“Minimalism” is a sexy buzzword. Tiny house television shows abound, books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up can be seen perched on our friends’ shelves, and websites like “Project 333” challenge participants to dress with only 33 items for 3 months (including clothes, shoes, outerwear, accessories, and jewelry). This movement is part inspiring – I’d love to downsize for greater happiness! – and part intimidating – Where do I even begin?!
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the task of going through our lives, asking ourselves if we really need this or that. Moreover, it’s easy to feel ashamed if we can’t reduce our possessions to the standards we see or read about. There I’ve gone again, buying something else! Materialism has gained a bad wrap.
Another way to approach minimalism is to actually embrace materialism; to become, in a sense, more materialistic. It sounds counterintuitive, but think about it this way: instead of feeling ashamed about our things, what if we practiced loving them more?
“People say that we’re materialistic,” says meditation teacher Michael Stone in his TEDx talk, “but I don’t think that’s true. We’re not materialistic enough… Being materialistic means loving the material.” Michael goes on to share he isn’t just referencing the things we personally own, but also our sidewalks, our parks, and our communities. By having a greater love and appreciation for the things we have – both inside our homes and the resources we use – we not only build a more sustainable world, but we further integrate spiritual practice into our daily lives.
When practicing a deeper materialism, it’s also important to remember impermanence. There’s an old teaching about a meditation master being presented with a beautiful drinking glass, or in other variations, a teacup. As soon as the master accepts the glass or teacup – How well it holds water and glistens in the sunlight! – he knows the glass is already broken. In other words, there will come a day when the glass is not longer usable. It breaks, chips, or is lost. By accepting this inevitable end from the very start, the master is able to appreciate his gift all the more. It’s impermanent. There’s no need to get attached to it, but rather to enjoy it while it’s functional.
This lesson can be applied to our deeper love of the material. Our lakes won’t always be this clean. Our favorite sweaters will eventually gain holes. Our children won’t stay children. By giving more love to our materials, we inevitably take better care of them, feel grateful for their presence in our lives, even naturally downsize, streamlining our love and positive vibe to the things we care about most. We become more mindful about what we throw away or discard. We become more mindful about what we choose to bring into our lives, knowing we have a responsibility to treat that material item with kindness, respect, and love. We’re able to take action to preserve the things we care about, like our natural resources, so they can be enjoyed by generations to come.
There’s no need to feel shame in accumulating things we will love. They will pass a good life with us. And even though we know they won’t last forever, that doesn’t mean we’ll treat them as if they are worthless or invaluable. We will love them all the same and do our best to extend their lives. In fact, we will love and cherish them all the more, for we too are merely impermanent materials in the world.
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