Monday, February 20, 2006


by Skald

We dont need much. Its easy to "make a living" if we will only live simply.... it was Thoreau's message.. and mine as well. Thoreau was absolutely right, most of us are needlessly enslaved all our lives. Not by force. Not by necessity. By choice... Because of the lifestyle choices we make.

We are taught that we need more more more more more more more more more. The media bombards us. But thats not all. We are also surrounded by fearful slaves eager to "protect" us from the discomfort of freedom. They are our family, our friends, our co-workers. They are well meaning, but completely in the grip of fear...

When I lived in my van, I was plagued by doubters. I had enough of my own worries, and they fed off them. My family filled me with fears about criminals assaulting me. They fretted about the weather.. surely I would freeze. They were horrified by the "hardship" I would endure.

Though I no longer live in a van, the steady stream of worries continues. They fret because I dont have health insurance. They fret because I sleep on the floor (a mattress, seemingly, is now a "necessity"). Everyone is convinced that I cant possibly be happy in a tiny one room studio, sleeping on the floor. How can I survive without cable TV? How can I sleep without a $200 mattress? How do I tolerate the "hardship" of walking down the hall to use the bathroom? How can I possibly get by without a car? How can I continue to live a "student lifestyle" at my age.... I should be living in a McMansion, paying off a $150,000 mortgage. I should have a car payment. I should be stacked with credit cards.

The shock extends to dating. Its one reason I am no longer interested in dating American women. They are, as a general rule, superficial. Theyre looking for expensive clothes, a "cool" apartment, and plenty of cash. If/when I describe my lifestyle, the horrified shock instantly flashes on their faces.

Its amazingly easy to be free. Contrary to the mass conditioning, we in fact need very little in terms of material possessions.

The hard part is not living simply, the difficult challenge is pyschological-- dealing with the relentless assault from media and people in our social circle. Its not easy. It took me a great deal of time to unravel this mass hypnosis... see it for what it is. It took me even longer to accept that Id forever be outside the "mainstream"... that most folks would never understand or accept my lifestyle.

However, it was worth the effort. I passed through several lonely years. But if you follow your principles, eventually opportunity opens. As I committed to an autonomous life, I gradually met like minded people. Over time Ive built my own hobopoet tribe. And Ive even had a very healthy dating life.

And so, with the benefit of hindsight, I offer this advice: Endure the doubts-- your own and those of others. Endure temporary loneliness. Endure the criticism and worries. Go forward boldly, with faith in yourself and your convictions. Do so, and doors will open where you never imagined they'd be (Thoreau).


Devin said...

Your own faith gives ME faith... it's often hard to keep your faith up when seemingly everyone is telling you you're wrong. Thanks.

- Devin

Eric said...

I'm in my early forties, and all my life have been very reluctant to join the "rat race". I looked around and didn't see much to recommend it, both on an individual and planetary level.

Recently I've gotten into a career field and had more money than I've been used to. I'm sure it's small potatoes compared to what most people are making and/or are used to, but it's more than "student wages", which has mostly been what I've been used to making.

With this increase in money, it was very easy to splurge on buying things. They weren't what most people would buy, but were instead things connected to alternative energy, books, etc.--as well as furniture. I've always had whatever odds and ends when it came to furnishings, but then visited a friend and saw how nice her place looked and thought "I want to have nice things". I was then having a relative that was going to visit, and wanted my place to look "nice" for her, so there was my perfect excuse that I was looking for. Buying into the rhetoric, I spent money on a number of new things: dining room table, chairs, a couch, and a bed frame. I learned that new furniture is expensive!

As it turned out, the plans changed and she never visited. Meanwhile, I decided to reduce to PT at work, and also to take a trip to another country for 3 weeks this coming spring. I looked around me and realized how much money I had spent on all this stuff which wasn't bringing me any real joy, and which I was constantly tripping over in the small place in which I live.

Following Skald's advice on changing one's life and treating a journey as a pilgrimage, I sold most of the stuff I had bought. I have continued to prepare for my trip in April, getting rid of more stuff that I don't need or don't use. It amazes me how much I've gotten over the years that just sits around and gathers dust. What I can't sell, I give away on Craigslist, or to the local thrift store. As I continue to pare down, I still have this small nagging sense of fear that some day I will wake up and feel a sense of emptiness at how little I have. But so far all I feel is a sense of relief at having more room in my small place, and a sense that I'm cleansing myself in preparation for my trip.

I've gone through what I call my "minimalist" phases before, and have always been happy when I'm doing it. Then, somehow and without much conscious thought, the stuff slowly builds up over the years, and once again I'm struggling to juggle the complexities of modern life, all the while hating my feeling of impotence at having control over my life. That is the real crux of the matter: when I've had very little in the way of material things, I've felt the most in control of my life, and also felt the greatest sense of optimism on a daily basis. It seems that the world opens up to you, and that once again you sense the possibilities that life has to offer---as well as the ability to act on those perceptions.

We confuse who we are with what we own, and many people fear that their identity will fade away without having stuff to define them. Based on this, we might never know who we are as long as we're surrounded by all the material objects that we own. By cleaning out and clearing out, we make room for the real "us" to appear. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't own anything, but that what we own should be defined by what we truly need and use in our lives, rather than the numerous and never-ending "wants" that are fed to us since early childhood.

As a final comment, as Skald said, I think a big reason why we get into the materialism trap is that it is very difficult not to be influenced by all the messages around us---from advertisers, friends, family, coworkers, and so on. My parents came over recently to my place, and my mom was initially taken aback by how fewer things I had. Then she said "I think I liked it better the way it was before". I was feeling pretty good about how much I had cleared out, and her comment really brought me down for a few days. I regreted getting rid of some of the things, and even told myself that it was a mistake to get of them. Then I realized that having less things made me feel happier and more in control of my life, and that I didn't really miss anything that I had gotten rid of. While having input from others can be an important thing in life, in the end it's our life and we have to live it according to our beliefs.

In all the years of my life so far, I feel that living with a sense of integrity is what's most important. To do this we must work at balancing the demands of the outer world while striving to live according to our inner voice and vision.

Anonymous said...

This is my first comment to your wonderful blog that I have been reading for about a year now. When I read today's entry I felt compelled to comment because I recently broke up with my girlfriend who never understood my thoughts toward simplicity and would groan whenever I would mention weaning us off TV. I am now living my dream by moving back to California (my home turf) and resolving to change my life to my liking. No TV, no car(as long as I can), and none of the other unnecessary items that have seemed to accumulate around me. I feel like my new identity is beginning to form and this blog has greatly assisted in that. so thanks.