What Yoda Got Wrong About Attachment

We operate as if purchasing an object changes something fundamental within it. It is ours now. This is my water bottle. My television. My phone.

But what about the object has actually changed?

Nothing.

My items work just the same for you as they do for me

I am reading a book from the library right now. The same words are on the same pages whether I am reading it or you are. Just like if you took my phone and replaced my contact list with yours, it would work the same for you as it does for me. The book is not going to miss its friends after a week and run back to the library. Sorry I had to be the one to break it to you, but this is not Toy Story.

Physical proximity does not equate ownership

My water bottle is on my desk right now. But if you wanted to use it, you could. The phrase ‘my water bottle’ is meaningless. It is ‘a water bottle.’ It does not cease to be a water bottle when you try to use it. Nothing about it changes. This is the point. Material objects exist independently of their owners, just as they exist independently of everyone else. Just because I have consumed water from this one specific bottle a thousand times does not mean it works better for me than it would for you, or that I struggle to use water bottles that are not this one.

Ownership is illusion

When I sit and read in a coffee shop, I put my phone on the table. People do not come by and take it. Not because there is some special relationship between my phone and me, but because an unspoken agreement exists that you should not take other people’s things. There are no automatic consequences for someone who would take it. You might point to laws and police, but they can only do so much. Hang out in a European train station and don’t watch to your bags. The unspoken agreement does not exist there. Those guys who stole your laptop have no consequences, only a new laptop.

Familiarity does not equate ownership

The main struggle people face when trying to give things away is the memories contained within those objects. These are an illusion too. Almost every kid has some kind of stuffed animal that she takes everywhere. Chances are you had one. Take this jumble of cotton and fabric away from her though, and she will lose her mind. Adults do the same thing, just not with stuffed animals. Look at a few objects in your bedroom and you will find things that you have not used for a year, but would not give away because of the meaning it has or the memories it holds.

The feeling of loss we get when we lose our bear, our favorite shirt, or our favorite cup, is us personifying that object. It does not have feelings—you do, but they cannot be thrown away because they are in your mind, not the object. You can always find a new cup, if you want to.

Yoda said that attachment leads to jealousy and greed, but we can deal with this by, “[Training] yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

But Yoda was wrong (yeah, I said it). You cannot let go, because nothing is yours to begin with.

Do These Pants Make My Closet Look Full?

I used to have shirts in my closet that I did not like. So I never wore them. And they just hung there, taking up space. As a typical guy clothes are not a big deal to me. Comfort > looks. And yet, I felt compelled to keep them anyway.

One of the things that the minimalist mindset helped me do was stop lying to myself that I would someday like the clothes that I never wore. Which made it a lot easier to get rid of them.

I now have 30 shirts, because there are 30 days in a month. That seems like too many now, but when I had 50, it was difficult to get down to 30. When I got down to 33 I kept trying to convince myself that I would regret giving away three more shirts. Within two weeks I forgot what those three shirts looked like.

Conversely, I had a few shirts that I like so much that I would avoid wearing because I liked them so much I feared ruining them. This is just as dumb.

Now I wear all my shirts because I do this, you should try it: Do not wash any clothes until your closet is empty. Only when your closet is empty are you permitted to wash them and begin the cycle again. If you get to the end of the month and there is a shirt still hanging in your closet that you have been avoiding wearing, wear it or give it away.

I feel like I could giveaway all 30 of my shirts and use five plain black and five plain white t-shirts and be fine. I feel like this because I no longer give my stuff more meaning than it deserves, which is what I saw as the goal of minimalism from the start.

What Do You Really Want?

He who is contented is rich. – Lao-Tzu

There is nothing wrong with having a Christmas List. Even if you are at the age where you have to buy things for yourself. It is, after all, one of the most fun Christmas activities.

But after you write you list out this year, ask yourself two questions about each item:

  • How will this item improve my life?
  • What would I do if I did not get this item?

Do it now. Type out your list and then underneath each item answer those questions. The answers might take a sentence or a half-page. Any length is fine. Just get it all on there.

Chances are it will change your perspective on which things you actually want the most, or if you really want them at all. And if there is a tie or a close call, consider how each item will help you reach the goals you have for your life.