I’m fully on board the “less is more” train these days, which a few committed souls ride with great pleasure. Society (and advertising) teaches us that more is always more, and people in that mode are unwilling to even consider their lifestyle as far as sufficency vs. excess goes.
There’s a large middle ground, made up of people that think they want less. Maybe they even read the literature in the field (blogs, message boards, books like Early Retirement Extreme). These Middle Grounders may feel a spark of excitement exploring the literature, but never really follow through on changes in their lives. They may even think they are making progress down the path, and every bit does help, but ultimately they make no meaningful progress. I myself dwelled in this middle ground for several years.
Here’s a thought experiment to see where you fall on the spectrum:
Imagine that you win a shopping spree to the biggest/best mall in your town. You get all day to take anything from any store you want, for free. The only catch is that you can’t resell anything. If you take something, it has to live in your household until it wears out or is consumed or thrown away.
What would you take?
I’m not sure I would bother showing up.
I love this test, because it forces a test of addiction to stuff without being constrained by financial concerns. In my case, I’m not “cheap” for the sake of being cheap, rather I’ve carefully considered what’s important to me, realizing that more stuff is simply not what makes me happy, at any price, including free!
For most people, including The Old Me, the amount of stuff I had was controlled and kept in check by how much money (or credit) I had lying around. I always had a vague sense that I needed more, and would even pass the time looking at ebay and amazon or otherwise shopping online and buying or making wishlists.
Today, I have everything I want or need (side note: the book above compellingly argues that there is no difference between wants and needs, in fact both are false). Seriously, I just spent several months getting rid of everything I possibly could, why would I want more stuff? Today, my possessions are not constrained by my income or savings, they are limited by my desire. That is a powerful state of existence which was a long time in coming. I actually have everything I want (with a few exceptions, talked about at the end of this article).
I’ll say it again: My possessions are not constrained by my income or savings. Most people NEVER reach this stage in their lives, because there’s always something more. There’s always new clothes, or a new car, or a new laptop. In fact, even people with 8 figure net worth are often disappointed with what they have- if they could only have their OWN private jet rather than having a fractional share jet card, they’d really make it, know what I mean?
So back to the mall, what’s actually there?
- Clothes: I have every piece and type of clothing I can possibly imagine needing. I have two pairs of jeans (a pair of Levis and a pair of Lucky Brand) that fit just right, and even if I had 50 pairs of jeans in my closet, I would reach for one of those two pairs at “jean decision point” anyway. I’ve culled down (and tailored) my work suits and am not interested in replacing them any time soon. This covers about 80% of the mall.
- Electronics: We have a giant, relatively new smart TV. The last thing I’d want is another TV, because it would probably end up in a kids’ room or my bedroom. We have fine, functional cell phones. We all have fine, functioning laptops. The thought of bringing more gadgets into our house fills me with dread.
- Jewelry, perfume, cosmetics, accessories: This seems to be a considerable portion of most malls, and there’s nothing there for me. I guess if I was female I might stock up on consumables like makeup, if I wore makeup. Would I wear makeup? That’s a separate thought experiment…
- Books, movies, CDs, etc.: I have a library card, and can get any book in print through interlibrary loan or as a pdf online (older stuff). I can listen to any song ever recorded on youtube or Spotify. I have Netflix and have been systematically ditching my physical DVDs, not adding to them! I love media, but it doesn’t have to come into my house as physical stuff. Again, I’ve been trying to cut down what I have, not accrete more.
- Kid Stuff: My kids have everything they could possibly need, and more. I guess I could pick up some clothes for them, since they always outgrow them. But the last thing I want to do is buy them more electronics or toys that will bring us further apart. Kids think they want more stuff (just like most adults), but what they really want is novelty. Think about Legos. They love getting new Lego sets, which they put together and play with for a few weeks. Then the set is dismantled and ends up in the Lego bin(s). They have more legos of every color and size than they could ever use. An important life lesson for them is to use their imagination to make stuff out of the tubs of legos they have rather than getting shiny new ones to consume. I want them to have and use legos, not consume them. This concept applies far beyond Legos, toys, and childhood in general.
- Other Stuff: What else is in the mall? I don’t even know. I guess if there was a grocery store I’d stock up on things I’m planning to eat anyway, other than that I can’t think of what I’d go take. I don’t even want to know what else there is, because I don’t want to use my mental energy developing wants for stuff I don’t even want right now.
I guess maybe I would go to Williams Sonoma and get some nicer cookware and knives (basic multi use, no ice cream makers or flan pans or anything). Maybe I would go get some workout clothes? Probably workout shoes, since they’re somewhat consumable. At any rate, anything I picked up would be swapped out one for one with something I have (pan for pan, sneakers for sneakers, etc.).
Will I ever buy anything again? Sure, when stuff wears out, or I realize I have some unmet need I haven’t explored. Perhaps I’ll get interested in some hobby that makes me want to buy something. There are certain things I might upgrade someday, for example, my drums or backpack or something. I had a desk made last year by Campbellsville Cherry which I love, and perhaps as furniture wears out I would consider commissioning new pieces.
The point is that The Old Me, and even the Intermediate Me (interested but not committed to right-sizing my lifestyle) would have probably backed up the truck and filled it with all sorts of stuff from the mall. The New Me is truly free from the enslavement of stuff, and it’s the best, lightest, most liberating feeling in the world. This is how I know I’ve made the leap from being a Middle Grounder to the dark side.