In the era of long-term travel and anti-consumerism, owning or wanting things is considered to be super lame. People romanticize the ability to put everything in one bag and travel the world for years. Because they know it’s hard. Also buying new gadgets can be realistically impossible for freelancers if you are living by bipolar style paychecks like me. I’ve been telling myself ‘You don’t need this’, whenever something broke down. The alternatives came in handy for time to time, but at the end, I came back to where I started.
I picked up a beautiful pair of sunglasses at the duty-free on my way to Cambodia back in 2010. Only after a year, I realized that the legs were scratching the lens. (I mean, come on Guess!) It gave me an illusion of seeing something fuzzy every time I wore the sunglasses. When I visited the Sierra Trading Post warehouse in Cheyenne, WY, my scratched shade was replaced by a $15 hip-looking one. I loved it. But the relationships between my shades and I are not so great; I tragically drowned the new sunglasses in the Saint Marcos River in Texas while floating down the river on the tube. I blame the small waterfall, but I knew I shouldn’t have brought it on the water (duh!) Up until recently I left it at a Malaysian hostel last month, my eyes were (barely) protected by $5 black shade I picked up in Brooklyn.
When my traveling sandal became unusable in Vietnam, I knew it would cost me a lot of money. As my mom always says, there’s a reason to buy good quality shoes. If your feet are tired, you are tired. However, it wasn’t easy to spend $100+ for shoes, especially when I was in Vietnam. To utilize where I was, I decided to buy a knock-off Chaco on the street of Hanoi. Less than $10, I was the proud owner of Chaco sandal. It broke out of blue, in Stuttgart, Germany a few months later.
My phone was 3.5-year-old iPhone 3GS. As my very first smartphone, it was attached to me 24/7 from the moment I picked it up from the store. Yes, I’m one of those people who always have a phone nearby (you know how much I tweet, and stuff). It’s my lifeline. But because I overused its abilities, and it wasn’t designed for several years of severe abuse, it started to break down slowly. Facebook was too heavy for its motherboard, an email went out like a snail in a dry day, typing often jammed inside, and so much more little and big problems, but I kept telling myself ‘You don’t need a new phone, and you can’t afford it’. It’s true, but also it was just a sort of mantra to calm me down.
For less than US$10, I bought a stylish carryon backpack that could replace my old one. It happened in Hanoi. It actually traveled well for a month through Vietnam. Two hours before I had to leave to the airport to Iceland, the very same backpack gave up its life by showing its gut from the bottom. The damage was unfixable. A flowery school backpack from nearby Good Will saved the day. I had to travel with the bag looked like belong to a fifteen-year-old girl for last decade, because I was too cheap to buy anything nice.
There are so many similar stories like these, for about many different things I own. In between the fine line of expensive name brand and the actual good quality products, we always somewhat convinced that everything is a sleazy scam, that tricks us to spend money. After the same trial and error for many years, I’m learning once more, there are reasons why things cost. I’ve been telling myself that I don’t need a new phone, or good shoes are not necessary, but you know what? That’s a lie. I was thinking one day, it’s such a shallow thing to say, but high-quality electronics make me really happy (no, not because I’m from Korea and everyone here is obsessed with electronics).
Uncertainties are taking over my life for quite a while now. There are many ordinary questions in small talk I cannot answer. I’m not too happy about it. Some wise man once said, the person who can be comfortable at uncertainties is the true mastermind. Clearly, I’m not there yet. Being tired of not controlling my own life, I decided to resolve unnecessary stress by replacing broken things to the ones actually work. In the era of anti-consumerism, it’s easy to judge ourselves when we have the urge to buy something new and shiny. But if the simple act can solve the problems and release the pressure, why not? What’s so wrong about that? (Of course, in the boundary of sane and necessary purchase.)
On my way back to Korea from India in August, I went in a sunglass shop in duty-free and picked up a pair of Ralph Lauren sunglasses (believe me, it was one of the cheapest one in the store). It’s sturdy, pretty (it’s purple!), and good-looking. For the first time in three years, I now have a good quality sunglasses that makes me feel good. When my traveling sandal (that was a knock-off Chaco) broke down, Keen (the real one) came to rescue. A pair of red sandal that traveled with me ever since punctured my wallet, but it is still going strong. The Good Will backpack was replaced with a slick Salomon bag I bought in Stuttgart, Germany, and my roughly aged iPhone 3GS can now rest in peace.
I spent a lot of money recently. But you know what? It feels great. Do you know the joy of using things that work great? Shoes that perfectly fit (like Cinderella!), fabrics actually proof water and wind, glasses can stay on my face without adjusting a thousand times a day, a smartphone that can send an email when I finish without freezing for a minute, stuff like that. I’m not saying you should solve your problem by buying new things. I’m saying, don’t make yourself unnecessarily miserable by drawing limits at where you can’t keep. Well, if your life goal is to be the person who owns the least amount at home, then you should think differently, but that’s certainly not my goal. Think of it this way; it’s like you eat a whole pizza sometimes. It’s not a daily diet, and we all know that’s probably not the healthiest meal on the planet, but it is okay to do it once in a while. It somewhat makes us feel better (at least that’s true for me).
When life is throwing a curve ball with uncertainties, try to look for the problems you can solve with a simple action. Sometimes, we just have to let ourselves go, and not be the perfect person we want to be. And it’s okay.