I have always been interested in “things.” Some would call the particular affliction ‘gear-head,’ some would call it fetishism, some would call simply call it obsessive. My fascinations have always followed a similar vein: expensive, of solid build, thoughtful, inventively expressed, and bespoke. In short: I was the perfect boutique buyer, and I always had a small collection of gadgets and items at my disposal that my family endlessly mocked me for: from small batch whiskey-soaked toothpicks to origami-inspired electric camping lanterns.
My propensity for gear-heavy sports, careers, and hobbies has not helped in this regard. I am forever besought by the need to own equipment: wetsuits, jackets, thermal layers, specialized shoes, cameras, computers and other devices. My pragmatism and passion for design & creativity underscore this: I love beautiful things and I love things that function beautifully.
Add to this the fact that inventiveness is at an all-time high and the power of the internet as a globalizing medium has allowed all of the brilliant inventors with progressive ideas access to my email inbox and it is easy to see how such obsessions could become debilitating.
In fact, they were. While I was raised too well to be materialistic in theory, my desire for material things grew as my exposure continued. At one point I was plugged into an endlessly exciting, yet bottomless community of products deserving of fetishization; Synthetically engineered wool shirts that stretch like spandex; ultra-light paper-thin pocket knifes; swiss-made hand-painted axes and modular backpacks. I developed a love for product design, and passionately followed these communities. I told myself that it was just interest — and it was.
But if I have always been attracted to such ‘things,’ I have rarely been able to afford them, and this dissonance frustrated me with gradually increasing severity. I would get wind of some new beautifully and fascinatingly functional object — yet after excitement over the find, I would experience a fleeting regret. I could never own all these things. My status as a student and commitment to many already-expensive hobbies has always kept me from amassing much spending money. Occasionally I would make a purchase; but there would always be more beautiful, inventive things and the fleeting regrets continued.
Then I moved to Asia. I found myself in countries where globalized trade has not been fully allowed to move in. High import taxes and inconsistent postal service made it inconvenient to purchase goods from abroad. And a strange shift happened; I slowly an unconsciously stopped participating in these communities — eventually I unsubscribed to them all. The interest was still there, but the frustration over lack of access was greater. I plugged into communities of creatives instead who are designing such things… not simply talking about them. Environment also had a profound effect. Being in a community of people who live happily below our developed-country poverty lines makes the whiskey-soaked toothpicks seem unnecessary, especially when the cost of a vial could feed a family for a week.
Now I find that instead of dreaming about the inventions of others, I dream about inventions of my own. I still love the ‘gear,’ and I still aspire to fill my life with simple, beautiful and well-made things. The desire is still there; I am still the same human; but it is tempered by a stronger desire to finance my own creations and it is no longer bottomless chalice that refills every time I check my email.