This is empty madness. It is, very literally, a celebration of total materialism.
What is ultimately important in life are people -- messy, filthy, bacteria-and-disease-laden, imperfect, emotional, sweating shitting cursing crying screaming laughing farting people and the connections we build to them.
This celebration of spending insane amounts of time choosing the perfect flatware or the perfect wallet is sick. Steve Jobs spent eight years discussing furniture with his family before buying a sofa etc (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/11/14/111114fa_fact_...). I will never do that, and I will never have flatware as nice as Dustin Curtis', and I will never have sound as good as an obsessive audiophile, or the perfect car.
I won't even write a particularly convincing Hacker News comment on this very topic. I've got to go. Life is too short for this shit.
On the one hand I think it's worth specifically "buying for life" , eg buying high quality, durable things once and reusing them indefinitely. Reject our throw-away culture and planned obsolescence, be more effecient and less wasteful with natural resources, recognizing that unless you plan to be a full-on monk you will most likely need to buy some things in life.
On the other hand, statements like this strike me as narrow, lacking perspective. After hiking for months across Southeast Asia, I do hope you have more take away than:
>These might seem like stupid things to worry about, but when you have trust in everything you own, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s liberating and an amazing feeling. My life was markedly better because of it.
No, what is amazing and liberating is transcending having to trust in things at all because you have such relentless resourcefulness, determination, and physical and mental health that it doesn't matter whether you have every thing you need, you can make do without it. You can, as the US Marines put it, improvise, adapt, and overcome . You're not dependent in any way on what you own, and as a result, are not owned by it .
So I think there's a bit of yin/yang here. Of the stuff you must buy, buy high quality for the long haul, but don't become so attached and emotionally invested that it ends up owning you.
The puzzle of evading materialism is that it seems to infest everything.
>because you have such relentless resourcefulness, determination, and physical and mental health
And what if you don't? What if you're weak in one of those areas and, for whatever reason, can _never_ hope to become strong? Everyone does grow old eventually, if they don't get killed first.
So then, relying on "I will always be a strong person" is a kind of material thought. You'll lose it, sooner or later.
Perhaps a healthier way to think of yourself is as a sort of resource that can be cultivated for a while - and often considerably, when considering intellectual endeavors - but is ultimately consumed. And then, as in strategy games involving heavy resource constraints, your goal is to maneuver and manage resources carefully so that you can both accomplish key goals and remain in a relatively advantageous position afterwards, even though in an absolute sense, things are always being depleted.
At that point, strategy w/r to things you purchase is just a calculation, not something you feel you have to identify with.
No, it's a designer with an interest in all design.
I know Dustin sometimes alienates people, but it makes me sad to see such a mean comment in reply to a thoughtful essay. In fact I'll coin a term for it: strawmean (strawman + mean) because you've had to invent a position he didn't take in order to attack it.
What makes me even sadder is the huge mob who upvoted this comment. Because that is the decline of HN embodied right there.
> I know Dustin sometimes alienates people, but it makes me sad to see such a mean comment in reply to a thoughtful essay
I agree that the comment has a mean tone, but i think the gist of it is quite thoughtful.
> In fact I'll coin a term for it: strawmean (strawman + mean) because you've had to invent a position he didn't take in order to attack it.
Maybe i'm missing something, but it seems to me that he didn't invent any position. Dustin Curtis is quite literally advocating that you use a lot of your time to choose the best possible objects to use in your daily life.
OP is reacting to that, and the philosophical posture underneath (spend more time on people than you spend on objects) is quite an interesting one in my opinion, even if it probably didn't need to be phrased that way.
Ideally, both postures would go hand in hand, and balance each other.
> What makes me even sadder is the huge mob who upvoted this comment. Because that is the decline of HN embodied right there.
I think you are reacting to the tone of the comment more than to it's content. But i also think you are being overdramatic here. OP is not attacking Dustin directly. He is attacking the idea developed in his post. At least that's how i understood it.
I am utterly dumbfounded by some of the comments here. I feel like people have completely misunderstood his philosophy.
To me, Dustin is advocating a very practical position of minimalism. It's about starting from scratch and thinking carefully about everything you own. There is a huge upfront investment involved but you will get that time back (and much more) because you trust your tools. They won't let you down, They won't break, They will work exactly as intended and you will understand why they work in that way. This frees you up to spend more time on the things that are important to you.
I spent a few months travelling this year and I spent an awful lot of time thinking about what I wanted to bring with me. I bought almost everything from scratch and each item that went into the backpack was meticulously researched. I ended up with only 7.5kg (including backpack) of stuff but I had everything I needed and everything I needed was important. I was suddenly less anxious about setting off on my adventure. When others found that their backpacks were coming apart at the seams, mine was as strong as the day I bought it. When spending a month motorbiking through Vietnam, it took my friends 15 minutes to strap their 20KG+ of luggage to the bike every morning, it took me one minute. I always had the perfect clothing for whatever activity in whatever weather (despite the fact that I had about a third as much clothes as everybody else). While others were wondering around rural areas looking for a launderette, I had everything I needed to wash my own clothes (The liquid I used for washing clothes could also be used to wash my hair and shave, and I only needed a few ml of it). I got better sleep in dodgy areas because my fellow travellers were sleeping with one eye open while my bag was securely locked and tethered to something grounded. I could go on.
The bottom line is that I spent less time worrying and more time enjoying the moments and being with the people I was lucky enough to spent those moments with.
>To me, Dustin is advocating a very practical position of minimalism. It's about starting from scratch and thinking carefully about everything you own.
Very many people would agree with this. They'd agree with it even if Dustin Curtis said it. This is not the bit that people have trouble with.
Dustin Curtis goes on to say:-
> Reasonable people would probably not spend the time to read a book about the history of flatware, buy twenty sets, and test the feeling of each metal utensil against their teeth. That sounds completely insane. But who cares about reasonable people?
The set he likes sells at MOMA for $50. $50 * 20 = $1000 just on evaluation sets of cutlery.
I can safely say that my cheap cutlery cost me significantly less that $1000, functions well, and will last me the rest of my life.
It's great that there are designers who like this kind of thing. It's great that there are publishers like Phaidon who sell books about door handles or flatware or whatnot. (It's a shame they have a viciously unpleasant website - (http://www.phaidon.com/designclassics/) )
But, really, "good enough" is for many people good enough.
At least Dustin Curtis is saying "buy things that are beautiful because they perform their function well" and not "who cares if it does what it should do, look at the nice twiddley bit on the handle". See, for example quite a lot of stuff at Yanko.
Personally, I think that 'huge upfront investment' is excessive and I don't believe that the return on it is enough. Compare Tom, who bought the first backpack he saw in a store, Bob, who spent an hour or two looking up backpacks and then bought one, and Dustin, who spent four weeks studying the history of the concept of luggage. Bob's backpack is likely to be just as good as Dustin's. Dustin can look at Tom, who got a crappy backpack and is sad, and say 'see how valuable preparation is?!' but there's an extreme on both ends, and both of them look stupid to non-extremists. The bottom line is that Bob probably spent less time worrying about his 'stuff' than Dustin across the entire lifetime of his ownership of it, which to me is more minimalist and more desirable. Sure, reasonable people can debate where the line of 'too much thought' is, but only an unreasonable person would say that it is always at the extreme Dustin end.
Sure, the law of diminishing returns applies, just like it does with most things. I don't know Dustin, so I couldn't guess where he falls on the curve. What I can say with a degree of confidence is that most people position themselves too far on the other end of the curve.
Some context though: Dustin's article expresses that he enjoys the process of researching products that are well-designed. Therefore, I think it's reasonable to elongate the curve just for him and others like him.
It's fantastic that nearly all the software I enjoy using is free, and fascinating that that model works. But, here we're talking silverware, not software. Things to put in your backpack to go traveling are not free. And if they're the "best" then they're probably the more expensive of available options.
The original comment said that "What is ultimately important in life are people..." Dustin Curtis never said that people weren't important, just that choosing the best objects is. That's the straw man.
> Dustin Curtis never said that people weren't important
Of course he didn't, and i think even original commenter wouldn't think he would.
The way i understood it, OP position is that even spending that much time on objects is taking too much away.
I don't even agree with this position. I think the things we build are as interresting as ourselves, and an extension of our minds in some way. But it made me think for a second, it did put the post in another perspective. So even if it was indeed mean-phrased, it was a worthy comment for me.
I agree that the comment was too mean. But in fact dcurtis was a bit arrogant too:
"Reasonable people would probably not spend the time to read a book about the history of flatware, buy twenty sets, and test the feeling of each metal utensil against their teeth. That sounds completely insane. But who cares about reasonable people?"
If he would say 'reasonable programmers don't buy books on set theory', then I would just say it's ok, he has an interesting obsession (set theory).
If he would add "But who cares about reasonable people?" I would say it is getting a bit arrogant, but still ok, because he just values interesting hobbies...
But in dcurtis's case 'reasonable people' are people who have absoultely no money to buy twenty sets of designer flatware, because they literally would not be able to feed their children. In my country even the (lower?)-middle class have problem with buying very healthy food or buying new (non-second hand) clothes for their children. Designer flatware? (Designer anything?) 20 sets? Not even one set, not 20. From this prespective the article boils down to: I am a rich single young guy, I have lots of free time, I think I am a wise man, I teach you on things in life: trust me it feels good. The more upvotes it gets, the more arrogant is seems... Of course a mean counter comment will be upvoted, and of course you call those people 'mob', wich is just oil on the fire.
I find the OP's argument to be a simple one: "It is not worth it" and I agree. It makes sense to buy things that doesn't break down when you are going on a long trip. But the amount of effort Dustin seems to have put in to select them, and advocating others to, doesn't seem to be worth the benefit.
Take flatware for example - I think that level of attention to detail for something like that is not called for. How much can you scale it? Minimalist or not, we buy a lot of things in life - how much time can we spend for each and every one of them?
The entire post seems to paint the idea that you have to be a connoisseur of everything in life. It is fine if you are an audiophile and spend a lot of time to find the best earphones out there. People have a couple of things in life they care deeply about. But I wouldn't extend that to everything in life as Dustin advocates. Not everybody has the time or means to do that. And even if there is, the cost IMO is just not worth it.
I think you're wrong to criticize HN users for their negative reaction to this post and to associate their criticism with a decline in HN culture. The post will naturally be unattractive to many reasonable and pleasant people who would be good HN citizens.
For one thing there's a political dimension here and you have effectively thrown your weight into the right-leaning region of the political space: people on the liberal/left side are much less likely to appreciate the post.
The post is about a rich foreigner who goes travelling in a poor part of the world and cares deeply about the high quality (and therefore mostly expensive) items he has brought with him. It completely fails to mention the people who live in those places. Why should we be interested in how a tourist's belongings are kept safe due to his high quality backpack, when the overwhelming majority of safety-of-belongings questions in that part of the world involve people who don't have access to his expensive first world backpack? Or even if we are interested in the rucksack quality from a technical point of view, surely we realize that it's insensitive to bluster about the quality of your possessions when travelling in poorer countries?
Finally, we learn that he cares so deeply about the quality of his items, that when he returns to his super-expensive first-world abode, he develops it into a faux philosophy of life, patting himself on the back for its minimalism and the effort expended in researching quality.
It really is consistent with the worst caricatures of rich first-world tourists in poorer parts of the world, and with the worst caricatures of materialism over humanism. And that view doesn't make me a bad HN citizen.
 Yes, quality correlates with cost here. We're talking silverware, not software.
I fail to see why mapgrep's position is a strawman. Is it not valid to question the opportunity cost of a lifestyle, in which one is obsessed more about objects than about lives? His tone may be slightly mean, but that doesn't invalidate his argument.
Dustin's article is more about lifestyle (his lifestyle), not so much about design.
If it's about design, then I would think his analysis of flatware is fairly shallow.
Or is it about how elite designer's lifestyle should be? If so, then I think you're right to say it alienates people.
I think upvoting this comment was a reaction from people who were upset to see this blog post so high on the front page. Not necessarily because they taught this comment added value to the discussion, but because they strongly disliked the article.
... is a mock-Latin aphorism meaning "Don't let the bastards grind you down", and the first line of an unofficial school song Ten Thousand Men of Harvard, the most frequently played Fight song of the Harvard Marching Band (where presumably PG picked it up).
To think that there is one absolute best, and that it is the only version of something worth having is, to put it nicely, inaccurate. Curtis did not explicitly say that every other flatware was inferior, or that people who purchased them were inferior, but there is an implicit superiority in his post that does not sit well with the community.
It could be that readers feel offended that their choices are cast in a poor light, but there is also the deeper issue that Curtis is wrong. While there exists poorly designed or constructed things in this world, there is a diversity of application that leads to a variety of well designed things. Point me out the best car, the best socks, or the best apple, and I will tell you how it is not.
A tale of how one should spend a year finding the "best" knife is absurd, unless one wants to be a knife historian and write a history on the field. The best knife in the wrong context is worse than the worst knife in the right context. Obviously the flatware is a parable, but spending all your time evaluating "the best" is poor advice. Life is messy: JFDI
I keep assuming that at some point you'll just shut it down, that your disappointment with it will reach the point that it doesn't really seem worth it anymore. The sad thing is that I (and perhaps a lot of the oldest members) just won't be that disappointed. It's not really Startup News anymore, and there's clearly no going back.
The GP's post doesn't feel mean to me personally, it just seems overly subjective and I struggle to find any new conceptual information. However, what is interesting (not a value judgement), is that a visceral and emotional laden post, is voted to the top of HN. I think that says something about the collective emotional state of the current readership.
My interest however, is in concepts. One of the most fundamental ones, when providing social commentary, is that people are different, but usually not unique, along a preference axis. The data therefore is clumpy. People fall into clusters of preference, driven by genetic and environmental predispositions.
So what is the point of arguing about which clump is better than another? I will keep beating this drum until, people realize the significance, to the point at which it becomes standard in social science studies and general discourse about society.
To some, (eg the GP), Dustin's level of optimization meaningless. That's perfectly fine. Furthermore for the GP (and many others), their ultimate meaning is derived from their relationships with other people. That's also ok. Mine doesn't, and there are many others in my cluster too. (albeit smaller numbers). Neither is better.
I started a path of minimalist and aesthetic obsessiveness as Dustin describes, since my earliest childhood memories. I was way more extreme in this regard than anyone I knew. I was a very weird kid, and my friends ridiculed my need for the best and my ridiculous research binges (weeks or even months at a time), to satisfy these goals. Even so, I still believe it played a part in making me successful.
While those traits still lurk within, I've come to realize over the years through self analysis and introspection, that trying to maximize all things, (especially physical objects), at some point is irrational. Why? Because it becomes more about the pleasure of maximization, than about seeking a bigger goal, if one looks deeply and honestly within. Maximizing for the sake of maximizing. It's very easy to post-rationalize and fall into that trap, if you are type of person with a natural predisposition.
So it doesn't matter which way you are approaching the subjective truth about a cluster of preference that works for you. Dustin is growing to appreciate it more, I'm growing to appreciate it less. Others will never appreciate it at all, since they don't find it useful or it's not matched to the way they operate. Others might have different cognitive skills altogether. For example, my best friend can multitask and add large numbers, I can't do either but am good at reading body language and my own internal states. We are both of similar IQ, but have very different intelligences.
In case you suspect I'm advocating anyone position is more enlightened, I'm not. I think that's a magic word, and don't want any part of it.
For a being that is capable of decision making, there are strategies and outcomes.
The most rational goal of any sentience (biological or not), is maximizing the utility function defined by self preservation.
Fortunately, it gives me pleasure to think about existence in these terms, and to act in accordance to this self-derived framework for about most of my day (about 2/3's by estimation). I don't advocate it for anyone else, or actually believe I could possibly know what anyone else should do.
I suspect this will not resonate with many, simply because my own cluster of preferences, and the combination presented here, may not be representative. That's fine too, I'm like the GP, just being myself.
This is a false dilemma and a straw man. You're implying that you can't care about people if you care about owning quality items. Dustin never said he takes time away from his relationships for this endever.
Do you ever spend time reading about something you don't need to know? How many times have you ended up on wikipedia reading about something or watching a documentary on TV that isn't relevant to your primary interests? Many hackers want to know and understand as much about the world as they can. What's wrong with understanding flatware?
This is exactly the thinking the supports rampant materialism. Materialism isn't just owning a bunch of stuff, it's being defined by it, by which I mean your thinking about yourself and life is deep set into the things you own. If you're spending hours reading about flatware and justifying it as educational or explorational, you're falling into the trap.
Materialism isn't just owning a bunch of stuff, it's being defined by it
Spending hours researching anything can be seen as a form of "geeking out". People can geek out on all kinds of things, like politics or sports or musical instruments or computer components or saltwater aquarium livestock (my weakness).
Dcurtis may or may not be a rampant materialist, I don't know, and it's really none of my business. The guy just geeks out on flatware. Seems a little strange, but whatever. Live and let live.
I'm not preventing him from living. Doesn't mean this stuff shouldn't be discussed. Otherwise, there would never be any criticism of life choices that have no negative externalities.
And I think geeking out on politics, sports, instruments (when not in the pursuit of beauty), and computer (when not being constructive) is generally negative. Status symbols like flatware, though, are especially pernicious.
I didn't get any sense of being defined by it. It's simply knowing that a particular item you own will fulfill most criteria you find important in an item of that type.
For example, I own a Solo wood burning stove and an Esbit brass alcohol burner. I spent a few days researching them before my purchase, and I take them with me whenever I go on a multi-day hike. I did the same for everything in my pack. So now, if I ever lose my pack (a distinct possibility), I can build up a replacement and order whatever I need in less than an hour because the hard part (research) has already been done. On top of that, I have the peace of mind in knowing that my tools are unlikely to fail me in my time of need.
Of course, I sometimes make bad purchases even after researching, at which point I decide whether to replace it with something else, or accept its deficiencies.
It's not about price or status. Some stuff was expensive. Some stuff was very cheap. Some stuff I bought at the Salvation Army store. Some stuff I built myself because the storebought stuff didn't suit my purposes well enough. The cheapest item I own is a deodorant salt crystal that I bought for 89 cents and will last me for years so long as I don't drop and shatter it.
It's about choosing where your comfort level is with various "things". Sometimes the "best" is actually disposable or will break after a few uses.
I don't buy things very often, but on the rare occasions that I do, I research carefully first. That's not a definition of me; it's just something I do so that I can know where I stand with respect to the tools and items I use. Everything has a purpose that I can cite instantly, and if I can't, I get rid of it.
You're arguing a different point. The particular claim of driverdan's that I was responding to way that research into flatware can be justified by being enlightening/interesting/exploratory on it's own merit. Hence his reference to wikipedia and hackers. You, on the other hand, are justifying based on the instrumental value of the quality goods. You don't think learning about the best camping stoves is worth knowing in-and-of-itself, you think it can be used to accomplished something else worthwhile: camping.
For what it's worth, I agree with you except that I am very suspicious. People, myself included, can trick themselves.
Ahh, yes there is. I owned a school bus for a year and a half, and spent waaaay too much time improving it. Installing speakers, 120 V power, etc. It was fun, but definitely a waste. I was pretty unhappy at the time, and it was sort of a therapeutic project.
I'm not trying to say that we don't all have our vices, or that it's terrible if we concentrate inwardly on ourselves from time to time. I just don't like to see that behavior justified or elevated.
But why? I know nothing about flatware. What about the history of how it evolved? Why do we have a spoon and a fork instead of a spork? You could learn a lot, perhaps of design, that could help you in a completely unrelated area.
Okay sure, it supports rampant materialism, but it's not the typical disposable consumerism that is clearly a problem for the environment and the future of the species. Wanting your stuff to be good could actually combat the current momentum.
Whether you're defined by it is a deeper question that I don't think is answered simply by someone's care and attention to what they purchase. What if you define yourself by not owning anything at all? Is that better? Because you're still defining yourself by the same metric.
I don't think that disposable consumerism poses any risk whatsoever to the future of the species. And the normal consumer good we purchases make up only a tiny fraction of humanity's impact on the environment.
I think being defined by not owning anything at all is a serious risk, and one that I myself has fallen into. A sort of semi-hipster attitude about having the cheapest furniture. But I think it's probably more healthy to err on that side. And I agree, you need to have something more.
This is all I could think about while reading your comment (the last line really kind of makes me think) :
Narrator: There's always that. I don't know, it's just...when you buy furniture, you tell yourself: that's it, that's the last sofa I'm gonna need. Whatever else happens, I've got that sofa problem handled. I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was close to being complete.
What a silly straw man argument. No doubt why it is the #1 comment. If I write a particularly effusive post about my love of dogs--how I care for mine meticulously and spend time researching the best toys and vets and so forth--am I celebrating Dogism to the detriment of what is "ultimately important?"
The irony of this comment is that your strong discounting of Dustin's point of view is the exact same as your equally strong support of your own. In the same breath you deride him for "being" a materialist and define yourself as "being" the opposite(?) of one. There is no ultimate truth to what is or isn't important in life. What is important in life to you appears to be other people--and strong identification with that position. Maybe Dustin also values other people. Maybe he identifies more with the point of view he presented. Maybe he cares for neither and thought it would be a good story. Who knows. The real question is, why do you care so much?
I think a middle ground between Dustin's position and yours does exist.
Japanese people have found it, as their relation to material objects is ambivalent.
On one hand, they strive for perfection, such as found in this kitchenware example and their millennial craftsmanship experience.
The documentary Jiro dreams of Sushi is a perfect example of this philosophy.
Even In the aforementioned documentary, one can clearly see that the perfection Jiro seeks is achieved through numerous mundane objects, utterly imperfect in their nature. (The coal barbecue he uses jumps to mind for example)
I think that the quest for perfection has to be selective and targeted, not absolute, if you don't want to get lost in the way.
This is empty madness. It is, very literally, a celebration of total materialism.
What is madness to you may not be madness to dcutis, and messy human beings are not all there is worthwhile in the universe. Would you want to watch a reality tv show that records the uglyness and pettyness of human nature?
I honestly rather discuss and learn about things rather than about drama-queen contestant #3.
Dustin Curtis's problem here is that he thinks his subjective preferences are objectively true. I mean, if he says 'I love this flatware because it has these beautiful proportions, is manufactured in such-and-such a way, and exudes timeless quality etc. etc.', then great - he's a good designer, I'm interested in his aesthetic philosophy. But when he says 'I am the arbiter of quality' he's lost me. By doing so, he rejects the possibility of tastes other than his own and comes off as absurdly egotistical.
I don't know if Dustin Curtis is married, but if not he may be in for a bit of a surprise down the road, when it turns out that his view is not the only one that matters.
> Dustin Curtis's problem here is that he thinks his subjective preferences are objectively true.
And that's exactly what mapgrep did too with "what is ultimately important in life are people". Seriously? Glad for you if you've found that people and building connections is your calling in life but if you try to shove your subjective preference down others' throats you aren't any better in principle than Curtis. FWIW I don't particularly care for either materialism, people or connections (that's nihilistic tendencies for you) but I'm not trying to convince anyone.
A little common sense seems appropriate here. I think it makes sense to consider 1) how important is the item to you 2) what is the risk if it "fails" and 3) what you can afford
For example I bought a cheap set of flatware from target 20 years ago and it has never once failed me. And what if a fork bent or lost a tine? Not a great risk. I don't really give a shit about flatware. Why on earth would I waste all of the time and money to have the "best" flatware?
My car on the other hand I felt merited some research. I spent a long time researching and comparing. Other items are important to me and I try to buy the best I can afford.
What specific items are important would be different for each person.
I think the point of his post was that to "unreasonable people" like him, it's not a waste. Or at least, that was his experience, and he wanted to share.
I don't think he's making the metaphysical argument on life happiness that other posters seem to think he's making. He's just sharing something that worked for him, and suggesting that people who are like him give it a try.
I can see that. It did seem to me he was trying to say that it's better to have few possessions so that everything you have can be the absolute best.
Problem being that most of us need various trivial things we may not really care that deeply about like flatware, brooms, garbage cans, toasters etc. I need a broom to keep my floor clean but I don't really care if it's "the best" $5,000 titanium broom on the planet.
I agree with you that he takes this to an extreme. I considered buying that silverware set before I realized to host a dinner party with it, I'd actually need $250 to buy 5 sets, not $50.
Still, I'd like to play the devil's advocate.
4 years ago I bought a car. A 1996 Geo Metro with a 3 cylinder 1.0L engine. It served my needs. It was fuel efficient, got me from point A to point B and was generally cheap to maintain. This was good for me since I had little money and wanted to figure things out about my career goals. That went hand-in-hand with making little money.
I performed many repairs on the Metro. I rebuilt the engine. Twice. Remove the head, replace the valves.
Those made for some good life experiences. They also started to feel like they were getting in the way of doing more important things to me, like learning how to be a better developer.
So now, I'm looking for something that won't break down on me every 3 months. I'm looking for something better--in the direction of the "best". This is useful for me. I'm investing more time now to save me time later.
...but again, this mentality can be taken too far. I wouldn't buy a $50 set of silverware for one...but then again, I haven't created a Svbtle yet...
This is a very interesting discussion. To me, it's rampant materialism to buy random items at Target/Walmart/etc. and replace them often. Now, I'm lazy enough to do that more often than not but I also plan and research a lot of things that I expect to last. I'm trading time now doing research for time later replacing the thing. Then when I go to use it for whatever task I know I won't have to worry about it, it won't take too much time away from the hobby or people I'm with.
The good thing about being slightly obsessive about your purchases now is that you can take advantage of other people's time. I follow Kevin Kelley's Cool Tools mailing list so when I need something I can look there first and let somebody else recommend something good. There's plenty of options for buying good things and not spending lots of time.
Matt I think both you and SkyMarshal have altered this discussion thoug . I too began reading this article thinking it would be about sustainability. I have changed my buying habits to only try and buy the best. Not because I obsess about design so much as I've come to realize that I'm buying a Timex watch for $50 every 12 months because they have these horrible crappy bands that are really difficult to replace. So instead I buy a good watch for $150 or more where the band will last longer and be easier to switch out. I do that because I'm struck by the landfill of each Timex decision * 100 we continually face. Dustin however never touched upon this in his post so doesn't really deserve to have this raised as a point in his defense against the initial criticism.
I bought new flatware last year, just because I needed it; we had gradually lost enough spoons and forks to necessitate the purchase.
I did not set out to find the best possible flatware. I went to Bed Bath & Beyond and just sort of picked the set I liked the best.
I am continually surprised at what a difference it made; in particular, the new flatware has a different bowl shape for the spoons, similar to the shape Dustin's designer used, and it's so much nicer that I actually find myself wanting to eat more soup.
Next time I need to buy flatware, I might seriously consider investing more time in the decision.
Behind your comment (which is mostly about making yourself feel superior to Dustin Curtis) there is a lurking derisiveness about the craft of flatware design. But that design was someone's life's work. It was not "empty madness" to them when they invested presumably years of their lives perfecting a knife or a spoon. I am much more spooked by America's disposable-everything culture than I am about its materialism.
It's not hard. Just ask someone who knows wtf they're doing.
I learned about luggage from rdl (who is on HN), who often ranted about his pelican cases while working in Iraq. I have a Pelican carry-on.
I was at a hotel once when there was a convention of flight attendants, and there was a gaggle of them checking in all at once, all carrying IDENTICAL hard-sided Delsey luggage. It took me under 30 seconds to ask them the make. Now the checked luggage side is done, too.
I guess the moral of the story is to pay attention and you don't have to spend a lot of time knowing what works the best.
That's funny, because I was thinking the exact opposite. Consumerism is about novelty: you buy a thing, then get bored of it, so you dump it in your garage to make room for the next new thing. Buying the best is the opposite of this, because you buy it once.
I think you are both right. Whether it is defining yourself through how perfect your purchase is or defining yourself through continual purchase-and-junk-it cycles, your are defining yourself through the things you purchase instead of the person you are. And often, these attempts at defining oneself this way are ways of self-medicating other issues by replacing the issues with the purchases.
I thought of consumerism because I don't see perfection as necessarily implying materialism. When I think about materialism, I think of someone who likes to show off their flashy car -- this is about having something expensive, a little bit opulent and excessive. Like how people buy expensive SUVs that are perfectly optimized for off-road driving, but they use it to drive to the mall and back. That's just stupid.
Something that's over-engineered is not perfect, even though it might be "the best" in the totally abstract sense, removed from any real-world implications, of having the best specifications. For most people, the perfect car is probably a Camry -- or something else ordinary and ubiquitous, not a status symbol at all, but perfect for solving their problem.
I disagree. Seeing this story at the top of HN... well really, it just made me sad. It is, as was said, empty madness.
Really, all this post is is the author telling us he has disposable income. Price factors into what is "best" for people; for him, less so. For others, even less so. Kim Dotcom spends $100K on each bed mattress in his mansion. Kim Dotcom could write a blog post on the topic and it would sound exactly the same but with larger price tags.
There is no point at which you will be complete. You cannot perfect your existence with material things, no matter how much time and money you pour into selecting them. There is a hole, but it is not a hole you can fill up; it is a singularity, which grows as it is fed. You must learn to live with the hole.
Your post would make a fine top post, because it lacks the vitriol and anger and name calling of the OP. Thanks for sharing.
(Note: I deleted my own post because it was downvoted once, despite getting a number of upvotes before that. It's my policy to delete any comment that gets a downvote, since that's a signal from the community that my contribution isn't wanted.)
While it's true that not everyone can afford the "best" that money can buy, whatever that means, picking the best quality whenever possible is quite the opposite of materialism. I associate materialism with superficiality and waste. None of the things you mentioned here were chosen merely to satisfy some status seeking urge. And because these things didn't need to be constantly replaced because they soon broke or went out of style, the people who chose them likely spent less time thinking about what to buy ("materialism" in your view) and more time doing what matters to them.
I agree with you only to the extent that people are important and so are the connections we build with them. What I don't get is your argument against appreciating a fine set of cutlery or a well-made wallet when these things were specifically designed to make the lives of people who use them a little better. Well-made things let people live their lives more fully. Dustin Curtis clearly enjoyed his time abroad because he didn't have to worry about his backpack exploding during his travels (a lesson I learned the hard way). Steve Jobs spent months picking a washing machine so he wouldn't have to worry about ruining clothes or wasting water. Clearly that freed up time for SJ to do plenty of other things.
These things don't magically appear as a result of obsession. The best things are crafted in a meticulous process by... people! Taking the time to appreciate the things you buy and get the very best gives the craftsman the (very human!) appreciation he or she deserves. Appreciating human effort in everyday items has just as much merit as appreciating art or making any other connections with humans.
Thanks to the Internet it's really easy for people to build and share a consensus on what is worthwhile. Dustin can let us know what the best flatware is, and someone else can spend some time figuring out the best shoes out there. Nobody has to do it all on their own. So of course, just look it up, and don't waste your time trying to figure it all out for yourself.
There is essentially no difference between 18/8 and 18/10 -- that's an antiquated way to describe steel, and 2 points is within the margin of labeling error. Essentially all flatware is 304 -- some stuff might be 316, which is less mechanically durable but more resistant to corrosion in heated saltwater and acid, but rarely used for flatware.
You're basically looking at Type 304. There are multiple types of 304 (304A, 304L), and also variations between mills. There is essentially no difference between the same steel labeled as 18/8 from one vendor and 18/10 from another.
I'd also prefer 304 to 925 sterling silver. (or, take the sterling set and sell it and buy an ipad and some stainless)
The big lameness is a shift to 18/0 steel, which is cheap and not more durable than 3-5 years, or 14/0 which is essentially trash.
One of the huge quality differences in flatware sets is the knife -- whether it has a real blade attached to a handle, vs. formed from a single blank. The cutting quality is a lot higher with a separate blade, as even great 304 isn't an awesome cutting steel, and you want to heat treat the blade differently. There's also hollow handles, balance, and overall design.
I agree with you and I disagree with you. Dustin Curtis seems to take it to a new level which I've not heard though in this writing though. Almost obsessive.
I would only do this for items you actually value and use. The tools that get you through life and you enjoy. Put to heavy usage.
Items I consider such are my computer for work, a few of my electronics for entertainment and relaxation (away from work), good books (I enjoy comics, such as Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, and Fox Trot), my work chair/desk and bed for proper comfort and rest, my bike, and certain pieces of clothing (my jeans and shirts). I picked out items that made me feel content and satisfied. Not necessarily the best. They are nice items, but far from the best.
The last thing I want is some brand, thing, material item cause me to be financially troubled in any such way.
Steve Jobs spent eight years discussing furniture with his family before buying a sofa etc
As opposed to buying some disposable POS that will break and/or you will throw out in a year? I'm not a fan of Steve Jobs, but I admire his pursuit of "the good", even if I didn't agree with his definitions of "good". And maybe something to stop and think about is that his discussions with family about furniture were time spent building connections with them.
Also, it's always fascinated me how some people say that people are absolutely more important than ideas, when that is an idea itself. Sometimes spending too much time finding "the best" can be a waste of time, but absolutism in either direction is a bad thing. Maybe taking some time to pick a better car will save you time and money and stress in the long run because it won't break down on you as often.
I can understand your Tyler Durden reaction to the article ("the things you own end up owning you"), but sometimes being responsible and buying something that won't end up in a landfill is the right thing to do.
It makes sense one might think it would go this way, but I think in practice it actually tends to discourage materialism.
I look at the culture in the US vs. Japan. Probably because of differences in population densities more than anything else, US culture tends to encourage buying a lot of cheap (well, more accurately: cost efficient) stuff, whereas Japanese culture tends to encourage buying fewer things, but for those things to be as close to ideal as possible. [I am speaking in generalizations here, as per usual, the variance within cultures is greater than the difference across cultures, so please, let's not argue about THAT.]
While I've found pride of ownership in both cultures, the likelihood one will be defined by ownership seems to be much higher in US culture.
It's the exact opposite of a "celebration of total materialism". Dustin isn't saying - "Take all of your normal purchases, and instead of just going out and buying them, research each one for 100 hours."
He's saying "You don't need most of the shit you buy, and the stuff you do need, you should get things you trust.".
Your idiotic post is surprising because, presumably, you do perform some amount of research on some purchases. Apparently you have struck the perfect balance between time spent researching and time spent making connections with people in this oh so short life.
With many things, deliberating over them before purchasing still leaves the would-be purchaser in the dark compared with owning them for a few weeks.
Thus it would make more sense to try a variety of kinds of flatware, furniture, or cars (etc. etc.) and figure out not just what sounds like it would be perfect but what actually is.
To claim that some flatware or furniture is optimally designed is (in my opinion) somewhat absurd anyway, since both are largely a matter of taste as well as some degree of optimality for the particular use case.
Ribbonfarm has an interesting counterpoint, based on a speech by Bruce Sterling, that essentially promotes buying 'the best' in a very limited amount of cases, and buying cheap in all other cases, with some actually interesting socio-political observations thrown in for good measure:
What you seem to be forgetting is if you spend the time researching and ensuring you're buying a quality pen or book or utensils. You're also ensuring you don't need to buy another one next week/month/year when the current one breaks or you realise its not suitable.
That's also a bunch of wasted time saved.
Whether or not it equates to the time you spend researching the quality item is probably debatable and likely related to the item itself.
> I trusted my wallet to hold cash, boarding passes, and IDs without deforming or falling apart, and it did.
Imagine the chaos if my wallet started deforming!
My wallet was some random wallet I bought at WalMart for $10, and I'm always worrying, "is the cash I put in my wallet going to stay there?" Sometimes, it just quantum tunnels right through the wallet into my pocket! It's anarchy!
I realise you are being funny, but your comment is analogous to an extrovert going "sheesh, imagine the chaos if you actually came out with your coworkers for one beer!" to an introvert who really really wants to go home. You are trying to assign a seriousness to somebody else's reaction to something. If you are happy with the first wallet you picked up (be it for $10 at Wal-Mart or a more expensive one from a leather goods store) that is great. Some people are just incredibly bothered by things that other people don't notice. For those people, the perfect spoon really does improve their life, the way a neat desk with carefully stacked papers improves the life of a person with OCD, and is totally irrelevant to somebody else.
It is entirely possible that the dude is happier purely because he feels he has the best fork he could have and that makes the fork "disappear". I feel happy because I have a keyboard that "disappears" when I use it (I never think about my keyboard). I am under no delusion that it makes me a discerning hacker while he is a shallow materialist. Everybody tries to maximise their happiness by smoothing out the bumps of life. If you have a psychology with better suspension, just be grateful and carry on.
You are missing the point. The author claims to focus on the best product from a functionality standpoint, but he fails to convince us that the "best" wallet is actually any functionally better. His arguments for why it's better are based on imagined problems with cheaper products that don't actually exist.
The wide tines of the salad fork are going to ruin your tomatoes, not to mention pulverize the walnuts or pecans in your Bib salad.
The soup spoons are too wide.
The knife if ridiculously non-functional to anyone who's ever made a PB&J for their kid.
It's pure aesthetics. Pure pretension.
And to think reading a book or two would give you such an in-depth understanding of "The Best" for anything! Imagine someone saying the same about Software Development. Or Plumbing. Engineering. etc.
I have a family member that has to have "The Best" of everything too... he has a $700 blender he rarely uses and spent weeks agonizing over. The Best vacuum, that mostly just picks up packing peanuts from the rest of his Superior acquisitions. The Best corkscrew. The Best wine aerator. The Best camera. The Best mattress.
No one would claim he has The Best life because he's ruled by his compulsion to have The Best things. Having a family member like this, it's almost offensive to see such triviality glorified.
Dustin thinks he's discovered something new, instead he's just a product of this generation. The generation new york times once characterised as "Would rather own one pair of $100 jeans than ten pairs of $10 jeans".
Our parents are mystified. Their parents much less so.
I recall an article along those same lines. If I'm correct, it outlined this culture of rich, dcurtis-like backpackers who spend $50 on a five piece flatware set and live out of their suitcases. They insist their culture is one of minimalism and perfection, but it's actually just wanton consumerism.
Now, I don't think dcurtis meant this post to hate on shoddy, mass-produced items, and I wouldn't even say it comes across this way. It's the fact that most people don't have the luxury to invest the time and money in picking out the very best of everything they own. Most people get a decent set of flatware, a decent towel, and a decent backpack because we have non-materialistic things we need to invest our time and money in.
I know a lot of people who waste their money on 60" tv's, three video game consoles (and an endless assortment of games they play once or twice), they stock their house with 5x as much flatware and towels as they need, all from Walmart, just "in case" they have that many guests. Not to mention their 6 bookshelves from Ikea to put all their stuff on.
They would do well to consider this philosophy. I have, since long before this was written, and it's an ongoing learning experience with endless rewards.
Would rather own one pair of $100 jeans than ten pairs of $10 jeans
I bought jeans that cost way north of $100 and I also grab jeans on the Gap's clearance rack that cost me around $13 after tax. There is a definitely a huge difference. When I bought my first pair of Rock Republic, I told myself I could wear these for the next 10 years.$100 jeans are worth the money in the way they feel, and fit; $50 t shirts and $100 shirts, not so much.
I own an expensive pair of jeans and although their materials and construction quality is far superior than any other pair of jeans I own, they are far less comfortable. The expensive pair sits on the shelf (trotted out for special occasions, the San Francisco equivalent of a suit) and the pairs I wear are all from Target.
Regarding flatware, my views have changed as I've grown older (I'm 26). A few years ago, I didn't care. Now, for some reason, I always reach for a specific knife/fork combo: I like the weight (most are too light for me), the balance between the handle and the blade/tines and the industrial design. Eating with them just feels better.
The linked blog post discusses it, but I want to highly recommend "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz . He discusses psychological research showing why maximizing--attempting to have the best of everything--actually leads us to be less happy with our choices, not more.
Seek quality, sure--but decide what's "good enough," and stop looking when you find it.
That's why I follow sites like uncrate.com & Minimalissimo.com and buy my furniture from Stickley, etc. - find a few sources recommending high quality stuff and choose from there; I know it may not be "perfect" and know it will be expensive, but it will be good and I'll be happy with it.
Finding "the best" of a product is an obscure hobby. And I'm all for finding joy in an obscure hobby. But I have a hard time believing that Mr. Curtis is any more liberated by the flatware that he spent 6-months researching than I am by the set I happened upon at Crate and Barrel.
I wholeheartedly admire people like Sori Yanagi who work hard to create "the best" of anything. I also wholeheartedly believe that trying to pin virtue on the process of being a consumer of "the best" of anything is little more than pretense
It's kind of bizarre for me to stumble across this reference to Yanagi flatware on an HN post, because I just recently threw out my mismatched collection of flatware that had accumulated over the course of many roommates/years and bought Sori Yanagi flatware (although not the MoMa pieces there). I went from owning a dozen or so crappy forks to owning just four perfect forks. It enforces a certain rigor about washing dishes. I would not describe them as "the best" flatware and I agree that is a somewhat absurd designation and pursuit.
That being said, they are extraordinarily beautiful and functional. Their light weight, finish, and balance all combine to make pieces that beg to be held, meanwhile, the shape and understated aesthetic mean they do not dominate the table--they disappear. Although they weren't included in the collection, I can imagine them fitting into the Supernormal group (http://www.supernormal.co.uk/). Something as mundane as flatware can easily be dismissed by people that do not care about design, but I have found that on my path to owning fewer things it is much easier to justify owning exactly the right thing for me.
I am a snob about several things and not ashamed of it. When I say I'm a snob about e.g. coffee, I just mean I'm picky about what I choose for myself and have high standards, NOT that I'm rude- if I'm at your house and you serve Nescafe I'll accept or decline it with a "thank you" of course, and no commentary or opinions. I believe this sort of snobbery improves one's life. I used to accept things I didn't really want out of politeness etc. or feel obligated to go to an event I'd rather avoid; being comfortable saying "no thank you" is quite liberating.
THAT SAID, it amazes and disgusts me when people treat being a snob as some sort of accomplishment. "Oh I'm really picky about coffee... I just know a lot about it and blah blah blah \smirk\." This is no accomplishment and not something to be proud of.
> Finding "the best" of a product is an obscure hobby. And I'm all for finding joy in an obscure hobby. But I have a hard time believing that Mr. Curtis is any more liberated by the flatware that he spent 6-months researching than I am by the set I happened upon at Crate and Barrel.
There is definitely something to it, even if it is largely psychological.
Take music as an analogy. I'm not an obsessive audiophile by any means, but I have all my music stored in lossless file formats. In practice it probably doesn't make a significant difference to my listening experience, but there is an undeniable satisfaction in knowing I have 'the best'.
I can tick that box off my metaphorical to-do list. I don't have to worry about the file encoding detracting from my listening experience. I'm not left wondering whether the grass is greener on the other side.
In the past week, Dustin has posted a few articles [1,2,3] that have gained a massive amount of attention here, which all try to drill home the point that we should be out there living our lives as if they're going to end tomorrow. We shouldn't put off decisions, we should act on impulses that will make our lives better in ways we won't even realise. In summary: Life's too short, so get on with living it.
Now he gives us this. Cutlery.
He should take his own advice and get out of The Waiting Place, get back in The Fight and Do more than obsess over subjective things that even his own opinion will change about in time.
Perfection is meaningless when it comes to material goods. They're always a means to an end.
Dustin would probably argue that finding a well-designed product is a better means to the end (of forming relationships, living, loving, friends, experiences, adventures). It's a plausible point, but it's empirically wrong.
No one in the history of the world has ever gone, "the one thing I regret most is not spending 40 hours researching to find the perfect set of flatware."
Following this advice is difficult for me. I usually find it very difficult to not do the same: obsessing over the best bed sheets, the best cutting boards, the best computer, the best Linux distribution, the best jeans, the best bike, the best books, the best newspaper, the best way to cut onions, the best suit, the best $MATERIALGOOD.
Because of a recent housing disaster, I lost virtually everything. It has been very liberating. All those hours spent obsessing over stupid shit? Worthless. The friends, family, and relationship that helped me get through it? Worth everything.
A shopping list, Target, Ikea, and Amazon can get you everything you need to live a materially comfortable life in 10 minutes. Everything else is just a means to playing an unwinnable status game.
> Perfection is meaningless when it comes to material goods. They're always a means to an end.
I think he's well aware of that. While some of the examples were kind of strange and materialistic, there's a lot of truth in the concept that some goods are made better than others. When I use cheap goods, I tend to have a poor experience with it and uncertainty about its ability to do its job. Higher-quality stuff ("the best"), for the most part, doesn't have this problem. I can trust that the stuff I'm using will let me get on with my life without getting in my way. It's like reaching into the toolbox and finding the exact tool you need for the job at hand - rather than fighting with something that's kinda-sorta what you need, you can just do what needs to get done. That time I was fixing the shower head and had the pipe tape I needed on-hand and where I expected it to be: it prevented a five-minute job from turning into a two-hour ordeal. I like that.
You raise a great point though - a lot of this stuff is not necessary at all. But various situations often beyond our control will always be changing our standards of living. I think the real take-away is that if you're going to have stuff to improve your life, make sure you're getting stuff good enough that it's actually an improvement.
 All the electronic crap in bathrooms, like paper towel dispensers and automatic flush toilets. When it works, great - but when it doesn't, you're fighting with inanimate objects that try to re-solve problems we solved centuries ago. #firstworldproblem I know, but I could do without the "am I going to have to wave my hand in front of the paper towel dispenser for thirty seconds again?" every time I wash my hands.
I think we have seen more and more companies marketing the 'idea' of perfection and effortlessness rather than measurable improvements, because we're so tied to the emotion of being stress-free.
And what could be easier to market as this than the "magic" of modern technology? I helped a friend out with setting up a Mac, and to describe how time machine worked I found myself speaking about it in anthropomorphic terms "It knows. It works. It will do that for you." And the same thing is coming with so much machine learning coming into our lives "It learns. Don't give up, it will get better if you train it." And then there are the personal assistants "It hears you. It sees your eyes close. It knows when you've fallen into deep sleep."
This does not belong in the top spot on Hacker News. Quality stuff is nice to own, woop-dee-fucking-doo.
Just because Dustin Curtis wrote it, doesn't mean you instantly gotta hit that tiny little triangle. I very much doubt this little article would have collected more than 10 upvotes if it were written by some 20-year old that happened to stumble upon r/minimalism.
I've seen a few of his articles now that are upvoted mindlessly and don't have the slightest relation to technology or startups. It makes me a little bit mad.
People congregate around narcissists. The more epic the narcissism, the more epic the congregation. And it goes in the other direction too: epic congregation implies epic narcissism. It pisses me off too, but I guess this is just life.
tl;dr when one asks a question involving people, and you want the most fitted data, then you need to consider grouping/segmentation of the population into clusters of preference.
What is the best spaghetti sauce?
It's a flawed question, as it contains an invalid assumption.
Thus what Curtis seems to be describing is a (great/awesome/very good) etc set of knives, but not 'the best'.
Very good = a maximization of universal requirements
Best = maximization of universal && local requirements (population segmentation preferences, spacial and temporal context etc)
Those forks may be best for Curtis at his dinner. They are certainly not best for me, on my camping trip. Or best for a tribe in Africa with different shaped mouths and habits etc. Or best for someone eating Chinese takeout. etc
I guess the original poster you're responding to wasn't talking about that since he didn't mention it in his followup to you, but I assumed that was what he was talking about when I first read his post and it didn't seem so weird to me.
I mean... lip plating seems weird to me, but the idea that some people in some tribes in Africa have different shaped mouths didn't seem weird.
Not necessarily different shaped mouths, but there are different ways of eating and different ways of using a fork depending on your sex, hand size, culture, daily caloric intake etc.
You can't make "the best fork" unless you also want to enforce your way of eating upon people who are going to use your fork. You can, however, try to make the best fork for the largest group of people and get people to become loyal to your brand. After they become loyal to you, you will feel more and more power to enforce your ways of doing things and as a result your products will get "even better" in their eyes. This is what most companies are trying. But only Apple is exceptionally good at this. Hence, I think this whole article serves the purpose of subconsciously justifying the author's brand loyalty to Apple.
> Example: Those forks may be best for Curtis at his dinner. They are certainly not best for me, on my camping trip. Or best for a tribe in Africa with different shaped mouths and habits etc. Or best for someone eating Chinese takeout. etc
Did you really read that article and understood it as Curtis saying the set of flatware he bought is the best in the world?
I like Dustin, and I love what he's doing with Svbtle, but he has this – as I see it – irrational need to own and experience "the best". Maybe there is such a thing as the best cutlery, and maybe the cutlery he bought is it...but it seems like such an empty, odd, materialistic goal. 'First world problems' writ large.
Urgh. Asking about the best flatware doesn't really move me -- why else would anyone buy expensive flatware -- but the best ramen? It's a manifestation of this generation's way of living. Not through appreciation of food, art, music, but through acquisition of it. This is why people are so obsessed with instagramming their michelin-hatted dinners. Why people say that they've "done" Asia or Europe. Why people own limited edition vinyl records and have NO RECORD PLAYER. Disgusting.
While I can see your point, you might consider that by asking many people for their respective favorites, he seeks to get a list of a many options. This is simply driven by the assumption that if there are many nearly equal "really good" spots, then people will provide a nice distribution of them as personal favorites.
The thesis of this blog post, by the same author, is clearly about the literal best. He could easily have asked "What is a good place for ramen?" or "What should I look for to find a good ramen place?" or even "What is your favorite place for ramen?"
And note that he's not asking for the restaurants, he's specifically asking about the product: the best ramen in tokyo. I think it fits this blog post very well.
If I go to Italy for the first time, I won't go for "the best pasta in Italy", I'd go and try authentic italian pasta. There is a huge difference.
Ramen is wide and varied, and there are probably many who could legitimately lay claim to being 'the best' on a given day, within a given niche.
The point though, is that there isn't a 'best' anything. Just as one can't eat pizza every day and keep enjoying it, the place you fancy right now as the best might not be the place you want to go tomorrow.
My younger self had a steak at Tom Colicchio's CraftSteak many years ago, and declared it the best steak ever. In later years, I learned enough to declare it "the best steak I'd ever eaten", and then to re-refine its category as the best steak I'd had at the time.
There are now four steak places that I love at least as well, and would consider to be at the top of the heap, but they each operate so differently and make different cuts / seasonings / sides, etc., that it's hard to compare directly, and I've given up trying. When I get to eat at any of them, I consider it a "good day".
On top of that, he isn't likely to have eaten at every single Ramen place in Tokyo, so the claim is specious at best.
I wonder how Dustin would react if he discovered that the company he bought the cutlery from was actually mass producing them and floating the whole "Japanese product designer from a family that made Samurai swords" story to help sell their product. Would it matter to him? Is he buying great silverware or a great story?
When I was in fourth grade I bought a tri-fold leather wallet from target. My older brother wanted me to give it to him because he would need one for his permit some day but I refused. I've went on to use the wallet for 20 years before I finally retired it. It held my money and cards perfectly every day of those twenty years and I spent maybe 2 minutes picking it out. I paid around $20 for it.
The point is, almost everything we buy these days is of pretty high quality - even the cheap stuff. Far more often do we throw away of give away perfectly good objects because we want to upgrade or because we no longer have a use for them than we do because they have stopped working.
I can see the appeal of owning what you perceive to be "the best" of a particular item, but you're kidding yourself if you think it's somehow fulfilling. It's just stuff.
Some guys just don't realize how artifical the problem is they pursue.
I'm wondering how much time will they devote to try to find the perfect coffin.
I mean, "some of the things that matter in coffin design are obvious, like the material and weight. Other things, which are arguably more important, are seemingly never even considered, like how the wood feels against your bones and skin, for example, or how the weight balances under the tombstone. The long term durability of each plywood is also important."
I have never even given flatware or towels any thought. They both have minimal impact on my life and thus don't need optimization. My laptop has a great impact on my life, so I think it's reasonable to spend time researching what you need and paying for the best if that makes sense. My wife is a terrible premature optimizer. She pinches pennies on the most obscure things like toilet paper, just to turn around and spend hundreds on a bag. My view is that I would cut that bag out of my purchases, and then it doesn't matter if I optimize my toilet paper or not.
Consider, if you will, that your wife's purchase of an expensive handbag is more purposeful than you imagine. First, women's clothes tend not to have pockets, so a reliable and comfortable bag is rather more important for ladies than gentlemen. Second, your wife understands that her handbag is also a social signaling device, and understands how to communicate in a completely non-verbal medium.
Oh yes, I've come to understand that these things are very valuable to her, but it's difficult for me to imagine. She's very cheap, unless it's something she cares very much about. When she's researching those things she's a huge optimizer, and I'm the biggest satisficer you can find. I think optimizers tend to be less happy though. For her engagement ring she spent months researching (wouldn't let me do it) and finally we bought a $7k ring. When she got it she was devastated that the ring didn't make her happier than it did. The good thing is, she's learning; I think she's realizing that optimizing everything doesn't actually lead to happiness.
This reeks of pretention and arrogance. It's fairly obvious and intuitive that expensive things are nice and that you should pursue them. However, the overwhelming majority of people have neither the time nor the means to spend hours researching silverware or dropping $50 per set.
Finding and paying for the best of anything requires more time, patience and income than most have. To me, it sounds as though Dustin has way too much time and way too much money, and hasn't a clue how to productively spend either.
I'm sure many could afford to reduce the items they have to invest in proportionally more expensive alternative. My biggest worry is the time and obsessiveness behind this blog post; that, by the title alone, it's not even about "better quality", but rather the pinacle of all that is holy.
If you wear the Socks from Gammarelli and drink beer exclusively from the smallest and oldest abbey you can find, you may feel like you rule the world with every step and every sip, but you will certainly lose grasp on reality and find yourself alone.
>Last year, I met a Swiss dude with a taste for luxury. He smoked expensive European cigarettes. Drank the finest spirits. Attended opera by himself on evenings when he was enthralled by the program but could find no suitable companion.
There is no best in everything, only tools that meet specifics requirement.
For example, there many kind of hammers for so many different purpose. One doesn't just use a hammer for everything that a hammer could do. Some hammer you use for smashing, others for driving a nails in, some to shape objects, and some to bash the opponents' head in battle.
Likewise, there's no perfect single piece of flatware. The Victorians, for example, loves to buy tons of silverware just to make eating elegant and perfect for every single dishes. They could have solved the problem of eating by merely washing their faces and their hands afterward, but custom dictates. Instead, they spent thousand of dollars on the many variations of fork, spoon, knife designed to meet different challenges of each particular dish.
While I try very hard to own a minimum set of possessions, always buying "the best" rings very true for me. Here in The Yukon we have 20+ hours of daylight for activities in the summer, and regularly see -40C/F in the winter.
Quite simply, if you don't buy "The Best" of anything, it will break or fall apart very quickly.
Kia cars last at most 2 winters up here.
Cheap canoes and kayaks won't last one summer.
I bought $200 hiking boots that were destroyed in one month walking to work at -40C
Gore-tex? freezes solid, cracks and is destroyed after -35C
The motto is very simple. Buy it right the first time.
I agree with Dustin's point that life is "markedly better" by having the best available. In saying that, I'm often happier to outsource some of the responsibility for deciding what is the best product to someone else than do the leg work myself. I just can't bring myself to get excited about televisions, cars, and most household appliances.
Would I find a product that better matched my sensibilities by carefully researching the market? Sure, but buying a product that's a 97% fit for twenty minutes of work is better than buying one that's a 99% fit for twenty hours of work. Or at least in my head that's how the cost-benifit analysis works out (this sort of thing is deeply personal, and I'm prepared to accept that other people's values are different).
The Wirecutter is great for this sort of thing (http://www.thewirecutter.com). Need a set of headphones? What's your price bracket? OK, get this pair.
The Wirecutter is surprisingly accurate. I browsed for things in which I'm an expert (headphones, cameras, LCD screens -- you don't seem to have vehicles, petrochemicals, lab equipment, firearms, radios, or other tactical stuff..), and your recommendations either matched mine or at least seemed defensible, rather than Details/Stuff style driven by advertisers.
Disagree with Curtis, it's actually possible to automate this so it doesn't take him spending weeks reading up on flatware. Just use the knowledge of those who already have. My startup's app analyzes user ratings and tells you immediately which one's good for your purposes. Give it a shot: http://tryarrow.com.
I would far prefer to use that "app" as a website, not as a phone app. I have approximately never been walking around with just my iPhone and thought "Oh! I want to buy a new Point and Shoot Camera! Let me enumerate my preferences..."
As a website, I'd seriously consider using it, particularly for stuff (like flatware, or shoes, or dish soap, or whatever) that I don't care that much about.
Sure, that's the way we research things today, but once it's in your pocket and it works, it'll happen on-the-fly. Just like how nobody sits at a desktop and prints out maps today. Also I use my iPhone for everything these days.
We actually threw up a web test and it got way less interest than the mobile version, probably because it was less novel on the web (other sites existed, though they didn't work).
Dustin and I walk similar paths. Last year I got rid of everything I owned, sans a medium daypack of stuff, and traveled for 6 months. A year later I own more things than can fit in my backpack but am very much a minimalist.
My philosophy of ownership is simple. If I need something I'll almost always get the best I can afford. Why not understand what you own? Why not own quality? I don't mean spend hours researching every small purchase but certainly spend a little time looking into something you'll use over a period of time.
I don't need a cabinet full of plates or a closet full of clothes. Why not own higher quality, fewer items?
Or why not own fewer items that are of the same quality? I'm not sure what its like over in the states but here in Australia, more expensive cloths are just branded, and high enough quality cutlery can be had in cheap stores. I'm not sure why you have to have higher quality to get less things? Is it the way you sell it to yourself? So you don't feel cheap? Isn't it a waste of your time thinking so so much about this worthless rubbish?
Who said anything about the most expensive? Price doesn't always correlate with quality, especially when talking about brands as you mentioned.
What makes you think I spend lots of time "thinking so much about this worthless rubbish"? I rarely purchase non-consumables. When I do I spend a reasonable amount of time based on the use and cost. I spent a lot of time researching laptops before buying mine since it's such an important item. I spent about 30 minutes reading about pens before buying some (in case you're not aware there are many sites dedicated to them). You could probably learn about flatware in the same amount of time.
I think the author is getting at something, but I don't think he articulated his thoughts too well -- or at least not well enough to be analyzed by the HN audience.
To me, it came off as just pure garbage, spewing from a wealthy and/or insane person who cares more about the things he owns than what he actually does with those things, with a means of not necessarily communicating with others, but a way to convince their own self that it's OK to spend many hundreds of dollars on a flatware set.
The type of thinking the author seems to be making an argument for can consume you. You will NEVER be happy if you filter the world like this. Sure, there's a time and place for it, but don't try to convince me that it was "liberating" when you spent $50 or whatever for a fork.
If it was truly great stuff, I would be okay with that. As many others have pointed out, spending inordinate amounts of time researching every possession might not make for a great life. But why not let someone else do it for us?
If one person gets a reputation for integrity and publishes the best of each category on a website, with links to buy, great. And I wouldn't mind them taking a cut. Isn't that part of what the web is for?
I have the completely opposite experience. I find it much more stressful to own things that are high quality and expensive because I tend to worry more about such things. In general, I prefer to buy cheaper things knowing that I can easily afford to lose or break them.
Anecdote: as a kid, I hated going over to some of my relatives' houses - the ones that owned a lot of expensive stuff. They always seemed so stressed out about me breaking something and got pretty angry when it happened. I don't want to become that kind of relative I guess.
In this I raise the point of "the best" being a meaningless measure as we're actively bombarded by lack of information and other factors that make us terrible in making calls on whether something is "the best".
I think it's rather hollow to claim that one wants 'the best' and yet doesn't discount in factors that makes one perceive something as 'the best'
I love the idea of having very few things, but getting rid of the stuff I already have feels daunting.
I'd be happy to donate most of it, but I'd have to sort through everything, figuring out if each thing is worth selling, donating, or throwing away, then figuring out where to sell, donate, or throw it away, then actually doing it.
Anyone who has gone through the process, do you have any suggestions?
This is an area where good heuristics solves most of the problem for you, and maybe all of it. Overthinking this is the enemy.
figuring out if each thing is worth selling, donating, or throwing away
You're already overthinking it. The objective here is to simplify your life, not to maximize your income from the shedding operation or find the most appropriate way to donate something. If that has a monetary cost in selling something too cheaply or donating something saleable, that's the cost of hoarding things you don't need.
First, look around you. If, for each thing you see, you can't immediately say why you have it, it goes on 'get rid of' list. This means you'll get rid of something you'll need later on, most likely. That's okay. Rebuying something will imprint in your mind why you need that thing.
Sell anything obviously saleable and big ticket. Couch, computer, bike.... anything that can go quickly on Craigslist for a chunk of cash to the first person who says "I'll take it". Price it to move, not to get rich. Remember the objective.
Donate the rest. Places like the Salvation Army will take a lot of different stuff, and you can just dump it on them. Googling your local recycling or donation centres will give you some more answers. Remember the objective.
Throw out the rest. Again, you'll likely find yourself throwing out a lot, and feeling bad about it. That's good, because the next time you're in a store trying to talk yourself into buying something, you'll think of that huge, wasteful purge, and wonder if this thing you're thinking of buying will be part of the next one. If it's not immediately obvious why you'll keep it around, don't buy it.
Go through a couple cycles like this, and you'll have a lot less stuff around, you'll know why you have the stuff you do, and you'll feel a lot less encumbered by possessions. Also, remember that this doesn't have to happen all at once. Every Saturday, find a bunch of things to donate or sell, and do it. Every Friday night, throw out several things you don't want. Eventually it becomes a continual, easy pruning process, which is ideal.
Go to your closet and turn all of your hangers around backwards, so that the tip of the hook is facing you. Go do it now. Also, add a reminder in your calendar for one year from now.
Now, each time you wear a piece of clothing, when it goes back into the closet, put the hanger in normally (tip of the hook away from you). When your reminder comes up in a year, donate to charity any piece of clothing that still has a backwards hanger.
Rent a storage garage (climate controlled), then put all your non-vital stuff into it. If it isn't worth storing you can throw it away - right away.
If its something you think you should have used during the year (not long term keep sake or legal documents), then figure out what your going to do with it. Don't do everything at once. Just pick some stuff out of storage and determine what to do. Slowly.
If you need it, just grab it from storage. If nothing else, a storage garage makes a fine place to keep your encrypted, backups.
 put Rubbermaid shelves (or equiv) in the storage garage, do not pile boxes. That will defeat the purpose. The Rubbermaid shelves are easy to put up and sell / donate later.
I had the following experience, which I considered quite useful.
I was traveling and in the meantime let a friend stay at my apartment. For this, I moved all of my belongings to the basement. After I returned, I shared my apartment with another friend. It was small and quite full, so I only took back the bare necessities from the basement.
At some point I noticed that I had taken all that I needed from the basement, and that the rest was mostly unnecessary. So every once in a while I go to the basement to take out some things and throw them away.
The good thing about this approach was the following: Don't go through your stuff and think what you can throw away. Assume that you want to throw everything away and pick what you want to keep.
It's much easier to decide to keep something than to decide to throw something away.
Just start culling a little bit every few months. The funny thing is that it gets easier each time, even though the things you are getting rid of become more important (since you've gotten rid of the really useless stuff already).
> These might seem like stupid things to worry about, but when you have trust in everything you own, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s liberating and an amazing feeling. My life was markedly better because of it.
Partly I agree, but I would simplify the statement: “You don't have to worry about anything. It's liberating and an amazing feeling.”
While not worrying, if you notice your wallet falls apart, you may momentarily feel uncomfortable and next time buy a better wallet to avoid losing money.
Should that be a reason to worry that you're using not the best wallet?
That might be true for certain things. Losing money can make you significantly uncomfortable, depending on various factors. There's probably a good enough wallet, but buying the best might just save some time.
Otherwise, IMO in the end it's up to you whether you worry or not. We can choose to alter the environment to be happier, or alter our outlook to achieve the same. I think it's mostly under our control, although may be limited by environment a person was raised in.
I was going to say that not everybody can drop $200 on 4 table settings worth of flatware...
But yeah, that's pretty much it. People living paycheck-to-paycheck really just can't afford the best because they have needs that pop up and make it next to impossible to save a lot of money when you can just as easily buy flatware that will last for years for $10 from a thrift store.
I like to optimize, but also optimize on price. In ~2007, I felt proud to buy a $21500 new Lincoln LS V8 (loaded) which I bought for $23k less than sticker the day they got discontinued, in UAE, since it was essentially a Jaguar S-Type. It made me happier than buying a $45k stripped BMW would have.
I also put a lot of effort into getting great headphones, great keyboard, etc., and a chair that I like.
I didn't put weeks of research into buying bowls. I saw they were cheap on slickdeals, noticed I needed bowls, and bought some on sale. I don't really research who makes the best bottled water at Costco, I just get whatever is cheap at the time.
I enjoyed the post. I really liked the idea of living with a single backpack.
But, how exactly do you decide what is the best for you? You say that you "developed a blind trust in the things you used".
Blind trust in what?
If that blind trust is towards the products themselves, then how will you know when something better for your purposes comes out?
If that blind trust is towards the company/person making the product, I'm afraid that is not an interesting or new concept. It is called brand loyalty or "fanboyism" in slang and I think this is actually the opposite of what you would want. Brand loyalty can prevent you from finding the best of everything.
We are not living in the Samurai age, where there is one excellent sword maker and you shouldn't consider swords made by others as long as you can find that guy and afford his swords. We live in a fundamentally different world, where almost all kinds of products (especially consumer electronics) have very short lifecycles.
I'd be more curious to hear your thought process, not to mimic it, but to see the facets that matter to you but would never have occurred/mattered to me. And conversely, to see the things that I value that others don't. I guess I'm mostly curious about other peoples' worldviews, and this seems a manifestation of that.
This post makes me think of many of the concepts from "zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance".
For those who haven't read it, it focuses heavily on the nature of quality (how it is both somewhat universal, and somewhat a matter of taste) and the spiritual nature that quality can contain.
to mapgrep, the first poster, I would suggest that not all things concerning or focusing on physical objects are materialism. One could even argue that dcurt is attempting to _avoid_ having to think about material objects once he has bought them, that this is what he means by "trusting" the things he owns.
I don't understand why there is so much talk of this article being so very materialistic. It's kind of the mentality of a good number of individuals who did or are wanting to try a very minimalistic style of travel (others exist obviously: ignore certain needs (for me: don't bring a computer; for others: only the clothes on your back); buy and throw away each time you're somewhere new (only works in certain areas of the world with certain high budgets); etc. This however is the majority view point for vagabonding. Invest in key items that meet your exact needs (knowing your needs is an important aspect of this). If you do this beforehand you won't be stuck in some country without a passport because it fell out of the hole in your siblings old backpack.
If you ignore the anecdote about flatware you realize that the article describes minimalism at it's core. Ensuring all your needs are met with the minimal amount of goods. There is one flaw with this concept of "The Best" that individuals who follow this mantra tend to lose sight of another very important aspect - time. While Daniel Curtis clearly showed his obsession by buying 20 different sets to determine which is the best for him. I imagine that others don't have that amount of time to invest in this decision.
I am this way with most purchases; if you have something that will significantly improve the quality of life you have or something that while not necessarily a need but has moved to a desired addition to your lifestyle, spend the time to find the best fit for you. If it is not worth the time to look for what is the best fit for you; don't purchase it because you merely want it.
It sounds to me like the void created by ditching his personal goods was replaced with the time to find 'the best' possible items. To the point of obsession. In fact, I'm glad he stuck to an essential item like silverware rather than the luxury goods that I'm sure he's got.
In that sense, I think it contrasts the idea of minimalism.
It's mostly because he didn't title it "A Good One That You Like a Lot (or Maybe Just Enough)". So people that bought durable flatware that they never think about are induced to compare it to flatware that is presented as being The Best (even though the author would likely not spend time or energy trying to convince them they made the wrong choice).
This sort of minimalism is also quite post-materialistic, in that it depends on materialism (for example, a materialistic society is a pretty great way to end up with dozens of types of flatware to choose from).
As an aspiring minimalist, I agree with Dustin's premise but not in his universal application. I believe the goal is to maximize the utility of a purchase, including the cost of information.
Spending an amazing amount of time researching features and the subsequent benefits and the combinations there of are extremely valuable for objects or services upon which we thoroughly rely. For anything less, it is just as important give equally less energy, if any at all.
I bought some flatware... A spork made of titanium. Why? Because I saw an ad on a nerd gear website. I've had it for years, and eat everything I can with it. But I don't have a strange obsession with everything being the best. But I love my titanium spork.
Made me think of something that I havent in years. Kant's 'purposeful purposelessness' - a definition of the aesthetic purpose.
Buying 20 sets of cutlery is most definately hyperbole (or no tit doesnt matter) - I think mapgrep is mistaken to link this idea to Steve Jobs and the couch... It is one thing to be an audiophile to have the best stereo; it is another altogether if you love sound.
I like the idea from the article. Made me think of the process of selectign a 'go bag' but not for emergencies, for eternity.
I am glad such madness exists and I am not insulted by it. I am no there but I get the impulse.
I don't know what all the fuss is about. Dustin is clearly a minimalist and his essay flies in the face of our modern disposable economy. Maybe he didn't spell that out explicitly but it's implicit in his argument. I too won't own a product unless it markedly improves my life and I know it will last the test of time (maybe not socks). I think people are confusing a pervasive cultural obsession of having to own the latest and greatest of EVERYTHING, with Dustin's idea of owning the perfect amount of the perfect thing.
Wow, polarizing. Seems like the opposition is mostly reacting to the idea of intensively researching to find 'the best'...but why not let Dustin and those that think like him do what they want with their time? Once you find someone like that, you can take their advice instead of doing the research. And all this grief is pretty ironic considering the love for tech fetish sites like anandtech and tomshardware.
Moreover, given the option, why _wouldn't you_ want to surround yourself with art that you appreciate at every glance?
I love the philosophy! Many miss the point because they take the article literally. It's not about materialism, the article is about the benefit of cultivating a behavioural trait regarding the process by which one attains knowledge. It can pertain to something as simple as the craft of a fork or to a more abstract and complex idea such as the structure of industry. Thanks for the read.
It would take an extreme amount of time and quite a lot of money to apply this philosophy if you have a family with small children (like me).
I am quite minimalist and selective in my work, but do not (and cannot) apply the same philosophy for my life.
I don't think it's blank and white, or a matter of either you can do it or you can't. I'm sure even for Mr. Curtis there are some things that he just can't bother to find the best of (even if he implies otherwise) such as, say, mechanical pencil leads.
For a family man there are most likely some big purchases that you could apply this philosophy to. A television set or maybe a new home phone or a tablet PC. I suspect the conclusion for all three would ultimately be that you need none but short of that, researching the best and getting it once would still be worthwhile.
Even if you don't have the time to re-evaluate the cereal selection every time you go grocery shopping.
Reminding me of that Motorolla Droid add with the guy living with his devices and bed in an open concrete square house. Thoroughly optimal design is neutral, soulless and impersonal, it is frightening.
i tend to agree with this philosophy. although i don't spend as much time as OP in selecting the perfect item, I do agree that finding something of great quality will pay dividends for years to come. My dad bought the very best Sony tv he could find when he came to America in the 80's, and that thing was still in use (and looking good!) up until a few years ago. In this example it actually saved us money, but in other cases (i.e. my first nice car), it just brought lots of joy to use it every single day.
i think this is an incredible post. We rarely embrace the art and quality it takes to build things that we use everyday (toothbrushes, wallets, backpacks, forks, etc.), but in search for them, you encounter people that built them and an incredible story behind them.
Very inspiring to strive to surround yourself with best of everything.
"The result–being able to blindly trust the things you own–is intensely liberating."
It seems somewhat pathetic that psychological liberation should come from choosing the correct personal possessions. I think a better form of liberation would be to shift focus away from possessions entirely.
If one attacks the OP for being materialistic, then one misses the entire point.
This post is about minimizing hypocrisy. Too often we do not pay attention to the things that others have built for us. We, the builders and the makers, do not pay enough attention to the builders and the makers that influence our lives! Don't we wish that our customers would pay close attention when they are deciding whether to use our products? Of course we do.
Dustin's materialism is the symmetry to the Hacker ethos of making, and if you think he's doing something wrong than you sir are no hacker.
"The Best" that Dustin describes isn't built for "us".
It doesn't even represent the highest of form and/or function. Merely the exhaustion of research into the topic.
It's easy to be stuck in one field and obsessing over the smallest details, but I agree that it's good to branch out and see what obsession is happening in other fields. (In particular, consumer products). Although, remixing those ideas can get messy (see: Skeuomorphism).