We live in an era in which an individual’s material wealth is truly astonishing. Nearly anything that you “need” can be shipped to you within a few days. And, yet, the more we possess, the less satisfied we appear to be with our possessions.
Apart from objects of utility, most of what we own is clutter. I have a “storage room” full of containers that I haven’t opened since I moved. One of these contains some camping gear, but, otherwise, I can’t recall their contents. Do any of those items matter? My life seems fine without them.
Yet, it isn’t simply the unknown contents of a few boxes that bothers me: it’s the fact that I own things in plain sight that contribute nothing to my life. For example, I bought a turntable and some vinyls a few months ago. I initially used it a few times per week, but now it’s been a month and its novelty has warn out. Although I thought it would mean something special to me, what’s actually cherished is the music itself.
In early 2016, I traveled around Nicaragua for 6 weeks. All I brought was a 40L backpack. It contained clothes, my laptop, toiletries, a first aid kit and some small miscellaneous items. Prior to leaving, I was sure that I had forgotten to pack things that I’d need. Upon arriving, however, I felt I had everything I needed – and nothing more.
There are only so many things you can get rid of before you begin to feel compromised. But, perhaps we should think of it in reverse: how many things must we gain before we feel encumbered? If there is a clear border between compromised and encumbered, why don’t we strive to live at its seam?
I have been a fan of minimalism for a long time. I’ve envied those who were able to live with so little. How freeing it must be, I thought, to be satisfied, to be content. What I hadn’t realized was that minimalist acquire just as much as anyone else, it’s simply in the form of space, experience and time.
It’s a trope, but it’s true: those who have the most have the most to lose… and, not only to lose but to guard, to anguish over, to maintain, or to pay down (if the “ownership” is in the form of debt.) And, after soaking up our valuable attention, most of it is disposed of anyway.
I won’t judge others based on their aspirations. If you own a lot or aspire to someday, so be it. But I would caution against finding an elevated sense of self-worth in these things. Nobody likes you for what you own. Instead, what you’re appreciated for are the intangible characteristics that you possess.
I don’t plan to give away all my things, but I do intend to ask myself “Do I really need this?” before adding another object to my life. It’s an experiment. It may not last forever, but I’m sure I’ll learn some things along the way.