‘It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.’ ~Bertrand Russell
What do you do if you can’t let go of something you own?
How do you deal with the “just in case” syndrome, or the “it has meaning” syndrome?
There’s no easy answer for letting go of the emotional attachments we put into our objects, nor for letting go of the fear of what we might need in the future. But for me, the answer has been to change how I look at ownership.
Ownership, for me, is more fluid and less concrete.
We don’t own something for life — that’s wasteful, because most of our lives we don’t need or use something. We “own” something just for as long as we need it, and then pass it on.
Think of ownership like a public library — we check things out when we need them, and then return them when we’re done, so that others can use them. If we ever need something again, we can always check it out again.
In practice, for me, this has meant passing books and clothes and other things on to friends and relatives when I don’t need them. It means giving things away to Goodwill and other charities. It means getting things from Goodwill, used book stores, thrift shops, Craigslist, Freecycle, friends and family. And yes, sometimes buying things that I owned years before.
This means sometimes spending a little more, but it also means I’m giving away a lot of value, and others benefit from things I think are great. It means things pass through my life, into the lives of others, and I don’t try to hold onto anything. It means no object holds much emotional meaning for me, and so the meaning is instead put into experiences, relationships, conversations, the moment.
Some examples from a reader who is moving and has trouble parting with some possessions:
1. The baby’s things. She (the reader) says, “We don’t know if we want to have another baby in a few years. It’s hard to look at all of our daughter’s outgrown clothes and toys and items and think of selling them/giving them away when there is a chance we might have another baby. Seems wasteful. But then again, it seems stupid to ship a whole huge hoard of stuff simply to safeguard ‘in case’, when the reality is we may go through all that effort and never have another anyway.”
Just In Case is the reason we hold onto a lot of things. The vast majority of the time, we don’t need them. But we’re afraid we might, so we hoard. It wards off insecurities about the future. I beat this by actual facts: I let go and see what happens, and in the six years I’ve been trying this, I’ve never regretted it once. Experience trumps fear.
If you need something, you can get it again. If you aren’t using something, let someone else use it who might need it. And you’ll save yourself a lot of expenses: moving the stuff, storing it, caring for it, mentally remembering everything you have, fixing things that get broken, cleaning things, stressing over how many things you have.
2. My books. She says, “I have an ereader now, and that will be a godsend down south. But I also have a bunch of nice books here, that I’d hate to part with. I have already paired my collection down to: only the novels that I plan to read again multiple times + reference type books + cookbooks. This still makes for a huge pile, and my mum pointed out that most of them will probably mould in the humidity anyway. Do I just leave them all here and replace them in eformat when/if I feel like reading them? Seems like more money down the drain.”
Yes, give them to someone who would like them. You’ve read them, and you won’t read them again (at least for awhile). If you need the info, it’s probably online. If not, you can borrow the book from a library, or find it used online, or swap with someone online. It’s not money down the drain if you enjoyed the books, and if you let someone else enjoy them.
3. Decorative things. She writes, “Picture frames, candle holders, woven baskets, all the little things that sneak up on you over the years… Seems silly to get rid of everything when we don’t know what we’ll need at the new place, and could end up buying some of it all again.”
I’ve found that only a few pictures is all I need for decorating. We used to have a lot of candle holders and other decorative things, but when we got rid of them, it was liberating. Our house became emptier, but I found that I actually liked the emptiness. It means we have space to fill it with conversation, laughter, play, and silence. Whereas when we fill our house with stuff, we are doing it to stave off the void, to avoid having to fill it with experiences and silence.
There is almost nothing in my life that’s irreplaceable, other than people. Sure, I love books, but there are so many others out there in the library and thrift shops and friends’ homes that I will never miss the ones I give away. Sure, I would miss photographs if I lost them, but I put them all online now anyway, and more importantly, my life isn’t in the photos but is happening now. Sure, I would need a laptop and a few clothes if my house burned down, but those things are easily replaceable.
I’d miss my blog if I lost it, but not because of the lost words … I’d miss the readers.
And in the end, you learn that the people and the moment are all that matter. Everything else comes and goes.
‘As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions.’ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Her First Subscriber“How did you do it?” she asked. “In a sea of blogs that never make it, how did you start a personal blog that attracted the attention of 10,000 subscribers?”
I chuckled. “You know, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around that one myself.”
“Come on, Marc,” she insisted. “I’m being serious here. I’m getting ready to start my own blog and I’m nervous about failing. I want to cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s – I don’t want to start it until I know how to do it right.”
I stared at her for a moment. “Well, one Sunday evening a few years ago, I made a decision to write an article about something that inspired me, and then I published it on my blog. And every Sunday evening since, I’ve made a similar decision.”
“That’s it?” she asked. “No launch plan? No design tweaks? No marketing?”
“No, at least not initially,” I replied. “I did a little tweaking later on down the road, but by then my blog already had a catalog of articles up online. And most of the tweaks were based on reader feedback and analyzing visitor stats to see which articles were attracting the most attention.”
“So you think I simply need to start writing, right now… about the things that inspire me?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “The only way you can fail is by not writing – by waiting around until you have the perfect plan before you start. Because ‘perfect’ doesn’t exist. It isn’t human. It isn’t you.
She smiled and said, “Thank you.”
Later that afternoon, she emailed me a link to her first published blog article. And I became her first subscriber.
What’s the core purpose?The hardest part, I have found, of creating something new – a website, a product, a technology – is simply the act of starting. We let our creative minds get so caught up in planning and designing idealistic requirements and prerequisites for our new creation, that we drastically hinder the actual process of creating it.
What stops most people from starting with a less than perfect plan or product is the fear of failure. There’s a common misconception that if you don’t get it done exactly right the first time, your creation will fail and all efforts will be lost. That without this feature or that tweak, there’s no point at all. Nonsense.
The truth is that every successful creation or innovation has a foundational core purpose – a tiny essence that justifies its existence. Any tweak or feature above and beyond the scope of this core purpose is optional. When my friend decided she wanted to start a blog, she spent all of her energy trying to map out the perfect plan and design, instead of simply writing her first few blog articles – which is the core purpose of a blog.
So the next time you decide to create something new, back yourself into a corner, cut out the fluff, and release your core creation into the wild ASAP for others to experience and tinker with. Less than perfect is a perfect start. The need for intelligent tweaks and adjustments will arise naturally as time rolls on.
So here’s a list of 29 semi-productive things I do online when my mind is set on avoiding ‘real work.’
- Check delicious popular tags like ‘useful,’ ‘tutorials,’ ‘tips,’ ‘howto,’ ‘advice,’ ‘entrepreneurship,’ etc. for interesting, educational articles to read.
- Watch one of the thousands of educational videos streaming at TED.com, Academic Earth and Teacher Tube.
- Read an online book list and find a new book to grab next time I’m at the library. Here’s another list. And another. And another.
- Read a classic book online for free at Project Gutenberg, Planet eBook, or the E-books Directory.
- Research a new Do It Yourself project at DIY Network, Instructables, eHow, or WikiHow.
- Add to, delete from, or just generally sort my ongoing to-do list at Remember The Milk.
- Create a cool graphical mind map of some of my recent ideas at bubbl.us.
- Email a close friend or family member I haven’t spoken to in awhile.
- Backup my recent photos, documents, and other important files online using Microsoft’s free 25 gig SkyDrive.
- Use Wikipedia’s random article function to pick a random article to read.
- Touch up on my math and science skills over a the Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, or LearningScience.org.
- Send a paper greeting card directly to a friend or relative at enGreet.
- Start learning a new language online for free at BBC Languages or Livemocha.
- Watch one of the insightful 6 minute and 40 second presentations at Ignite Show.
- Use Memorize Now to memorize a cool joke, or poem, or whatever.
- Use Media Convert to convert video files I have on my computer into a format I can view on my iPhone or iPod later on.
- Listen to an educational podcast over at Odeo or via iTunes on iTunes U.
- Read one of the academic journals at the Directory of Open Access Journals.
- Share my favorite mp3s, photos, videos, etc. with friends and family using Dropbox.
- Get a free college education online using this guide from Lifehacker (or read one of the other useful articles on Lifehacker).
- Inspire and spark my creative mind by looking at a rolling slideshow of the highest rated photos on Flickr for the last 7 days.
- Catch up on a short history lesson at HyperHistory or The Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Or find out what happened today in history.
- Take a fun, educational online quiz at Quizlet.
- Play an educational online game at Lumosity, Sporcle, Games for the Brain, or Math Run.
- Add a little gentle rain to my environment using RainyMood.com and then simply meditate and relax in my computer chair for 10 minutes.
- Sell old stuff I no longer need on eBay and make a little extra cash.
- Find a new musical artist to listen to based on music I like at Grooveshark, Pandora, last.fm, or Deezer.
- Find out what’s happening in our world from quality international news sources like BBC News and Reuters.
- Write a blog post like this one.
Like many young people, she hates thinking about finances.
I was one of them. I always dreaded budgeting and paying bills and thinking about savings and retirement, and figured I could always deal with it later.
Problem with that is you end up screwing yourself if you put things off until later. Living for the moment is great, until the finances catch up with you and the moment starts to suck because you owe a ton of debt.
I’ve found that living mindfully means not just partying in the moment, but taking care of things now, when they’re small, rather than when they’re huge.
So with that in mind, I have a few lessons I’d like to emphasize for Chloe, and for anyone else starting out in college.
1. Spend less than you earn. OK, this is almost the only lesson you need, but it’s so important I’m going to break it down further. The biggest reason people get into financial problems is they spend money they don’t really have. Then you end up in the hole, and it’s hard to get out of the hole, and you work crazy hours to keep up with your spending, and you end up with a life that’s about nothing but trying to pay for all the spending on crap you don’t really need.
So spend less, work less, worry less, be happier.
1a. Don’t get into debt. If you spend less than you earn, you won’t be in debt, obviously. It’s easy, though, to get a student credit card and put things on there if you don’t have the money right now. You can pay for it next week when you get your check, right? That’s a slippery slope. Student loans are another tool for getting over your head in debt. They’re not the worst debt if you’re paying for a degree that’s going to earn a lot of money, but most of us English majors aren’t going to get an $80K per year job and shouldn’t take out $80K in student loans.
1b. Savings is your first bill to pay. If you spend less than you earn, save the rest. Make the savings an automatic payment that happens every payday, and make it the first and most important bill you pay. Not optional. You’ll be glad as the savings grows, and especially when emergencies come up.
1c. If you don’t have the money, go without. This is a lesson most people (young or old) forget. You don’t actually need a car, so if you can’t afford to pay cash, don’t get a loan. You don’t need nice clothes, or a smart phone, or a fancy laptop or iPad or Kindle, you don’t need to go to nice restaurants or the movies or bars. If you don’t have the money, find free ways to have fun or get things done you need to get done.
2. Make a very very simple budget. It’s a scary thing for people who’ve never done a budget, but it’s not hard. List your income, then list your bills (and savings). If the bills add up to more than the income, eliminate some bills. Use a simple spreadsheet to do the adding for you. This helps you to know what’s coming in and going out. I like the envelope system for making sure I don’t spend to much on variable expenses.
3. Pay bills right away. If you have the money, pay the bill as soon as it comes in. You can usually do this online, but if not, it’s just a matter of writing a check, putting it in an envelope, and writing out an address — two minutes. Do this two-minute action immediately, so you don’t have to worry about it later. If you let the bill-paying get pushed back, it becomes a dreaded thing, and your bills start to become overdue, and then it’s much worse.
That’s all you need to know. If you save when you’re in college, avoid debt (except perhaps a modest student loan), and pay bills on time, you’re golden