For most of us, paring down our belongings is an exciting idea. Like a new fitness membership in January – it’s full of promise and possibility.
But in reality, there are many obstacles we must overcome in order to get rid of our stuff. Some are physical – we enjoy the convenience of our gadgets and tools. Others are emotional – we like the security of having more than enough.
Still others have to do with cultural expectations and peer pressure (what do you mean you don’t have a cell phone?)
Attachments and the high-overhead lifestyle
These are attachments. They are tiny weights we carry that keep us from being light and free and fast. Without attachments – without the baggage of things we own that use up our time and eat up our money – we’re free to do just about anything. If you like, you can move somewhere new and experience a different culture. Or you can turn your hobby into a small income stream and grow it. Or maybe you want more time with your family, or your church friends.
It’s possible to do all these things with a lot of stuff, but it’s much more difficult. For one, you’re life overhead is high and doesn’t leave much wiggle room. And you might need to work extra hours to afford maintenance and rent and to buy more stuff of course.
It’s much easier to be light and free and agile by having less stuff and having a low-overhead life. Then you can really start living.
Convenient or costly?
Convenience is a double-edged sword.
Waiting at a bus stop can be annoying – especially if the bus is running late or crowded or noisy and smelly. So, many people opt to have their own cars even though public transportation might be available. Having your own car is convenient. It’s ready when you are, it’s spacious, and the smell and noise levels are controlled by you.
But that convenience comes at a cost. Now you have to deal with car payments, maintenance costs, finding a place to park and keeping your car registered and insured. All that takes time and money, and making money is a time investment too.
So essentially, by demanding the convenience of a car – you’re demanding more control. Control is nice, but the price you pay is time. Everything that needs controlled or monitored or purchased is costly in time. Every possession you hold onto requires a small, constant payment. Your convenience or your time – it’s up to you.
Possessions = Security
There are many emotional reasons that we hold onto stuff, but a lot it has to do with security. If you have lots of stuff, you pretty much never worry about not having something or running out. The issue of scarcity is non-existent.
- Having a closet full of clothes means you’re prepared for any occasion.
- Having a spare bedroom means you can always house a guest or two.
- Having a cell-phone means you can be reached in case of an emergency.
- Having a car means you can go anywhere, anytime.
Owning all this stuff means that you live in a very safe world. You will never have to depend on anyone for anything – you are self-dependent, the captain of your own ship. That might help you to sleep at night, but the emotional and financial burden is robbing your life of joy and excitement and meaning.
Most people would prefer the dull ache of boredom to the fear of the unknown – even if that unknown might be better than their wildest imagination. What they don’t realize is that their security is mostly an illusion.
Even without a car, a cell phone, a big house, a fat wallet and a huge wardrobe – you’d most likely get along just fine. There might be a handful of times when you wish you had one of those conveniences, but that would be the exception. And you’re smart so you’d find another way.
Smart companies feed off of your insecurity and get you to buy more and more. See for yourself that this safety is an illusion: try giving up just one thing you thought you needed and see what happens. Most likely nothing will happen, you’ll go on living life as usual, but you’ll have more money in your bank account and more free time to spare.
Going against the grain
Sometimes the biggest resistance you face will come from friends and family. The reasons are numerous and often complex:
- They might think your new lifestyle is “holier than thou” and it makes them feel poorly about their own lives.
- You might be inconveniencing them – for example, not owning a cell phone.
- They might be worried about your well-being. Remember: they’re still thinking in terms of security, not freedom.
Having tension in your family life or with your friends is difficult and you might be tempted to revert back. It might seem easier than dealing with awkwardness or disappointment or worry. But what you need to remember is that most changes (both good and bad) have been met with resistance throughout history.
When the car industry went mainstream and started replacing horse-pulled wagons as the main mode of transportation, many people resisted. Most of those people were earning a living in the wagon-making business; the temporary shift in the economy wrecked havoc on their predictable way of life. But within a few years, they adopted these changes and many were glad for the progress.
In the same sense, most lifestyle change that is met with resistance is later accepted – and often celebrated. Stick with your heart and you’ll be amazed at the change you see in you and those around you.
James has come to writing and blog writing in particular, late in life. When not working as a systems analyst for an American Telco, he spends his time honing his writing skills on our blog and commuting between Houston and Dar es Salam to the family home in Mikocheni.