Ephemeral objects and minimalism

Category: Lifestyle

I don’t care for the ownership of ephemeral objects. And most minimalists I’m aware of don’t either. Most such objects I’ll likely acquire on demand and then give away, share, leave, or dispose of in some way. If I lose it, I will not issue a community bulletin with a reward notice. If it breaks, I will not hold funeral proceedings.

What do I consider an ephemeral object?

On an intrinsic level, it is one for which I don’t hold any emotional attachment. While generally an anti-minimalist trait, even a self-proclaimed minimalist might grow remarkably attached to one particular tea cup.

On an extrinsic level, it is one which would not demand much cost or time investment to replace. It has nothing to do with the previous investment into the said object. Those are unrecoverable (sunk) costs that have no bearing on the present value.

The extrinsic value I attach can also fluctuate with time. For instance, I may have previously invested tons of time and expenses into an object. However, if it suddenly ceases to bring substantial value into my life, or an equivalent object now exists that I can inexpensively (with regard to time/expenses) summon at time of need, it’s as good as ephemeral.

Most commodity objects that I don’t care to dedicate severe effort to personalize I find ephemeral. The mixture might shock you: utensils, tools, appliances, kitchen items, pens, most electronic equipment, umbrellas, books, furniture, cars, bicycles, luggage, computational resources, education, clothing.

You may note that I far emphasize the lack of time investment. Some cheap and commodity objects in my list naturally lend to the ephemeral consideration. I can easily and inexpensively acquire the little gadgets, utensils, and tools of sorts as I navigate life. I can inexpensively replace and obtain new clothes. Furthermore, many objects have but sporadic use. You’ll note that once you stop attaching intrinsic value, the extrinsic often follows course and diminishes.

But what of the furniture? Transport vehicles? Again, it starts with intrinsic. The so called ‘American Dream’ I view at best as a farce. I don’t care to own cars, bicycles, or boats. I don’t care for the furniture. All these objects I view strictly as utilitarian. With today’s sharing economy, one can rent, lend, exchange, or inexpensively procure much of the stuff for the duration necessary.

Heck, I’ll even bundle lodgings (homes/living spaces) into the list. I don’t care for home ownership. It is but another abstraction to me. Someone may care, sure. Someone may invest a fortune of time and expenses into the said personalization, effectively developing a spousal relationship with the home. And it tends to begin with the intrinsic. The same person usually believes the attachment to be inherently natural and desirable. However, that is a matter of personal creation. Such conceptions are a product of the inner mind.

What did I mean by computational resources? With cloud computing infrastructure, one can rent, share, or otherwise leverage computation strictly on demand. One does not need to own ultra-powerful hardware if the higher echelon of it’s capacity sees but sporadic use. One can execute demanding multimedia tasks on cloud infrastructure, having physical access to nothing more than inexpensive, easily and cheaply replaceable older hardware.

Having said that, I consider my physical computing setup not entirely ephemeral, but it’s gradually transitioning in that direction. Severe personalization has gone into my minimalist Linux setup over the years. I may be using an outdated tablet worth $50 USD in the second hand market (which facilitates 99% of my recurring needs), yet I invested much effort to customize it to my working philosophy and use cases. The time investment far outweighs the hardware market value. Fortunately, I’ve made gradual steps to package and streamline said customizations such that I’ve spent increasingly less time with each hardware replacement.

With regard to a mobile phones, many see the object nearly as a bio-organic bodily extension. I’m rather a reluctant adapter of such technology, and hardly invest any personalization effort or expenses into the product. I use mobile devices to as little extent as plausible in the given circumstances.

An attentive reader may have noted that I categorized education as ephemeral. This is where I must make a distinction. There’s knowledge and experience acquired. Then there are the artifacts: old notebooks, textbooks, framed diplomas, certificates, decorative pins, and the most severe of all, the intrinsic attachment to the very status we’ve achieved in having completed the educational milestones.

Education is a business commodity, and has been for at least a century and a half. It follows that a respectable part of the population treats the artifacts as extremely valuable. They treat their status with extraordinary pride and sense of ownership. I used to as well. I used to even house a superiority complex that, being such an ‘educated’ individual, why don’t more things come my way, as if the time invested and the artifacts accumulated had direct impact on my success and place in society? My thoughts used to tread along those lines. A sad state of affairs that was.

I now consider of value only the experience and lessons a person acquires in the process, not how much time or expenses went into the pursuit, and certainly not the artifacts. The finer details can be reproduced, information reacquired. One does not need the artifacts to demonstrate self worth. Consequently, having eliminated the intrinsic emotional attachment, one can reach success without framed diplomas or shelves of textbooks.

You may wonder, is there anything I clearly don’t consider ephemeral? With objects, even to my own surprise as I write these lines, very little.

I produce a lot of handwritten content, much without digital scans or duplication. Any loss will result in ideas forgotten, future time wasted, effort duplicated, and quiet a bit of mess. That’s one example. I really should more consistently produce digital scans. Otherwise, as far as physical objects, I simply can’t imagine anything else to be of substantial consequence.

People are not ephemeral. Living organisms are not ephemeral, even though we treat many as such.

An interesting case can be made for sharing. Many of us feel a proud sense of ownership and protectiveness over possessions, even those mostly collecting dust. There isn’t a substantial reason why someone else could not make use of these, especially when such sharing doesn’t severely compromise your personalization expense.

Up to now, I wouldn’t share my tablet or computer, not until the process of restoring the personalization becomes as seamless as readjusting your rear-view car mirror. Granted, I can’t think of anyone who could even use my setup without a complete overhaul, not with the amount of singularity I imparted on it.

What about items like house plants? Or more interestingly yet, pets? I certainly don’t consider them ephemeral. But I don’t see them as strictly non-shareable either, as problematic or unorthodox as this might sound for some. I’ve known people to periodically exchange a dog or cat. You may classify it as part-time ownership, except that ‘ownership’ and genuine affection are separate concepts. One can love a creature and yet not feel constrained by the need for full-time ‘ownership’ or shelter. There’s sentiment, and then there’s the not-always fitting dichotomy of ‘mine’ vs ‘not mine’.

Questions, comments? Connect.