What Do You Buy The Man Who Has Everything? A Skip.10 June 2013
“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!” - George Carlin
I recently realised that I have everything I want. On a physical level at least. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I have no idea what I’d spend the money on. There’s no item I want to possess that I don’t already own.
Am I a spendthrift millionaire living in opulent luxury, writing this post to flaunt my wealth? Not even close. I actually own very little. Over the last year or so I’ve gradually sold, given away or binned nearly everything I own, and I’ve never felt better.
It started off slowly, but once I knew I’d be moving away from the UK it went into overdrive. Clothes, books, CDs, electronics, music gear, old toys, everything except the bare necessities were jettisoned with increasing glee. If I can’t take it to Vietnam with me, what’s the point in owning it at all? I flew out of Heathrow with nothing but hand luggage and a guitar case. I still feel like I brought too much.
They say that if you have an extra bag you'l find a way to fill it. They're right.
The culmination of all this is that I’ve spent the last month travelling around Cambodia and Thailand with a grand total of 81 items on my person. (Yes, I counted them.) That might sound like a big number, but that’s counting everything, from my toothbrush and toothpaste to each individual card in my wallet and the 35-litre rucksack that I carry the other 80 items in. It’s not much bigger than the bag I used to take my books to school in, and I wish it was even smaller.
You know when you’re in a room that has a buzzing sound in the background, but you don’t notice it until someone turns it off? That’s what the last few months have been like. A weight has been lifted that I never even realised I was carrying, and I’m basking in the newfound peace and quiet.
A bunch of my stuff is still sitting in a friend’s house back in Saigon. I imagine that when I get back, with the exception of my guitar and a couple of sentimental items like photos and cards, I’ll chuck it all. I haven’t needed it when I’m literally homeless; what possible use could I have for it when I’ve put some roots back down?
I told my family not to get me any presents last Christmas. The last thing I want is more crap cluttering up my life. Even when it’s given to me freely, it comes with a price.
(Not to mention that the entire tradition of holiday gift exchanges is a nauseating corporate-driven charade that I find no meaning or value in, but that’s another story. My friend Chris Kirkland has an excellent blog post on the subject of Christmas; I agree with every word of it.)
I don’t know what the secret to happiness is, but a first approximation might look something like this:
1) Do more of the things that make you happy.
2) Do less of the things that don’t make you happy.
Sounds blindingly obvious, doesn’t it? So why do so few people do it? In fact most people do the exact opposite, clinging on to the pointless junk in their lives that adds nothing while shying away from the things they really want.
If something (or someone) adds no value to your life, just get rid of it (or them). It really is that simple.
This applies to so much more than possessions. And possessions aren’t the only things I’ve said goodbye to lately:
Drinking alcohol added nothing to my life, so I stopped doing it. To quote Steve Jobs talking about LSD, this is one of the 2 or 3 most important things I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if I hadn’t quit drinking, I wouldn’t be in Southeast Asia right now.
University was a pointless waste of time that I hated, so I dropped out. Haven’t looked back yet. I wouldn’t trade the last few months of my life for all the qualifications in the world.
I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper. The disgust that I used to feel towards The Daily Mail, I now feel towards them all. Reading the news is the worst way to learn about the world imaginable; cutting it out felt like taking my first ever breath of fresh air after spending my whole life in a coal mine.
I’m sure I spent more time clubbing during my first two weeks of university than in my last two years. I have no idea why I spent so much time in nightclubs in my first year. Certainly not because I enjoyed them. I’d rather lick Susan Boyle’s toilet seat than spend 5 minutes inside the average UK nightclub. I wouldn’t go back if you paid me.
Facebook is clearly a net negative and I’m probably going to delete my account again soon. Strip away the bullshit and it boils down to one simple question: does social networking improve my life, or does it make it worse? The answer has been staring me in the face for a very long time,
Those are just the things that immediately come to mind; I’m sure there’s more that’s so thoroughly removed from my reality I can’t even recall.
The only reason I ever did any of the above was because it was the path of least resistance. It leads directly to nowhere. Dropping them might not be the right choice for you, but hot damn has it worked for me.
We all have our excuses for why we need to hold on to our deadweight – I know I’ve had mine – but they’re just that: excuses. They’re bullshit rationalisations that are rooted in fear. Trust me, the grass is greener on the other side. And more spacious.
I knew clearing out my excess junk would feel good; I didn’t predict it would be so addictive. I wonder what else I could get rid of? Time to have a sort through these 81 things…