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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.

I both agree and disagree.

On the one hand I think it's worth specifically "buying for life" [1], 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 [2]. You're not dependent in any way on what you own, and as a result, are not owned by it [3].

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.

[1]: http://www.reddit.com/r/BuyItForLife/

[2]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWCYv40Ur1g

[3]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPPvkhGZT7Y

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.

Passport. Credit Card. The rest is gravy.

If you like http://www.reddit.com/r/BuyItForLife (best possible durability/quality) you should also check out http://www.reddit.com/r/GoodValue (best bang for the buck)

Yup, subbed to that one too, it's linked in the BuyItForLife sidebar.

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.

Illegitimi non carborundum, Dustin.

> 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.

The trick is to cultivate a list of people who are unreasonable and then just ask them. Here's a place to start: http://www.reddit.com/r/buyitforlife

This is exactly my philosophy. I've found so many superb things from that subreddit, without having to go through excessive research and testing.

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.

Having good tools is great but throwing away 20 sets of flatware until you stay on with the 21th is a form of minimalism only for the rich, and absolutely not practical.

I'm assuming that this is hyperbole on Dustin's part, but you're absolutely right, that's not practical.

He didn't say he threw them away -- I assumed he returned them

I would argue that shipping around 20 sets of flatware is excessive in and of itself.

Ooops, I always forget you guys have that option.

What about the people in the countries you visited, I guess their lives weren't constantly bathed in that rosy glow of knowing they had the best backpack.

I am always baffled by this "best==most expensive, therefore by looking for the best you have to be a spoiled rich person" mindset.

Some of the best tools I've owned cost less than the average tools you can find at Walmart.

And if I may expend the discussion to softwares (which are also tools to me), some of the best software tools I love are free -- vim for eg.

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.

That sounds awesome. Have you done a Reddit IAMA or described your travels (and how you packed so efficiently and minimally) anywhere? I would be interested to read it if so.

Please write up what you brought with you. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would love to benefit from your research (and field testing)!

> Maybe i'm missing something...

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.


> People like me are annoyed at the celebrity culture in the Valley, and Dustin is a manifestation of it

Take a look at http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html.

Your argument is at DH1. :)

Yeah, you're probably right. I'm removing my comment, though I stand by my point.

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[1]) 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.

[1] 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.

> Illegitimi non carborundum

... 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).

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegitimi_non_carborundum

> No, it's a designer with an interest in all design.

Thank you. I've been trying to make the same point, but with far too many words!

I don't understand what value do you see in Dustin's article. It doesn't deserve to be on the front-page.

If the Hacker News algorithm is surfacing the wrong items, or being gamed, then that's a question of relevancy. It "deserves" to be on page one because it received a substantial number of upvotes.

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.

Ironic, that given the attention to detail he put into ordinary items for what was a 3 month journey, that he picked a non-standard and problematic spelling for his startup "Svbtle".

Sure to cause problems in a few areas that could have easily been avoided with some research and attention to the details of properly naming your company.


Not the best kettle.

Not the best pot.

Poor Dustin - he has such a hard life. Don't let the bastards get you down...

... about your taste in cutlery.

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?

I was sort of with you until this:

> 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.

> Status symbols like flatware, though, are especially pernicious.

Jeez, I just use my flatware to eat with. I had no idea it was an "especially pernicious" status symbol. Silly me.

The flatware recommended in the article is $10 a piece. It compares a bit to buying a $80 dollar stainless steel salt shaker to match the $60 carbon-fiber wine bottle stopper.

It's probably those kinds of things op is calling a status symbol.

It compares to buying

Anything can be a status symbol, but it doesn't mean everything is a status symbol.

Very curious, why do you think geeking out on politics, sports, instruments, computers is generally negative?

Are we geeking out on "geeking out"? Should we stop?

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.

What if you just like learning about how objects are made? I'm fascinated with the creative process... Suddenly we're being told, as geeks, that seeking understanding is wrong?! I really don't get it.

I will make sure that I stick to appropriately cool objects and product design that doesn't include flatware.

Your point about the coolness of the object is well taken, but I feel the same way about fast cars, neat smart phones, and camping supplies.

Is there no kind of object that speaks to you in a way that you invest non-trivial amounts of time in learning about it? Serious question.

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.

It was fun, but definitely a waste

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time" --Bertrand Russell

Well, sure, if you consider "make yourself happy" to be a reasonable life goal, then there's nothing wrong with materialism...

Perhaps a piece of software?

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.

That plus I use my flatware a lot.

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.

You seem to have the premise that materialism is incontrovertibly bad?

Why is it a strawman? The post is about a certain lifestyle, the comment argues about a different lifestyle. It is a debate about lifestyles.

Is it not true that if you spend too much time obsessed about buying things, you'll have less time to care about people?

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.

Tyler: Shit, man, now it's all gone.

Narrator: All gone.

The comment reminded me of some sketches from British comedy legend, Harry Enfield.



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.

But on the other hand, they have a term for describing the beauty of things imperfect, transient and impermanent, that's [Wabi-Sabi](http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi).

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.

In this I don't agree with Dustin on this one.

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.

Did you read the full article?

He's not claiming to be an 'arbiter of quality' at all, he's using the flatware as an example. He specifically says that it's up to each person to determine the best things for themselves:

> It requires that you find the best thing for yourself, which means you need to know what actually matters to you.

I did, and that qualifier struck me as little more than a figleaf.

His response to another comment here is directly counter to your assumptions about him:

The problem is that "the best" is different for everyone. I can post some of the things that are the best to me, but it's also about the journey of finding out what really matters to you.


Well no. Sure, he assumes each individual will find their own best things. But I suspect that if you too have strong opinions about flatware, it can only end in a knife fight.

I don't think he actually believes that, but I think his writing style absolutely exudes it. And the fact that he has his own minimalist-styled exclusive blogger network only emphasizes it.

I love the fact that all Svbtle blogs look alike though. Makes it easy to spot and instantly close the tab as being just more privileged valley wankery.

> 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.

I hear a lot of people have gotten very rich by making reality shows that record the uglyness and pettyness of human nature.

I'm generally on your side in this argument, but I want to point out that not all human beings are ugly and petty, although many may be.

When it comes to finding human beings to spend time with, you have to use the same intense sense of value, judgement, and love of a good product, that dcurtis applies to flatware selection.

We are our own greatest products.

Human beings can be very interesting, but if exposed incorrectly, they're also dull.

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.

Why on earth would I waste...

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.

> 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.

That isn't what the blog post is about, though. Why should it contain irrelevant details for laypeople?

I'm not sure what you mean here (and why you'd use 'laypeople')

> To me, it's rampant materialism to buy random items at Target/Walmart/etc. and replace them often.

OK, but how often do you have to replace spoons or towels?

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 is possible to enjoy owning things if you know what you're doing and own the right things. At least I think so.

Of course I also think that this obsession with the difference between matter and people is a little silly, especially when some of those people are the things you're arguing with.

Regardless, I've been thinking about the subject lately thanks to this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/eyt/how_to_have_things_correctly. Linked for the interested.

> What is ultimately important in life are people

I have, for example, the best luggage possible, because I spend a ton of time traveling long distances to spend time with people I care about.

I have the best camera I can afford because I use it to take pictures of time spent with those people.

I have the best mobile devices because I don't like to waste time dicking about with software when I am trying to get directions to meet with... (you guessed it) people.

They're tools. They're a means to an end. The best is important, because when you don't have it, oftentimes you find yourself not reaching that end in an efficient manner.

Furthermore, those things were all created by (wait for it) people.

I guess we can appreciate the maker, but not the things they make?

Or perhaps we're oversimplifying this whole "materialism" thing and people are more complex than what they make, or buy, or why they did either.

But the time you spend learning about it is not interacting with people, at least not the same way.

I buy crappy luggage and once lost some time with a friend because my luggage fell apart. But that's less time than I would've lost becoming an expert on luggage before buying any.

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.

I absolutely agree. Of course it's ok to take pride in what you own, but this is obviously more than that. Relationships are the most important thing in life. Don't wait too long to realize that.

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.

Where did you get the term consumerism from? Do you think consumerism and materialism are the same thing?

They are related terms.

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[1] 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.

[1] http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/10/ff-kim-dotcom/

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.)

> since that's a signal from the community that my contribution isn't wanted

It's a signal from one single person, not "the community".

On the other hand, being able to trust on the things you have and having the proper, trusty tools for the things you like to do is indeed something valuable.

It's not filling a black hole, but satisfying a concrete need.

The key point is not getting attached to those tools.

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.

He chooses to take his time to do things right, once, and then spend the rest of the time focusing on more important things.

The key word you've missed is "trust" - just like I buy things once, and expect them to last, so I can spend more time on real life, mostly on people.

Your argument is ... based on an utter misunderstanding. His goal is the same as yours. I'm sorry you can't understand this.

Life is too short to buy forks more than once.

Yes, so we should literally buy them from the Museum of Modern Art. What a crock of shit.

>Life is too short to buy forks more than once.

Any half-decent cutlery lasts a very long time.

I have never had to buy cutlery in my life, and I am 35, have lived in 5 different countries, and about 30 different houses.

But even the cheap stuff I have used in a lot of places lasts a long time.

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.

Thanks to the Internet there is not a consensus behind what is worthwhile because you can't fact-check the credentials of the massive amount of opinions on any topic.

You're completely right. There's good evidence to show that customers are actually less satisfied after comparison shopping to that extent.

http://www.scielo.cl/pdf/jtaer/v4n3/art08.pdf http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_ch...

It should also stand to reason that the opportunity cost behind researching the best is absurd.

Dustin: "The long term durability of each utensil is also important, and so is the slipperiness of the metal against food. Yanagi thought about these things."

Product page: "Yanagi Flatware... the essence of Japanese design. Warm and organic, yet minimal and sophisticated, it is made of 18/8 stainless steel." (Product page)

It may look nice but will it last? The stainless steel is graded at 18/8 which means it's more likely to rust than flatware graded at 18/10, not to mention sterling silver.

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.

http://www.sheffield-cutlery.com/store.html is a horrible site but I like their selection and quality.

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.

What's ultimately important is being happy. "Materialism" is only bad if it causes unhappiness.

Yes. To say people and the connections we build to them are what ultimately matters is an applause light. People and the connections we build to them are only means to the end of happiness.

That isn't cold or selfish. Surely we would all rather live in a world full of disconnected happy people than in a world full of (amicably) connected unhappy people?

So agreed. And interesting thread you've spawned here. Pretty easy to separate the people I'd like to have a beer with from the people I wouldn't mind never speaking to... ever. :)

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.

I fail to see how researching before buying stuff is materalism. Our grandparents used to buy one thing, and it would last decades.

Materialism for me is impulse buying lots of cheap crap just because China happens to have many mouths to feed, destroying the environment in the process. That is short sightedness.

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.

agree. Also the time spent on researching about getting the best, is orders of magnitude more than the time lost worrying about a 'reasonably good' item.

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.".

That's it.

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.

I completely agree. It's extremely difficult to have the best of everything. And it's madness to believe you can.

Can you eat the best food? The best cheese? The best water? The best bread?

I have Evian ice cubes in my freezer right now.

Just sayin'.

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 decided to write a convincing comment on this very topic rather than insult someone's well-thought out idea in a totally unrelated and baseless way:


If you want to publicly haze someone: bring it on.

I disagree too. Life is short, and you don't actually have to spend weeks on flatware:


I don't see how spending quality time with imperfect people can't be better when we have perfect items we can depend on.

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