Materialism: Beware of the Maelstrom

© 2013 Christy King
© 2013 Christy King

“The folly of endless consumerism sends us on a wild goose-chase for happiness through materialism.”

– Bryant H. McGill

This past weekend, my husband and I were reminded of how easy it is – even for minimalists – to get sucked back into the maelstrom of materialism.

“Get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down. We’ll leave the figuring to those we pass on our way out of town.”

– Indigo Girls

The background for the story I tell in this post is that when we retire, we want to drive around the US inexpensively for months at a time with no itinerary and no reservations.

While we plan to spend most of our time on back roads, we’d like to visit more populated areas, too, and not have trouble parking. Also, we want a vehicle that can handle “4 wheel drive only” roads.

Regular RVs are pretty much of the question. Van campers are small and easy to park, but not suitable for 4WD roads.

Truck campers have the same problem. Although we can put one on a mid-sized 4WD truck, the vehicle will be top-heavy and could flip on a steep rough road.

We thought we might end up just sleeping in the back of a pickup with a topper like this. It seems a little too small for long trips, but we figured we could make do.

Then a few weeks ago, we saw a special truck camper that’s fairly low when you’re driving but has a pop-up for camping. It sounded perfect for us.

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”

– Socrates

Although it will be years before we buy anything, it’s fun to look around and dream, so we thought we’d go see these campers in person.

A quick Internet search didn’t turn up any local dealers, so we decided to go to a nearby RV dealer just to get a feel for truck campers in general. We’ve never owned any type of camper, so we really didn’t know anything about them.

Before we arrived at the RV dealership, we were perfectly happy planning to have a portable toilet and to shower at truck stops.

We thought we’d get warm sleeping bags, so no heater would be necessary and bring a tent to create more covered space for when it rained.

We planned to cook on a small camp stove and use an ice chest when we bought foods that needed to be kept cool.

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.”

– Erma Bombeck

Then the salesman started to show us around. We’d said we wanted to look at the “small” options. The first trailer he showed us just had a sleeping area, and we thought, “Wow, that’s cute. Nice head room.”

The next also had a tiny kitchen (sink and cooktop) and a dining area that converted to a bed. We thought, “Hey, it’d be convenient to have a little kitchen and a place to sit in case it’s raining.”

Bathrooms were included in the next trailers he showed us. We realized, “It would be nice to have a shower.”

The largest trailer we went in was around 20′. It had a relatively roomy bathroom with shower, sink and toilet, a separate dining area and bed, and a kitchen complete with microwave, fridge and freezer.

By this point, we’d begun to believe we needed all of those things.

“Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree.”

– Jack Kerouac

Luckily, by the time we’d gotten home, the spell had begun to wear off. We reminded each other that what we really wanted on our travels was freedom.

It’s not that we’re against material comforts, but if we got a larger RV, there’d be no 4WD roads or ease of parking. Gas would cost a lot more, so we’d have to travel less often (plus better gas mileage is better for the environment).

The comfort we would gain would have a high price, measured not only in dollars, but in our dreams.

“I realized that you can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to think they’re necessities.”

― Jeannette Walls

While I think this story says a lot on its own, I believe it also symbolizes one of the biggest issues concerning minimalists. How do we find the right balance of freedom, security, comfort and flexibility?

There’s no one right answer. We all have to decide for ourselves, based on our personalities and circumstances. Of course, that’s easier said than done – especially with our culture encouraging us to work more and buy more.

How do you make these kinds of decisions? What are your experiences trying to find balance?