Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Materialism isn’t everything but …
Margo Hofmann Jurgens
I remember when Tony was dating yet another model. His colleague - I suppose you would call him a rice tycoon - offered to buy his girlfriend a Louis Vuitton handbag on an outing. She declined. That’s why I love her, he said. She doesn’t care about that stuff.
On first glance, I suppose maybe this was a testament to her lack of materialism. But, then, why does she dress her toddler in Burberry? Why does she have to serve Laduree macarons, and why are her shoes always Dolce and Gabanna?
No, she is not immune to the lure of materialism. How could she be? Her entire career as a model is dedicated to inspiring people to dress as she does, to look like she does, to stimulate and attract as she does. I don’t think she declined the handbag out of an aversion to materialism. I think for once in her life she just didn’t want to be bought.
Materialism isn’t everything but if you live in the West, it is!
One can pretend it isn’t but eventually it catches up. The young can dabble in a hippy lifestyle or can dip their toes into inner-city counter-culture but to do that costs money. Veganism, well-being programs, Pilates, yoga, protesting, supporting Get-Up and other worthy causes are but feeble, guilt-induced badges of honour in an attempt to rail against materialism. But again I say, it catches up!
It generates self-satisfaction to buy clothes, furniture and household items from Op Shops but these outlets for discarded material goods have seen the light and their business models have radically changed in recent times. Their prices now match retail competitors and money raised, as well as supporting needy causes goes towards hiring paid staff rather than relying on volunteers. They send quality donated goods to auction so that they can increase their income and become more competitive in the marketplace – and on and on it goes.
So, what’s the answer? Go and live in North Korea! But even there, there’s a healthy black market in Western goods. What few communist regimes still exist, pretend to reject materialism but their leaders revel in the good life.
Where can you go to avoid materialism? Try retreating to the bush. But then the loggers will find you!
There’s not much to be said for materialism - but ...
Greta wouldn’t like to be labelled a hoarder, perhaps more a chameleon, but she loved her ‘stuff’.
Each day, she would drink her Earl Grey tea from a different china cup; her mothers’ Royal Doulton or even perhaps, Granny’s fine Irish Belleek porcelain.
Aged fifty-eight, Greta slept in her childhood bed which she'd moved to her home in the 'new world', Australia, and rocked in an old rocking chair - definitely vintage.
She enjoyed coming across her father's signature from university days, found in a yellowed volume from decades before, and her own extensive collection of books were her most valued possessions, lining all the walls of her apartment. The walls and floor were decorated with memorabilia from around the globe: Iranian camel bags, Moroccan pottery and Indonesian batik. As she glanced about, they all brought back cherished memories of her life. Her wardrobe was choked with op-shop clothes and a vast collection of beads and baubles to complement them all.
But for six months of the year, Greta switched to her other self, a minimalist. She'd head out the door with only a day pack as hand luggage - she had it all sussed about how to survive in any climate on its sparse contents. She had disposable knickers from K-mart, two non-iron outfits, a five-dollar rain poncho, a pair of crocs and wearing her heavy hiking boots. A plastic bag contained the necessary creams to keep the sun and age at bay, all in 50 ml tubs; plus an old-fashioned facecloth and a scrap of soap. After all that, what more did she need but documents and money?
She’d observed how young travellers carried all their essential information in their phones - music, travel guides and communication apps - but Greta trusted pieces of paper still, and liked to disconnect from her cluttered world.
Her limited choice in materialist 'stuff' freed her up to 'travel light' both in body and mind and made her realise how unnecessary most of her possessions were. In idle moments, she would resolve to do a big clear-out on her return. However, on entering her home after an absence, she glanced lovingly about at her alter ego's belongings, put the kettle on, and selected a rose-patterned china cup for her 'cuppa' in the old rocking chair.
I have a dream: that one day I will be able to fit every important earthly item I own into a ruck sack or at the most a trunk similar to that which Dad and Mum had with them when they migrated from Trinidad in 1961-2. You see, these trunks were built to last, from materials that seemed indestructible, with a sturdy framework and large brass lock with a key (hidden by Dad) that gave every appearance to me of a mini Fort Knox.
This must explain why I have never been a fan of accumulating clothing - or what I derisively call `things' - accompanied by a determination to recycle what no longer seems to serve a purpose.
I once urgently needed a roof over my head for the night and a friend kindly offered me a bed at her place. When we arrived, admittedly quite late, I was wishing I'd slept in my car. Even in the darkness, I spied a ranch-style house straight out of the American soap opera, Dynasty, and I fully expected to be greeted at the door by a JR-type character, with Joan Collins and Deanna Carroll ready for a cat fight.
Mercifully, given the lateness of the hour, the house tour was put off until the morning. But as my eyes closed on an eventful day, all I could see in my dreamy sleep-state was the outline of a nightmare comprised of vaulting ceilings, a laminated wooden floor with large empty spaces that seemed to have no purpose, and a kitchen - glimpsed through the closed French doors - that seemed large enough to comfortably accommodate a family of four. For some inexplicable reason I was angry at the sheer opulence of what little I'd seen that night. It was enough for me to resolve not to stay a moment longer than necessary.
It occurred to me that night that trunks had a lot to recommend themselves and, in fact, I'd be making a purchase as soon as possible.
Text copyright applies to the above authors. Photos: https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1447966129673-88517d
This SSOA writers' blog is made possible by grant assistance from the City of Sydney.