January 4, 2010

Have Less, Feel Better


Buona sera. Yours truly is a bit wound up about a different approach to posting. I believe that I will be posting more often, but with less text; I want to become more efficient with my thoughts and words. Sure, the occasional lengthy treatises and rants will appear, however. "I gotta be me", as the song goes.

Things may change. After all, everything is a work in progress (to use another saying). But to use one of my own sayings around the office, "We'll see what happens".

Unfortunately for people who want short messages, this is not going to be one of them. It's my usual length. But it's very good, keep reading, it'll take you about two or three
minutes.

To the right is an example of extreme clutter.


Before we set our hearts too much upon anything,
let us examine how happy those are who already possess it.

—Francois de La Rochefoucauld, French author & moralist (1613 - 1680)

When Hal the Hacker gets on a project for me, he has all kinds of stuff. I try to be tech savvy, but he's way over my head, being comfortable with gadgets that I never dreamed existed. Many of them are toys, and not really necessary for his work.

How much stuff do we really need to own? I have things in storage from previous lives that I have not been able to part with, so I continue to pay the storage fees. Someday, I will be able to break the chains and set the stuff, and myself, free.

Let's look at stuff on a philosophical or spiritual level.

Benjamin Franklin did not desire many possessions and luxuries, and lived a frugal lifestyle. He believed that the best possession is a true friend. No, he did not think you could own anybody. The value of friendship is more important than stuff or material riches. And this guy whose name I can't pronounce, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, said, "Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us examine how happy those are who already possess it." Right. Will it make you happy? John Ruskin, 19th century philosopher (and so much more) said that "Every increased possession loads us with new weariness".

Buddhism warns against attachment. That is, getting mentally and emotionally attached to stuff, or people, or whatever. Clinging imprisons one's self. This does not conflict with my Christian beliefs. Rather, it supports them. But going deeper into that point is more than I want to do here, so if you want to read more about that, click here. The point is, Buddhists agree that gaining more stuff only increases your burden.

There are strong words about being enamored to wealth, and to things, in the Bible. Mark 4.19 mentions the "deceitfulness of riches". The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4.11-12 that he knew full well how to live well and to go hungry, and "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (I seem to recall Ben Franklin saying something about being content with what we have, as well.) Proverbs 30.8-9 tells us, "Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD', or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." Get that? A good balance between wealth and poverty is a good thing. So, "more is less", because the more stuff you have, the less freedom and peace of mind you have because you're dealing with all of it.

But why do we get so much stuff? Prestige? Impulse? The silly notion that owning things will make us happy? Mental illness? I'll tell you about mental illness, I've said long ago that getting ourselves organized is very helpful for our mental well-being. Although that is about personal productivity, it brings up the point that we need to keep our stuff organized as well, or it becomes a considerable area of stress.

But catch onto this principle that I have been learning: Less is liberating! If you have less stuff (and you know darn well that you don't need that much in the first place), you have less to deal with. Read what Leo Babauta says over at Zen Habits:
Have less. If you learn that enjoyment of life isn’t having stuff, you’ll be able to let go of it … and declutter. Having a life with a minimal amount of clutter is so enjoyable, so peaceful, it’s hard to describe. It leaves you feeling free, without the stress that comes with an overwhelming amount of stuff, and leaves room in your life for relaxation. Less of a focus on buying stuff means you also have more money, or less debt, or you need to work less in order to live the life you want. Any of those options are good.
So, are you with me on this? One more saying: Do you have possessions, or do possessions have you? Maybe it's time to stop obsessing over stuff, over how much you can get. In fact, maybe we should be thinking about simplifying and de-cluttering. That's the directiong that I'm heading. Less clutter, more organized...I'm feel better!

Addendum: Here is a great (and short) article at The Minimalist.

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