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An argument for being materialistic

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Why are disco balls so expensive? Sure, the first option on Amazon is a reasonable $20.99 — but it’s like, the size of my head. If you want a more substantial club-ready ball, you’re paying $50 for a styrofoam ball with some shiny squares glued on it. This is where I’d say, “Whatever, just make it yourself.” Except styrofoam balls are the exact same price as disco balls, which is where you should really start to get upset because it’s literally just… styrofoam? Add that to the list of Things That Cost Way More Than You Would Think: swimsuits, socks, everything at WU this year.

I’m in my last semester of college, and I’ve been paring down almost every aspect of my life as I reach the end. The number of clothes I have with me fit into a single laundry wash and the walls are as blank as my mind at, well, any given point. I even forgot to bring toothpaste, so my friends and I started a running joke that I’m living “Swedish” this semester, in vague reference to minimalist elements of Scandinavian living. I could pretend that I’ve broken my cycle of desire, and that I’m one of those ascetic, holier-than-thou minimalists who don’t believe in owning silverware. But it’s all a lie. I will admit that I am, at my core, a very materialistic person.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which our obsession with tangible, concrete objects has manifested in the digital and abstract environment of pop culture. Calling someone materialistic is a pretty strong insult, and for good reason (save the fact that it’s almost always directed towards women), seeing as it is very tied into the overconsumption and wastefulness of our generation. This summer, I had the honor of reading “When Life Gives You Lululemons.” (Read: my friend checked it out at the library under my name as a bit and I continued the bit by reading it cover-to-cover when our power went out). It’s a ridiculous, pulpy book written by the author of “The Devil Wears Prada,” where every other paragraph felt like an advertisement for Some Thing tied into the image of 21st-century American money, whether it be going to 1 OAK or a Birkin or — oh, yeah — Lululemon. 

This status-identifying, name-dropping phenomenon has become a trend on TikTok too: maybe you’re a “clean girl,” i.e. a “Dior lip oil, New Balance shoes, claw clip, Erewhon smoothie, Diptyque candle, AirPods Max, hot girl walk” type. Or maybe you’re a little more alt fashion, a little more “Miu Miu ballet flat, Margiela tabi boot, Lily Rose Depp, red wine, reads Ottessa Moshfegh and Lolita.” As always, the guy version is more pared down: put on a Vivienne Westwood necklace, and you’re out the door.

Remember the VSCO girl archetype from 2019? You specifically needed a 32-oz. Hydroflask and a puka shell necklace and Birkenstock sandals, nevermind what you actually did with yourself while wearing and carrying all these items. It reminds me of those “niche memes” that were once popular on Instagram, and were essentially a collage of items and clothes a specific archetype of a person would possess. Not that there’s anything deeply wrong with finding commonalities with others and objects that resonate with you. But it’s not the most revolutionary idea that a growing obsession with the specific items we consume — ostensibly as a way to signal our inner essence — is a very convenient way for brands to exploit our desire to belong. One of these days, some influencer’s last words are going to be “Amazon storefront linked in bio <3.”

I do like things. And baubles and trinkets and things to hold my trinkets. I’m not going to pretend I don’t also get drawn into the next random microtrend (somebody needs to come convince me that platform mules are ugly). I do, however, want to be more responsible and mindful of where I choose to invest myself. My friend taught me how to basketweave last semester, and I just learned how to throw on a pottery wheel, so if we’re friends and you receive a birthday present from me in the form of, like, a vessel, don’t be surprised.

For so long, I’ve spent time pushing off my hobbies because I “don’t have time” (I’m on my fifth episode of “Bake Off”) or because I have better things to do (I lie down in my bed at every possible chance). But I just attended my first DukeCreate workshop ever — as a senior, so shameful — and I’m hooked. The Arts Annex has free supplies for any basic physical art medium, which makes creating things even more accessible and convenient. (Tip: workshop sign-ups open on Friday mornings, so definitely check then to register as soon as possible for the more popular classes before they fill up!)

There’s something therapeutic and fulfilling about owning things that you’ve made yourself or that friends have made for you, and being able to associate your possessions with time spent with loved ones and halcyon memories. So here’s to being a material girl.

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