by katie zhu

23 Dec 2015

rational satisfaction

“This will do.”

I have a lot of stuff. I’ve also been labeled a “packing mouse” by my mom. She means packrat.

There are purchases made purely out of necessity—the kind of buying that’s like, shit my period is tomorrow and I am all out of tampons. I buy some things just because—that delicious pink mimosa candle smells too good to pass up, or a cute dress that’s on sale and makes my legs look skinnier. And then there are what I call my “maybe someday” purchases. Just in case. Maybe someday in the future, I’ll find myself in desperate need of this one thing and cannot realize my deepest goals without said thing. This last kind of buying—purchases made as some expression of my aspirations, a manifestation of my “someday” identity—is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.

I buy sketchbooks in the hopes that someday I might become an artist; I buy new books with the far off idea that if only I learned more about X, then I could finally do Y. Or I buy endless new notebooks, each time hoping they’ll magically inspire me to become a more consistent journal-er. I buy countless pens and markers, convincing myself that I need such a wide assortment of writing tools and stationary supplies at my disposal before I can create anything of value.

As you might imagine, it’s a bit crippling.

Which brings me to my pen of choice—the unassuming yet reliable, basic yet versatile MUJI pen. My preference is the 0.38mm thickness.

MUJI is a no-brand brand, a minimalist Japanese retailer. Digging deeper into their mission and origin, I found this excerpt to be particularly resonant:

MUJI was founded in Japan in 1980 as an antithesis to the habits of consumer society at that time. On one hand, foreign-made luxury brands were gaining popularity within an economic environment of ever-rising prosperity. On the other, poor-quality, low-priced goods were appearing on the market, and had a polarizing effect on consumption patterns. MUJI was conceived as a critique of this prevailing condition, with the purpose of restoring a vision of products that are actually useful for the customer and maintain an ideal of the proper balance between living and the objects that make it possible. The concept was born of the intersection of two distinct stances: no brand (Mujirushi) and the value of good items (ryohin). MUJI began with three steps: selecting materials, scrutinizing processes, and simplifying packaging. MUJI’s concept of emphasizing the intrinsic appeal of an object through rationalization and meticulous elimination of excess is closely connected to the traditionally Japanese aesthetic of “su” — meaning plain or unadorned — the idea that simplicity is not merely modest or frugal, but could possibly be more appealing than luxury.

I have a deep love and commitment to MUJI. Everything I’ve bought from their store (they make more than just pens) has been high quality, durable, and extremely functional. Also, Ira Glass uses MUJI, and here’s his testimonial: “Lately we’ve been buying Muji notebooks and .38 Muji gel ink pens at the office for this purpose. They’re pleasant to touch and make the world seem like an orderly place.” So you should obviously be sold, because if it’s good enough for Ira, then it damn well should be good enough for anyone else.

Anyway, deep love. I read through their origin story, and their characterization of appealing to a rational satisfaction in their customers resonated deeply with me:

This is because we do not make objects to entice responses of strong affinity, like, “This is what I really want” or, “I must have this.” MUJI’s goal is to give customers a rational satisfaction, expressed not with, “This is what I really want” but with “This will do.” “This is what I really want” expresses both faint egoism and discord, while “This will do” expresses conciliatory reasoning. In fact, it may even incorporate resignation and a little dissatisfaction. MUJI’s goal is to sweep away that slight dissatisfaction, and raise the level of the response, “This will do” to one filled with clarity and confidence.

This will do.

The MUJI philosophy runs directly counter to so much of American consumerism, prioritizing “This will do" even over things that we really want. To be clear, it's a mentality I'm full well caught up in. Part of my consumption behavior is tied to me falsely or over-ascribing my hopes and aspirations to material things—I recognize this dependency is not rational, and leads down a path to becoming the very opposite of satisfied.

In 2016, I will strive for a consciousness towards rational satisfaction, learning to be content with something that does the job and not getting caught up in the spiral of things I *think* I really want. To not lose myself in the tide of maximization of material goods, continuing to buy more things or naively tricking myself into thinking they’ll let me take a step closer to some future imagined successful version of myself who is living her dreams. It’s a dangerous loop. Because I’ll continue to never actually feel satisfied, I will continue to want more things, when really—what I have will do.

And I should just put my head down and get to the work I dream of future katie doing, and just go after aspirations with what I’ve got—rather than making excuses.

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