Monday, May 05, 2008

There's Wealth In Simplicity

Author Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Workweek:
I’m not going to tell you to walk around in a robe and sandals scowling at people who have televisions. I hate the kashi-crunching holier-than-thou stuff. Turning you into a possesion-less scribe is not my intention. Let’s face it, though: There are tons of things in you home and life that you don’t use, need, or even particularly want. They just come into your life as impulsive flotsam and jetsam and never found a good exit. Whether you’re aware of it or not, this clutter is creates indecision and distractions, consuming attention and making unfettered happiness a real chore. It is impossible to realize how distracting all the crap is–whether porcelain dolls, sports cars, or ragged T-shirts–until you get rid of it.

I created 40% more space in my apartment and hadn’t even grazed the surface. It wasn’t the extra physical space I felt most. It was the extra mental space. It was as if I had 20 mental applications running simultaneously before, and now I just had one or two. My thinking was clearer and much, much happier.
The folks at Unclutterer echo Ferris' sentiments:
What’s remarkable is how well that jibes with our own philosophy here at Unclutterer. The point isn’t to be a monk or disavow consumerism. The point is to be selective about the things you do have in order to live a quality life. One of Ferriss’ great insights is that when people say they’d like to be millionaires, they don’t mean that they’d like to have a million dollars. They mean that they’d like to live like a millionaire. It’s possible to do that without the money, and in my mind the first step to luxury is paring down.
I'd certainly agree with this advice. Here's some lessons from my personal experiences from years of living below my means:
Keeping my costs low... has allowed me to travel to all 7 continents, see all 50 states, allowed me to have the time and money to get my MBA, PhD, and law degree, invest heavily in my 401k for years, and freed up my time to engage in significant hours of volunteering with my church and organizations like Give Kids the World. (I volunteered there weekly, working with terminally ill kids for over 7 years).
It's also allowed me to live debt-free for years and quit my engineering job to return to school as a full-time student.

Every time I travel or move, I am reminded of the virtues of simplicity:

When I moved from Orlando back to Virginia for school, I downsized to the point where everything I owned fit into two pick-up truck loads. Other than new books and clothes, that probably remains true today and I still feel like I have too much stuff. There is a real freedom that comes with owning few things. It's certainly made returning to the life of a grad student a much easier transition for me than it might have been otherwise.

Over the years, I was able to travel to all 7 continents with carry-on only luggage. There has never been a single trip where I wish I had brought more stuff. Every time I returned home after living with so little for a few weeks, I'd look at what I owned and wonder why I had so much stuff?

This is a question I still continue to ask myself. Whenever I do a major purge of my possessions, I re-discover the feeling of freedom that comes from not owning much. Unfortunately, like most people, I seem to do a far better job accumulating things than I do getting rid of them. Once I get exams knocked out of the way, I intend on tackling this goal with more fervor, applying the maxim: Own nothing not useful or beautiful.

See my other posts on simplicity, renting, and small spaces. Also, read this great essay by Phil Graham about Stuff.

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