Emphasizing identity using physical objects

Each of us has some special unique object which we love well beyond their functionality. When looking for special objects, what should we look for? How do we know if a specific object is right for us?

Super-luxury market

Rich people buy ridiculously expensive items. These items are significantly more expensive than quality products of the leading brands. Quite often they are also functionally inferior: for the object to look costly and impressive, some functionality is often lost.

To justify the cost, rare and expensive materials, and limited production quantities are used. Is a one-of-a-kind item with handmade art better than a mass-produced quality item? Not really. Putting gold or diamonds, or hand-painted urushi on a pen does not make the pen better. A quality nib might, but then a 200 dollars pen is as good as 200 thousand dollars masterpiece.

People who have money to spare often buy items for their collection, because their collection is a part of their identity and legacy. Then they spend time reviewing and polishing the collection, or proudly showing the collection to friends and to kids.

Too expensive to be useful

Some of the very expensive items are simply too complex or too heavy for ordinary use.

So, you think that your Nakoya urushi fountain pen will inspire you to write every day and improve your handwriting. Why? Because it is a holy grail of a pen, very light and very graceful. But it is too beautiful for you to put a clip and use it every day. You will be more likely to use Lamy Safari or Pilot 912 which you can take anywhere. And probably even more likely to use a disposable ballpen.

Will a great kitchen knife transform you into a chef? Probably not. I did not even bother to learn a proper slicing technique. With a small family of 5 and good knives, I finish cutting before I notice my technique.

Do I use my best lenses on my camera? No! I basically take one multipurpose lens. It is good for everything. It has fewer bokeh options, its numeric aperture is not as good as my fast lenses, and its range is more limited than ultrawide fisheye or telescopic lenses I have. So what? It sits well in my bag, which is often more important.

My point is: if you have heirloom quality stuff, you will use it only on a special occasion. Which is a pity.

Which objects define your identity even when we do not use them?

Some objects define us even though we do not use them. Our education and awards, books, patents, videos, art pieces, music… They are a part of who we are. We invested in them when the time was right. Maybe now we do not have any use for them, yet they define the people we are.

What makes these objects so special? They are our unique contribution to the world. We have a certain creative potential. Some of it is needed to build a family, have a lovely home, educate the kids. Everything else can be used to create stuff: objects of art or science, tech or philanthropy.

For decades psychologies used to tell that experiences matter more than material items. New findings show that this is not true. Only the material items need to be constant sources of new experiences.

Toy for grown-ups

I claim based on anecdotal evidence that grown-ups use more toys than kids and that our toys are more expensive.

What kind of toys kids can use? Construction sets and stuffed dolls? The grown-up are different. The potential is almost limitless, especially in America.

We spend most of our time with mobile devices. Unlike kids, grown-ups can keep expensive phones from breaking, can use correctly the most advanced cameras, and can ace the pay-to-play games.

The most expensive toy for most of us is our car. We do not need all the functions in our cars. Yet, a cool car is a continuation of our identity. I care about the environment, so I use a hybrid car. I love to travel with my family, so the car has seven seats. And if I would be more adventurous or impatient that car could be a jeep or a sports car. The way I am, it is Prius plus.

The most versatile toy we can have is our computer. It has a lot of modularity with CPUs, NAS storage, GPU cards, multiple screens. I can use mine for gaming or to teach neural networks, for graphical design or video editing. Usually, I simply open between 400 and 1200 tabs and read or write as fast as I can.

Every day carry

Some of our most important items are with us all the time. And this is not just our mobile device.

A keychain, often with a miniature swiss knife or a Leatherman is usually in our pockets. I have a Leatherman Micra which is mainly used to open beer bottles and cut loose wires. Many people put a fidget on their keychain to play with their hands as they think.

Then we can have a pen. The pen we use every day is a special pen. It is as comfortable and reliable as pens get, yet it says something about its owner. I used to carry a Parker jotter ballpoint pen,  but now I carry something more substantial and custom-made.

A watch or a fitness bracelet is something we used to carry decades ago. Now I do not have a bracelet. We can still carry a watch, but why? I do not really need an always-on Siri interface or turn-by-turn navigator. My health is good enough, and I do not need pulse or ECG measurement. I do not need Letherman Thread as I already have Micra. There are some options with paracord and hidden compartment, but I really do not need that… I often put my bandana as a bracelet.

Bandana is extremely useful. It is a viable face mask, can protect the head and the throat against the sun and the cold, can help hold hot objects, and can even serve as a handkerchief. Occasionally I put one or two bandanas on my wrist, to have them handy if I  need any.

All of these items focus on maximal functionality and reliability in a very small package.


The next thing we truly own is our drawer. Maybe more than one. We can put our collection there. What are the most common collectibles?

I would start with pens. There are very cheap and very expensive pens, including all the levels between. Each pen is perfectly suited for a very special function and less suited for others. And pens are extremely portable.

Knives. Kitchen knives, pocket knives, multitools. A good Damascus steel fixed blade knife can be very beautiful and expensive. A pocket knife with a titanium handle, elmax steel blade, and ceramic bearing is something most men want. And then there are countless self-defence weapons, historical reconstructions, fantasy items. Americans can add handguns, rifles, and shotguns to the list. A weapon should be locked from kids, but otherwise, it can be very beautiful, collectible, and recreational. Or not. This is an issue of identity.

Jewelry. Beautiful, useless, very expensive, and infinitely customizable. People collect jewelry and look hypnotized on shiny gold patterns, diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. A woman can have 3 items of jewelry every day, 5 items on special occasions. More than that is often considered poor taste. But putting a different combination every day is considered very good taste.

Bags and pouches. Never enough of those. Or bags are like Russian dolls: we put smaller more exquisite bags into larger and durable ones. The smallest bags I used for money and cards. The larger bags? Anything you can think of.

Can the items we love actually help in productivity?

A small laptop like Mac Air can definitely be used for productivity everywhere. It will be more effective than a phone, but less effective than a full-size Alienware laptop. We can trade mobility vs efficiency and find the best spot.

A kindle or an iPad can definitely be used for reading a lot of books everywhere.

A sketch block of any kind can be used for notes, doodles, diary, brainstorming, mindmapping… The tactile feedback and the battery vibrant ink can open creative potential.

And shoes… They are not just for beauty and comfort, they can actually help us walk better and faster, in any environment.

Too much stuff!!

The list of the stuff we have is endless. Some people get tired. They walk naked somewhere on remote beaches or in the woods, primitive and free.

I am not one of those people. Yet when I practice mindfulness on grounding I am in my socks, the most comfortable sport outfit I can find, and a t-shirt. That’s it. Typically I leave everything else at home, in a car, or in a locker. Maybe I will take a key or a bandana, and my phone in its airplane mode to use as a timer for breathing exercises.

What truly defines us is not anything we own, but the person we encounter when we meditate.

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