Today I am launching a new project called One Thing Less. The way it works is that every week I will be either selling one thing that I own, give it away for free, or if there are no takers I will find a way to donate it to charity or, as a last option, throw it away. These items are announced in the One Thing Less website, and anyone can indicate interest for an item by leaving a comment.
I’m sure everyone has a lot of stuff they really don’t have any use for. Same with me, but not nearly as much as most of the people I know. The real challenge begins when I will actually have to make hard choices about what to keep and what to give away.
So why do this? Here’s some of my reasoning.
It is difficult to throw stuff away. After all, you don’t know when you might need something. Despite not remembering the last time you actually used any of the crap laying around. Yet there’s a barrier, a threshold you need to cross to discard a thing. After all, you wanted it at some point, or why else would you have bought it? And if it was a gift, then it came with that fucked up social spell that tells you to “respect” and treasure it.
“The things you own end up owning you.”
– Tyler Durden, Fight Club
The more stuff you have the more you sacrifice your freedom. Got a car? There are maintenance costs, insurance, gas… Got pets? Can’t go for a long holiday without having someone look after them. Want to move to a different area? Your options for an apartment are limited by how much stuff you will bring with you.
Your social mobility will also suffer. The more stuff you have, the fancier the car, the bigger the apartment, the better the lifestyle, the harder it becomes to do something, anything, that would mean a decrease in income. You will notice that you have become trapped by the “quality of life” that you have. You need to earn X amount of money just to maintain it. This is one of the big reasons why so many people stick with jobs they hate.
If you have no practice about giving things up and settling for less, you won’t have the balls to change your life.
2) Everything is temporary.
The Stoics use a technique called negative visualization. What it means is that you are supposed to imagine how your life would be if you didn’t have the things you have. What if your health was gone? What if you didn’t have a job? What if you couldn’t chew your food? What if you had to make ends meet by begging on the street?
The purpose of this exercise is to help you realize that you are actually doing pretty fucking well. We always have a tendency to focus on what is missing, but not on what we already have. Even when we get something we want, it won’t take long for us to take it for granted and start looking for the next fix. A search for “Hedonistic Adaptation” on Google Scholar turned out 12 000 results. Read couple of the papers if you don’t believe me.
Another reason to practice negative visualization is that when you lose something, it will not have such a big impact on you and your tranquility (the state of being where strong negative feelings are largely absent, and what the Stoics tried to achieve). After all, you have already visualized life without it. Visualization is practice.
In the context of this project the goal is to recognize that nothing lasts. Everything you own will eventually turn to dust. You buy the best computer or TV on the market, and five years from now it has become an antiquated piece of crap. Even your body will eventually fail you.
The aim is not to become a pessimist or to succumb into an apathy and give up on everything, but to learn to appreciate the good in life as it happens, to be in the moment, and to train your mind to maintain tranquility when things eventually break and fall apart.
While having a lot of stuff limits your physical freedom, it also comes with mental burdens and constraints. You need to spend time and energy to maintain and take care of the things you have. On top of that, if you have e.g. an expensive car and park it in a less than reputable neighborhood, it will be difficult to stop worrying about whether or not it will still be there and in the same condition you left it.
I for one want to spend my time and energy on things that make me truly happy. However, the more stuff there is the easier it is to become distracted. It takes discipline and a good understanding of who you are to determine what really matters and then consciously focus on it.
It’s the same thing with dieting. If you know you shouldn’t eat something then don’t fucking buy it and keep it in your cupboard. Because if you do, you end up wasting willpower and energy just to NOT think about eating it. If you want to do something, create conditions that support you doing it, or at least conditions that don’t actively fuck up your efforts.
4) George says so.
I’m not obviously saying that you should become some weird holy man who has nothing but the cloths he wears. What I consider unnecessary and want to give away might be very valuable and useful for someone else. That is the main lesson here. Focus on the essential.
I’d appreciate if you want to stay tuned with the project and what items will be given away, so please subscribe to the blog updates at one-thing-less.blogspot.com.