as I take everything else for granted.

  3. Joshua says:

    Gordon,

    Just stumbled upon your blog today. What a great post to find. I too have thought similar things as of late. Well said sir, I hope you are able to make it happen.

  4. Klepsacovic says:

    Extremes tend to be useless. Humans are a species of extreme moderation. We cannot stand anarchy or tyranny, but something in the middle. We cannot have everything or nothing, but something in the middle. Where is that middle? I see it as the place where things add happiness, and as importantly, add more happiness than the effort needed to get them. Obviously this implies some sort of diminishing returns where we have huge gains from food, warm clothes (or a fan), and shelter. A car will likely also increase happiness, as will art, entertainment, social contact, and so on. But eventually we start to collect things merely to collect them, with no consideration of how they affect our overall happiness.

    Just the other day I was thinking about unused home appliances and the contrast with our simple electric tea kettle. It didn’t cost much, it’s fast, it’s cheap to use, and so long after the initial novelty has worn off, I still say that it is a device which increases happiness by greatly assisting in the process of tea-making and therefore the happiness-inducing activity of drinking said tea.

    • Excellent reply to an excellent post. I’ve seen the same topic crop up on other blogs, mostly in the “lifehacker” category, which takes over a lot of Buddhist principles. Not being on top of everything, that sure is something I will be giving thought these coming weeks, might be a nice resolution for the new year.

    • Gordon says:

      The Buddhist philosophy is interesting because they try and relate our desire to our suffering and although I definitely agree with your point about extremes, sometimes I think they may be on to something. If we didn’t want new games and new DVDs and new whatever then we wouldn’t miss them or complain about them or even think about them. Honestly I don’t know how practical that is though and whether or not humans are actually conditioned to live that way.

  5. B.J. Keeton says:

    I’m with you, Gordon. I’ve been so busy with work lately that I’ve pretty much had to give up every hobby I have except for just the cream of the crop. I mean, I just logged some time into WoW for the first time in a long time, and I’ve been having a blast on my new low-level Dwarf Mage, when before, I wouldn’t have even thought to reroll and level again.

    I read better books, I see better movies, and I watch better TV lately, too. I have to because I don’t have the time to just waste on things that aren’t awesome.

    My wife and I are planning on canceling our satellite, too. We can get better service from Netflix//Hulu Plus with far less of an investment, and we get to pick and choose what we want to see instead of being at the mercy of scheduling. To us, that’s the way to go.

    • Gordon says:

      I still spend far too much money on stuff but at least I’m feeling now that it’s on more high quality things and better spent. It’s also made me realise that although there are a few things I really want and enjoy (like a good MMORPG or book) there’s actually a lot I don’t need and don’t miss at all.

  6. I went through a phase like that a few years ago as well, but it was also different because unfortunately for me it took a really traumatic and stressful event to make me see I had all this useless baggage in my life. I remember being pretty depressed at the time, to the point where very little mattered. I realized all the stuff in the world wouldn’t help me if I was in a bad spot. Even after things calmed down and got better, it was like I had this new outlook on life and saw what was really important, and “cleansed” my life so to speak. Years later, I still I barely “collect” things anymore in real life…maybe that’s why I compensate by collecting things in game. I do love getting achievement points :P

  7. Adam says:

    In the last 12 years I’ve lived in, (not travelled to), Australia, Canada, Australia, Japan, Uganda, Italy, Australia and Italy.

    This is a good way to eliminate the acquisition of useless crap talent.

  8. Nils says:

    I agree with much you write. My own ansatz is this:
    Do that job I have a mild interest in, but not spend any unnecessary money at all. MMOs are a great way to accomplish this without getting bored.

    Eventually I will be able to do what I want. Compound interest rates, you know. At that point I will decide what to do with my life. Until then it is a grind that is occasionally fun, but MMORPGs pale compared to it.

    One way to put it is this: The ultimate goal in life is ultimate freedom.
    Another way is this: Responsibility is a bad thing.

    Controversial, I know ;)

    • Gordon says:

      Totally. MMOs are a very cost effective hobby and a good way of keeping yourself interested without spending cash. Other hobbies that I used to enjoy as a teenager – such as TCGs or war minatures – cost a utter fortunate in comparison.

  9. Bhagpuss says:

    I wouldn’t worry about it Gordon. It’s just a phase. After a year or two of angst you realise that it all comes to the same thing in the end and you stop worrying about it.

    And on the very positive side, obsessively collecting virtual and/or digital “stuff” is so much cleaner and takes up so much less space than obsessively collecting physical “stuff”.

  10. Dblade says:

    I went through that phase, but it’s often pointless asceticism. You are you, regardless of what you own, and most people have the idea that having less is tied to moral virtue. There’s a difference between being realistic and knowing you simply don’t have time to enjoy too many things, and the idea that material stuff is evil and will prevent you from killing your idea of self and letting you finally reach oblivion. (I never understand why people divorce buddhism from its metaphysical aspects of life as suffering and the goal of enlightenment is self-extinction.)

    • Gordon says:

      I think you’re right there and is totally a fine line. Although I whimsy at the idea of sitting on top of a mountain somewhere, I’ve recognised that it’s really not a feasible way to live ones life and thus am happy to just cut out all of the crap. I’ll still buy games and DVDs and books, just less of them and make sure what I do get is stuff that I really want.

  11. Bronte says:

    Life is too short to be wasted in any form of mediocrity.

  12. [...] we have Gordon over at We Fly Spitfires, a MMO Blog. He had an interesting post about minimizing things in your life. In particular he was referring to playing multiple MMOs, [...]

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