A few months ago, my girlfriend of two years and myself broke up. We had lived together in an apartment, and like a lot of couples, had amassed a collection of stuff. I always liked the idea of not owning much, but as the years went by, I found myself holding onto things that I didn’t need, starting a miniature garden, collecting bottles and notebooks, etc. I had a lot of things I didn’t need. If I learned anything from Tyler Durden, it is that the things we own end up owning us.
When I first moved out, I only took what I deemed to be the bare essentials. My MacBook Pro, two weeks worth of clothing, and the usual items which reside on ones bathroom counter. During the next month, I’d realize how much I really needed a second blanket, or that I wasn’t wearing these witty Woot T-Shirts as much as I thought, or how painful this 10 year old electric razor had become.
When it finally came time to abandon the apartment, I made a few trips. I took two loads to the local salvation army (mostly clothing, some furniture, coffee makers), donated a bunch of electronics and computer equipment to the Hackerspace I’m on the board of, and gave away as much stuff to my friends as I could (movies, games, a desk, video game controllers, you name it) and what they wouldn’t take I’d donate to the local library. Save for a few music CDs, I don’t think I ended up selling a single thing.
Do you know how it feels giving up so many worldly possessions that have followed you around for years? Amazing.
It is funny how little one really needs. I still buy things of course, but when I do, it is often to replace several other things. I just got a Bamboo Splash tablet, which replaced a cheap off brand one, as well as some notebooks and stationary. Buying a nice pair of jeans which will hold up for few years can replace several pairs of cheaper pants. PDFs can replace a library of hundreds of pounds worth of books.
I now scrutinize things I still own. Items of questionable quality are replaced with higher quality, often pricer, items. Sorting by price has been superseded with sorting by ratings. Do I really need this alarm clock, when I have one built into my phone? Do I really need this home server when I could be running my applications on a Linode VPS?
This journey hasn’t been all about purging items. I’ve found myself traveling more, staying with friends more. I never had a dedicated bag for traveling, I would always find myself throwing outfits into plastic grocery bags. So I hunted down a duffel bag with good reviews and have found the quality of my travels to be much nicer.
While having so few things, it’s easier to move around. I’m starting to live the gypsy life. I can literally take everything I own and stuff it into the back of my car. I’ve been living at a friends house for the last few months, in the next two weeks I’m going to be transitioning to another friends spare bedroom. Really, the ultimate step after this is finding a career that can be done entirely remote. One day I’ll look into doing more technical writing and blogging as a profession, but I’m not that much of a gypsy yet.
Since I’m now buying less physical things, I find myself spending more money on ephemeral entertainment and food, which has the nice side effect of spending more time with friends. I’m sure one day we’ll look back on our lives, and we’ll think of the times we enjoyed a movie with a friend or went on a date to a comedy club, not the stack of movies we had or the ridiculous vendor T-Shirt collection we hoarded.
How many things do you own?