There are so many items that we purchase as additions to our home, accessories to items we already use, or general extras. I used to buy things because I thought everyone has this stuff, and I need to have it also as a functioning adult. Everyone has a TV, I need one too. Once upon a time, I thought there never could be a home without a microwave. The embarrassing abundance in America has caused many of us to end up consuming completely mindlessly. We assume having all of these extras in our lives is what we are supposed to do, we assume this is normal.
Taking the time to evaluate what you own is an excellent exercise in confronting your style of consumption. It is so simple to live with never really considering why we purchase what we do, or continuing to have that which we assume we need into order to survive. Once I began to learn more about living with less, I instantly changed my pattern of consuming. Like a lot of people, I often took myself out for a shopping trip when I felt down, or went shopping as a social activity. I would buy something just because it was a good price, or because I felt an urge to buy something anything, just to make myself feel better.
Personally, I feel that my journey in life is so deeply intertwined with my interests in travel, Buddhism, and minimalism. One interest blends into the other, and I notice when I nurture one of these parts of my lifestyle, the others flourish. My journey of wanting to live with less absolutely is tied into a desire to travel more. My study of Buddhism allows me to evaluate how I can live more compassionately, and has in a real way changed the way I consume – both in terms of purchasing as well as what I choose to eat.
In my lifetime of struggles with fighting the pain from my past, I have often abandoned these interests for the sake of numbness. Sometimes sorrow can be too heavy to bear, and we need to escape for some time. I think there often lies the power of a great book, or theater, or a film. But, I got into the habit of cocooning myself from the core of my self, and in those times I see that I live mindlessly. Have you ever gotten into your routine of going to work and become so disconnected that by the time you reach your office door, you aren’t quite sure you could remember how you got there? This is how I could describe periods of my life when I chose to sequester myself from living and thinking critically and mindfully.
I know that I am not alone in this, that so many of us often feel so deeply that we often need time away from the realness to move forward with our daily responsibilities. This is how many of us end up deeper in debt, in relationships that do not make us happy, or surrounded by stuff that we don’t even remember buying. My favorite teacher of Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hahn, wrote of this pattern of consumption and suffering in Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism:
“I urge all of us to practice calming and concentrating our minds, watering the seeds of wisdom and compassion that are already in us and learning the art of mindful consumption. If we can do this, we will create a true peaceful revolution that can help us get out of this difficult situation…
There is a lot of suffering in people in our society and because they do not know how to handle their suffering, they consume in order to forget. When we are able to touch joy by living with compassion and undersanding, we don’t need to consume a lot anymore and we don’t need to destroy our environment anymore. Consuming in such a way can preserve the compassion and understanding in us….”
What I’ve realized is that so many of these things I once had are wants, not needs. No one actually needs a TV. No one actually needs cable at home, or even the internet for that matter. This is still a work in progress for me, but as I assess what I currently own I discover that I want and need less and less.It has been a long time now that I have purchased anything simply because I was bored, lonely, or sad. My home looks different than it used to — I once had huge towering bookshelves of books, each book was something I imagined I could never part with. Now I only have a few shelves of favorites, and I visit the library very often. I used to keep gifts that I had been given out of guilt, I used to buy things that I thought I was supposed to have as an adult. I’ve given up a lot, and I am so much more mindful of what I bring into my home, what I ingest into my body.
I don’t live like a spartan, and surely there things that I don’t use that I could let go of. But the difference in living mindfully means that I don’t feel as attached to things. Even items that belonged to my father who is no longer living carry a much lighter emotional weight. My nephew recently broke something that belonged to my father and once I could have been very upset by that — but now, I know that his memory is not in that thing. That thing is an extra that he left behind when he died.
The choice to live more simply, to live with fewer of the extras I once thought I needed, has allowed me to become more free. I focus my time now on the things that make me feel most like myself. This means more time for the things that make me happy, but even more so confronting that which I struggle with. I am trying to reach a deeper understanding of myself so that I can be more compassionate and caring to myself and with others. With that attempt to live more lovingly with myself, I try to carry as much joy and compassion for others that I can. Without the extras that used to weigh me down, I can travel more I can meet many others who can teach me about their lives and their paths.
In an earlier version of this post, I listed out some extras that I have eliminated from my home and from my pattern of consumption. I have kept some below, and hope that perhaps this may inspire a reader to share what they have chosen to live without. I’m always learning, always searching for ways I can expand my path towards mindful simplicity.
Here are some extras that I have decided I no longer need in my home, and simply no longer purchase:
- Paper towels: I use a rag, wash it, and use it again.
- TV or cable: I watch things online if I want to veg out.
- Books: I no longer purchase any books or magazines. I have some that I still love, and I have some that I still want to read, sitting at home. I visit the library often. I’m also really enjoying reading ebooks from the library for the first time! I know, I know, a lot of people are book lovers, myself included! But it is so nice to be able to be able to travel with a tablet around the size of my palm, and to have many books at my disposal.
- Clothing: I have enough clothing to last for a long time, and have purchased perhaps a handful of items since starting my new job about a year ago. Since I live in an area with four seasons and expectations of what to wear at my workplace, I do imagine I will need to purchase some items now and then, but only if those things make me happy.
- New dog toys: He loves what he has. His favorite ball, and it is clearly very much a favorite and the toy he returns to over and over, is from the day I adopted him at a shelter in San Francisco. He loves that ball and it is always what he chooses to play with first. He has all that he needs. What makes him really happy? Hanging out with me more than the toys.
My goal in recognizing some of the things that I do not need to have in my life, is that each purchase or financial decision I make will be more intentional. Every thing that I decide to add to my life will bring so much value that I will not mind spending that money, rather than paying off debt or costs for my next trip. I recognize that this is a short list, but it is just an idea of a few things I’ve decided I do not need. I also recognize that everyone’s journey and needs are very different than my own. If a zoodle machine is what you truly need in your life to fully enjoy eating zucchini noodles, go for it! Embrace that which brings you joy. But maybe you could try taking the time to mindfully and slowly cut the zucchini, being grateful for the time you have to cook, and for the person who took the time to grow and care for the plant you are eating. Maybe then you could consider that there are a few other items that you can imagine living without. Let go of some extras in your life, and imagine what kind of experiences might take their place.