About Not Owning Sh*t
As far as I can remember, I’ve been a fairly resolute (some may say stubborn) person. I just can’t seem to nuance my commitments: I either do something, or I don’t. I often think of the song Running At Full Speed from Venus when I picture my “strategy” for investment, or lack thereof, in both personal and profesional aspects of my life.
The last few years have been fantastic for me in terms of personal growth: I built my first company and moved on to build my first products. I worked with a whole range of companies and organizations, helped governments and fortune 500. I also did a lot of introspection, kicked my butt into shape, quit drinking, went paleo and overall tried really hard to improve myself, especially in areas where I lacked confidence.
There’s one thing though that I’ve sticked to for a long time, with more passion in the past couple years: I don’t own shit. I insist on the term “shit” as I think it provides a valuable distinction from just “stuff” or “things”.
Owning very little is probably one of the most important behaviors that helps me moving forward. I currently have more or less all I need; a few devices to get my work done, a wardrobe that allows me to work, exercise and go by more formal events… and that’s about it. A pair of sunglasses and some other minor necessities, but the grand total of my possessions fits in a suitcase. When I travel, I can pack all of what I own with me.
Some people think I’m cheap, others that entrepreneurship influenced that trait (the PC version of “scrappy” or “broke”). I think not. I’ve never been obsessed with getting the new shiny thing. I never connected with the people lining up outside of the Apple store to get the latest gadget. I’ve never felt like buying sport gears before I really needed them. I never felt the need to have the most expensive watch or the latest adidas. I just very sincerely don’t give a fuck. I don’t want it. I have no interest in surrounding myself with tons of crap that will help me peacock for a few weeks and will inevitably end up in a drawer or a closet somewhere in my apartment.
I own little, but I try and make sure that this little is reliable and safe. I buy what I want and need, of the best quality I can afford. I don’t try and save money on food for example. I get my shirts tailored. I buy Apple. I do it because it is directly impacting my work or health, and these things weight heavily in the balance of my happiness.
I don’t fear losing stuff, I don’t even think about it. I can safely say that if I was to lose everything tomorrow it wouldn’t take long for me to make it back. A month of consulting and I’d probably be able to afford more than I own right now. As long as I am healthy and can use my brain, I should be able to sort things out.
I am painfully aware I am a highly privileged educated white male and most of the world population don’t have the luxury of living like I do. I remember being 11, laying in bed and incapable of finding sleep, after having spent a couple of hours with my mom shopping at a local supermarket. I was trying to extrapolate the volume of crap that could be imported at any given moment for us to enjoy the sickening wealth and overwhelming diversity of our average shop. I could simply not wrap my mind around the idea of such a quantity of waste and uselessness.
That was a strong enough reason then, and I think that the more privileged should refrain themselves from consuming more than they need. The problem is how you define “need”. But if you are not going to do it for the others, consider the fact that owning little is empowering. Stripping yourself down of the clutter will help you see what matters and is, in my humble opinion, the first step towards finding the meaning in things. It is not an easy thing to find yourself and others when you’ve surrounded yourself with a maze of useless possessions.