Minimalist Mindset 1: Enjoyment and Development are Earned, Not Bought

* Last Monday I wrote about the timeless practice of simple living and the detrimental consequences of consumerism. This week’s Minimalist Monday attempts to create the first mindset for over-shoppers and aspiring minimalists. 

When I was small, my mother allowed me to spend hours watching TV Ads. TV Ads was short and fun, with music and sometimes cartoons – perfect hypnotization for children. My brother was allowed to do the same thing. So were all other kids in the neighborhood. I think this is a very dangerous thing for parents to do. 

No matter how entertaining, an ad’s ultimate intention is to get us to spend. With billions of dollars budget, there are legions of marketers who work days and nights on crafting increasingly subtle, yet sophisticated buy-message to penetrate the deepest parts of the human psyche.

I’m a Business student, and even though I only took three small courses in Marketing, I know that the most powerful message associates the acquisition of goods with emotional states consumers most desire. In short, the denominator of all ads is: “If you buy this, you will become that.”

  • If you buy this pen and this watch, you will become a successful business executive and one day being featured on Forbes!
  • If you buy this car, you will become respectable and a better father because your kids will love going picnic in it!
  • If you buy this face cream, you will become five years younger, and your husband will finally pay you more attention!
  • If you buy this art kit, you will become the next Picasso!
  • If you buy this camera plus this lens, you will become the next award-winning photographer! 


I believe that there is a fundamental error in the word “become”, because it suggests a self-transformation, while in fact none of this happens. If we look at stuff as it is, the only two changes occur in our life after the cash register are:

1. We have one more stuff. 

2. We have less money.


But why do so many of us fall into this trap? Why do we seem to have problem realizing this cold fact?

Now thinking back to the time when I was a compulsive shopper, I used to spend the weekends in malls or shopping streets, and could shop alone for 6 hours straight. And boy, did I enjoy it.

It was gratifying to fantasize about a better and cooler me using those stuffs, which were always artfully displayed behind big glass windows.

It was flattery to be taken care of by the pretty and friendly girls and boys in the shop. Customers are kings and queens. The pricier the goods, the better the service. Respect, attention, care – all are gladly offered with a smile. 

It was self-assuring to bring home a device that promised to make me become more. An outfit for more beauty. A pair of sneakers for more health. An art kit for more creativity. After all, to grow is one of human being’s deepest yearnings.


Unfortunately, it’s a lie. Stuff doesn’t transform us. “The activities themselves – not the materials – are what’s essential to our enjoyment and personal development,” says “Ms. Minimalist” Francine Jay in The Joy of Less, one of the best book on living minimally.

I’ve learnt to be wary when the prep-shopping for an activity seems to be more exciting than the activity itself. Like an Apple-enthusiast friend of mine, who wanted to create reading habit, once asked me if buying an I Pad would help. I told him an I Pad won’t sprinkle reading dust on him and make him an avid reader, like how the fat fairy does with her wand. Most probably an I Pad would lead to Angry Birds. And that his IPhone, MacBook and the plain paperback books are doing him just fine.  

Marketers create a delusion that a transformation, a desired emotional state, or a self-projected image, can be acquired easily at the cash register. But the post-purchase gratification is as short-lived as the breath-thin surface of a bubble. And here is the pin: 

I had a friend whose dad was an alcoholic. She told me that sometimes when he was too boozed up, he would get angry and literally flip the dinning table during dinner. She would hold her little sister and both cried, next to the floor smeared with food and shattered dishes, while her parents started shouting at each other. The day after, her dad got sober, he would buy many comedy DVD for her and her sister to watch. They both liked it. For a moment, the laughter of children created some semblance of a happy family. But my friend still cringed whenever the images of shattered dishes flashed back.     

We are not what we own, we are what we do, what we think, and who we love.

This is my most favorite quote from The Joy of Less, because it bursts the delusional bubble so we can wake up to the naked truth that transformation needs to be earned. 


I have many friends who put all their possessions in a backpack and travel around the world in their worn out jeans and torn sneakers.  Their laughs are the loudest; their world views are the most acute. For me, they are so rich.

I’ve also met those who are at the top of the food chain. They exchange social conversations; they know the latest trends; they seem to have it all. But the way they live and see the world is as interesting as a sea cucumber. For me, they are so poor.


As I write here, the lyrics of my all time favorite Disney song came to mind: Bare Necessities in The Jungle Book. The happy bear sings: 

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you

Minimalist Monday:

- Minimalist is Not Trendy But Timeless, and We are Puppets on the show of Consumerism

- Minimalist Mindset 1: Enjoyment and Development are Earned, Not Bought

- Minimalist Mindset 2: When Net worth becomes Self Worth, Our Freedom Clutches its Throat 

More about how to make money our servant, not our master, read on On the Ultimate Commodity called Time, or The Thirst to Acquire and the Dreams We Can’t Live, or Beyond Money, Fame, Power

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Photo Credit: Cougar, stereotyp-0815, Carlos Torres on Flickr