The first text I read when I rolled out of bed at 11:07 on Black Friday morning was from a buddy back home.
“You out shopping for deals?”
I had no work or training on the agenda, but I certainly knew what I wasn’t doing today.
“Nah I’m good. I got everything I need.”
Less is More
You’ve heard it before. We’re obsessed with the acquisition of things. In our society, “Living life to the fullest” means a big house full of cool gadgets and the best of everything, much to the joy of retailers and credit card companies.
The problem, they say, the joy you get from “things” is a lot like the “high” you get from junk food – a quick spike followed by a crash when your body realizes its needs weren’t really met.
And like a blood sugar crash, the ensuing slump causes a craving for another fix, except in this case it’s not Oreos or ice cream but electronics, trips, clothes, and his & her jet skis.
So we’re told to simplify and focus on the essential. The result is not only less “stuff” to trip over (and a lower credit card bill), but also a greater appreciation for what’s really important, specifically the stuff you can’t put a price tag on.
It’s simple advice and something that doesn’t require reading a book to understand. It’s also what you learn after life kicks you in the shnutz a few times, which is how I learned it.
A few years ago, my wife and I were both making decent money and slowly buying more and more stuff, something that young couples typically do. We dressed well, drove luxury cars, and had no shortage of things.
An opportunity arose to move to a small city in northern Canada, which promised a lot more money — an even greater capacity to buy things/get out of debt from buying things. So we took it.
Where we were going there wasn’t much to do if you didn’t own a monster truck but there was a lot of space, which meant big houses. So we rented a five-bedroom monstrosity for just the two of us, which included three bathrooms, a three car garage with a football field sized driveway, and (sadly) no snowblower.
When we arrived we had barely enough to fill half the house, but despite vowing to stop buying stuff — something everyone does when they have to move suddenly and find themselves asking “how did I get so much shit?” — we slowly filled all five bedrooms.
A new TV here, a piece of furniture there, and within a year we even had the empty garage space filled.
And we were never less happy.
The Big C
“Fortunately” (depending how you look at it) things had to change for us. A routine mammogram became a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly things didn’t matter. Health mattered.
Treatment required hastily moving again and placing our precious things into unmarked boxes in a dusty storage locker. A luxury house and toys became couch surfing with family and friends and medical appointments.
The story gets better though.
The worst winter of my life gave way to a sunny spring. Surgeries and treatments combined with a lot of support led to a strong recovery and a clean bill of health. It also brought a chance at a fresh start, in New York City, the greatest city in the world.
However, NYC is also a city where space is at a premium. No five bedroom digs here; we’re talking one bedroom, one tiny bathroom, and kitchen storage so limited it can barely house my shaker cup collection.
I couldn’t bring much more than my clothes and my computer, so once I got to New York I was forced to learn to focus on pursuing experiences instead of stuff.
• I made lists of events and neighborhoods I wanted to explore and made sure I checked off at least one every week.
• I started going to clubs, parks, coffee shops, and bookstores more.
• I “scheduled” writing and blogging at times when I used to play X Box. In fact, I’m not sure where my X Box even is. (If I loaned it to you please return it.)
• I joined a martial arts school to offset having to sell my treadmill.
Finally, I changed the last 30 minutes of every day to reading instead of must-watch TV (though I still finished Breaking Bad of course).
So I haven’t owned less. And I’ve never been happier.
The Power of Less
More than just things weigh us down. A big challenge we all face is finding time for ourselves amidst all the different roles we have.
You might be a husband, father, brother, son, and friend. But you also might be an athlete, music fiend, movie junkie, volunteer, poker player, sneaker-head, and Dungeons and Dragons addict. Oh, and have a busy career.
Something likely has to give.
In his book, The Power of Less, author Leo Baubata shares tips for minimizing your baggage and getting more out of life.
Here’s my spin.
• Take a big-picture look at your life. Make a list of everything you do, your obligations, and all the things you’d like to do.
• From this list, make a Short List — just 4-5 things that are most important to you or that you love doing.
Once you’ve made your Short List, compare everything on the long list to the Short List and see what doesn’t fit. That’s where you start cutting.
Now this can be tough if you have a long list of things you want or have to do, so you’ll need to make choices, which is kind of the point. You’re being forced to strip down and dropping some things will feel painful at first.
The Power of No
This won’t happen overnight — it takes patience and above all, being merciless with your time and what’s important to you. It also takes the ability to say no.
Some people have trouble saying no. They don’t want to let someone else down or be the “bad guy,” so they take on more responsibilities.
Trouble is, that often comes at the expense of doing things you actually enjoy doing so now even positive tasks becomes an arduous pain in the ass. Worse still, you might find yourself spread so thin that you can only give a half-baked effort to a bunch of things and wind up letting everybody down.
But once you establish the Short List, saying no gets a lot easier cause what’s really important to you is right there in black and white.
If something comes up that doesn’t jive with the items on your Short List, you simply need to have the courage to decline. After all, by overextending yourself, you’re only stealing from what’s really important to you.
At first some people might get offended when you say no to them — and if they do you can even explain your reasons for having to do so — but truthfully most won’t, especially not those that really care about you.
It takes patience and practice, and it also takes a little flexibility.
For example, a midnight Quentin Tarantino marathon with the boys may not make your Short List, but perhaps “time with your friends” does.
However, if you also have training on your Short List and “time with your friends” often turns into “beer, fast food, and women of ill repute”, then maybe it’s not such a great fit.
Well, at least not all the time. Certainly sometimes though. Definitely sometimes.
Less is More
I won’t lie, I look forward to having more toys one day, and there are times when I drag my tired feet around NYC that I wish I had a BMW instead of a Metro Card. Still, breaking the pattern of Things-Addiction changed my life for the better. Maybe it can benefit you?
Hit me up in the comments and let me know.