In our culture of overconsumption, with material temptation at every turn, it can be difficult to resist the desire to own and to buy more. As a minimalist and someone who strives to be a conscious consumer, I still find myself drawn in by the desire to "own" things that I don’t need and that, if I’m honest, won’t bring value to my life. The need for ownership is also a cycle that has no natural end—the pursuit of possessions will never be enough. This tension between desire and satisfaction is something that I was aware of as a child, and I remember vividly my initial disappointment followed by awe and joy as I moved through the psychological process of coveting the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: a rainbow.
When I was little, I loved rainbows. I still do. It’s something about the depth and richness of the jewel-like colors. I loved rainbows, and therefore I desired them. I remember lying in bed at night, musing about what it would be like to own a piece of rainbow. I imagined it as a physical, tangible thing, like a rough-hewn, twinkling chunk of amethyst. I would keep it in a box and would get it out when I wanted to admire it. But this idea began to lead to all sorts of difficulties in my childhood imagination. Which bit of the rainbow would I want? Maybe a chunk of indigo … but then I wouldn’t get the beauty of the indigo blending with the violet, or the vibrancy of the red and orange. Hmm … perhaps a slice of rainbow was the answer; that way I could have a bit of all of the colors. But then, how big would that slice be? Would it fit into the box? How big would the box have to be? Maybe I’d need a room to keep it in … and even if I got the slice, I still wouldn’t really capture the beauty of the rainbow; I’d need the full arch for that. And really, there was no way that they arch would fit into a box or a room or even a house. I’d have to keep it in the sky … which is where it is already. And where I can enjoy it whenever it appears.
In my childish way, I realised that just because I like or admire or even love something, it doesn’t mean I need to own it. Sometimes trying to do so loses the essence of the thing itself.
As an adult, I realize that my response to the rainbow was aligned with a sense of the sublime—the awe and wonder that the natural world can inspire in us. Yet rather than simply experience it, I wanted to own it, an act of reduction that would rob it of the very magic, magnificence and scale that made it so special in the first place. I quite literally wanted to “unweave a rainbow” (John Keats, “Lamia”). On a more mundane level, that desire to own is a reaction I still experience when I walk into a beautifully staged "room" in a department store, visit a landscaped garden, or see a set of hardback classics in a book shop. I want it. I want the whole room setup from the department store; I want the entire garden; I want the full set of hardback classics and a library room in my house to keep them in. I know that this is impossible, so sometimes I do what feels like the next best thing: I buy a throw pillow from the department store, a plant from the garden, or just one of the books. Of course, it’s never enough; it’s never satisfying. So I remind myself that I can admire the design of the staged room, I can delight in the beauty of the landscaped garden, and I can value and even read the classics without owning anything. The rainbow is in the sky. I don’t need to keep it in a box.