What is wealth or richness? These terms vary depending to whom they are referring. To one person, someone rich has a six-figure income. To someone else, six figures are just the beginning. Putting the actual income level aside, what even makes this income appealing? Surely, a briefcase full of cash makes for a decent footrest under your desk, but most would say that the appeal of abundant monetary wealth is the afforded luxury of freedom—of time, actions, resources. They can do whatever they desire.
Then there is the person that typically makes less than six figures—the office clerk, the teacher, the janitor, the bus driver, the grocery store attendant. Do they have the same desire for freedom as the CEO, the doctor, or lawyer? Undoubtedly.
Now, let us distill why freedom equals happiness. More often than not, this freedom-thus-happiness comes with a steep cost. For some, many weeks going over evidence and preparing their client for a court case may result in some of that freedom-thus-happiness. For others, bathing an elderly person one morning can result in a bit of that freedom-thus-happiness.
What if that person bathing the elderly felt indeed contented in their pursuit of freedom-thus-happiness, though the defense attorney utterly hated every moment of their job? What if the fast-food worker sang while cooking food in the back of a hot kitchen while the CEO stared at the ceiling fan all night, wondering what kind of people her children would grow up to be? What is the cost of affluence if someone is routinely required to slowly and systematically crush their own soul in the process?
The measure of a rich person should not be the digits on their bank statement, but the measure of the void between longing and contentment. By this definition, an elementary school teacher who must purchase her own school supplies may live a life of existential opulence while the gold-cufflinked stockbroker may indeed be spiritually destitute and emotionally famished.
More often than not, the pursuit of wealth is far more costly and far less gratifying than the pursuit of contentment.
“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. … Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough.” – Seneca
“Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it—like I have to like it.”
“Who said you have to like it?”
“Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear—pesto, pesto, pesto.”
“I don’t like pesto.”
“Where was pesto ten years ago?”
More than a scene from “The Busboy” episode of Seinfeld, you’ve likely experienced an instance like this yourself—a situation where you feel self-conscious about exerting your preferences and “sticking to your guns.” In an attempt to be an open-minded explorer of worlds, you end up forgoing sure-fire preferences for maybe-I’ll-like-it-this-times.
Here’s an unpopular opinion: pickiness is severely underrated.
Though modern society is designed to make us feel like curmudgeons for not continually seeking the hip new thing, most of this anxiety is engineered FOMO—fear of missing out. I, for one, lean into JOMO—the joy of missing out. How? By embracing my picky, quirky, eccentric ways, i.e., things I know I’ll like.
The Happiness of a Picky Kid
As a kid, did you have bouts of pickiness? Were there periods of time whenever you were obsessed with a particular song, food, or clothing ensemble? Do you recall how much happiness these simple preferences brought you? I was recently revisiting my childhood pickiness and discovered something quite magical; if you dare to abandon all outside expectations for what you’re supposed to want, like, or enjoy, you can receive immense joy from the simplest of creature comforts.
There is one caveat of this path, though — you have to channel your inner picky child.
Picky Child or Chronic Preference Researcher?
I was blessed with very wise parents. They recognized that children operate in phases. Instead of freaking out about the bizarre choices my brother and I would make, they would give us our space, but closely monitor our choices to see where they would take us.
Most of the time, my chosen preferences about what I wanted to eat, wear, pump into my headphones, or watch on the television — all were subject to sudden and drastic change. My parents also understood that, had they wanted to limit my bouts of experimentation, there would be a strong likelihood I would resent this intrusion and latch to what they deemed detestable — aka, the cause of most teenage rebellion. Their only stipulations were for my own good — making sure that I ate my vegetables, got to bed at a reasonable hour, and never rolled my eyes when asked to brush my teeth or take out the trash.
I imagine that this tolerance of my experimentation wasn’t always easy for them. At one point in my childhood, I remember a time when all I wanted to wear were overall-shorts, red cowboy boots, a cape, and my dad’s old football helmet (notice I didn’t mention a shirt). I remember accompanying my mom to pick up my dad from the airport one day, donned in my broke-down superhero vestments. Everyone at the baggage claim likely assumed I was as crazy as a soup sandwich…or that I was five years old, which I was.
But guess what? I was happy and everyone was fine.
The Picky 30-Something-Year-Old
Returning to the realization that I was allowed to embrace my picky inner child came about recently not as an epiphany as much as it was my wife giving my picky behavior a loving dig. One evening, while watching the famed producer Rick Rubin interview another famed producer, Pharrell, I said to my wife, “Rick Rubin is my spirit animal.”
For those of you unacquainted with Rick Rubin, he’s pretty much the veteran Gandalf of recorded modern music with a likely shorter list of musicians he hasn’t worked with than he has. In addition to his work, he is a caricature of “cool.” Though always sporting a long, thick beard and a shoulder-length truly unmanicured bed head, these days, he’s almost always in cotton shorts, barefoot, oozing Sunday-afternoon-backyard-uncle energy. His words float out of his bearded face like clouds with so much space between sentences that you could rent it out in Midtown Tulsa for $900 a month. You get it — I like the guy.
“Only that you can’t stand to wear shorts or go barefoot,” my wife said without looking up from the cabbage stew she was stirring on the stove. She was right — I’m one quirky dude.
Just to give you a further taste:
I have to sleep in full pajamas because I don’t like the feeling of my skin touching my other skin — also the reason I rarely wear shorts.
I choose coffee mugs by the way their handles feel.
Before I was married, I only slept in hammocks.
I once spent about five hours shopping for the perfect belt. It turned out to be about $12.
I dislike the feeling of plastic — especially plastic cups and combs.
All of my clothes must be “nappable.”
Depending on the closeness of our relationship, if you are a male, I will likely call you either “buddy” (for friendly acquaintances) or “bubba” (for close personal friends).
I could go on, but then again, so could you.
The act of acknowledging my eccentricities scratches an even deeper itch—that these quirks are my conditions for increased happiness and optimal living. The way my clothes, combs, and coffee mugs feel. The warmth I feel for my friends. The intention I put into the possessions I choose to let into my life. My disregard for certain societal norms (e.g. sleeping in a bed) versus comfort preferences (e.g. sleeping in a hammock). By taking ownership of my “quirks” and the ways in which I am picky, I can lean into these to bring more joy into my life. Like a pet lizard’s owner fills their reptile’s terrarium with the lizard’s favorite things, I realized that I too could fill my life with the sensations I find most pleasing to facilitate consistent joy.
Imagine a Life Filled with Favorites
“If you do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” – Tony Robbins
Though this quote is usually meant to jar people out of a rut, when you apply it to a scenario in which you enjoy what things that you’ve always done, it takes on an entirely new meaning. It goes from, if only I could get out of this rut to you mean I don’t have to feel bad about only wanting to wear bamboo-fiber socks? Nice! Bring on more of the same, please!
The Dangers of Living in a Joy Terrarium
While living in a bubble of your own curated happiness sounds blissful, before you do so, there are a handful of questions you should probably ask yourself.
Are any of my preferential quirks self-destructive?
You wouldn’t think that a lifestyle preference perceived as optimal could be self-destructive, but they absolutely can. Excessive usage of pretty much anything can be harmful to your physical, mental, and spiritual health. One question to ask before leaning into a quirky preference is, “is this sustainable?” If your quirk is that you only want to eat top ramen, the answer is a resounding “no.” I don’t believe that stuff is actually even food.
Are any of your “quirks” rooted in prejudice?
There’s a massive difference between a quirky preference and a prejudiced mindset based on unsubstantiated hate of an entire people or culture. If that’s the case, you’re not picky or quirky—you’re likely just a jerk. Genuine preferences are developed utilizing research and experimentation. George doesn’t like pesto because he’s tried pesto, not because he hates Italians.
Are there any of my quirks that may hurt or inconvenience anyone else?
I feel blessed that most of my conditions for joy are relatively benign to the existence of others. My coffee mug, wooden comb, and single belt do not adversely impact the life of my wife or son. If you have a preference for listening to the music at full blast or sleeping in a hammock while married, you may need to compromise on some of your lifestyle choices. This compromise would be for the sake of preserving essential relationships and the sanity of those in your life. I’ve personally discovered that I occasionally need to make comprises because not everyone enjoys jalapeno and anchovy pizza as much as I do. But seriously, give it a shot…or don’t. Your preference.
Dipping Your Toe Out of Your Comfort Zone…You Know, For Research Purposes
Keep in mind that you once dipped your toe out of your comfort zone to discover what you now prefer. If your favorite food is authentic Chinese cooking and you’re not from a Chinese family, you likely took a gamble at one point—and it paid off! Though it can be tempting to limit yourself solely to your picky preferences, allow yourself instances where you take these gambles for research purposes. Set time aside from life in your terrarium to lower your force fields and try the fish tofu pudding fish from China Garden at 31st & Mingo in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yes, this has all been an elaborate commercial for China Garden. Ok, just kidding. But seriously, it’s so damn good.
There Really is No “MO” in JOMO
JOMO (the joy of missing out) is somewhat of an inaccurate description of the sensation of relishing in your eccentricities. There isn’t really any “missing out” from the perspective of an honest JOMOer…or is it JOMOist? No, being picky in this context does not mean plugging your ears, closing your eyes, and singing the chorus to German Eurodance group ATC’s 1999 international radio hit “Around the World” (yes, it’s “la la la la”). Being picky means you’ve done the research, you’ve discovered what you like, and you’ve chosen to spend the majority of your relatively short life enjoying these selections rather than being consumed with chasing after fleeting maybes.
Some call them “creature comforts.” A JOMOist just calls them “my life.”
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I do believe that 2019 has been one of the most transformational years of my life. It will forever go down as the year of intention — of discovering what I believe a great life to be and what is necessary to live it out daily.
This year I learned…
Good habits don’t have to suck. They can be downright enjoyable. In fact, they should be enjoyable or else you probably won’t stick with them. Removing as much friction between you and your doings is the only way to ensure they actually get done.
I am not the voice in my head. Meditation has shown this to me. It has also shown me that the voice in my head may actually represent the worst side of me, but that this is only through years of leaning into a negative bias. Training the voice in my head to be positive and the idea that I can do so has been immensely inspiring.
It’s surprising how little I need to be happy. And these aren’t even “needs”, but falling more under the category of “pleasantries.” A good book. A comfortable pair of shoes. A jump rope. A practical watch. A french press coffee maker. The occasional drink. A few musical instruments. A means of hearing great music. My prayer accouterment. Boom — I’m a happy camper. All other joys are nonphysical.
Social media is no match for a one-on-one drink with a good friend. Keeping up with a myriad of acquaintances online has lost its luster. But even the cheapest of beers with the oldest of pals has really become a release valve for me. I would take an evening with a buddy over the most spectacular, extravagant entertainment money can buy.
There’s a certain pleasure in getting my attention locked into a good book. This has been the first year that my attention span has been trained to the point of being able to do this. In fact, there are times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to be left alone with whatever book I happened to be enjoying. This is new for me, but I pray that it continues.
Memento mori. Tomorrow is not promised, that I am going to die one day so that I need to take active steps towards my goals now. If you’re going to write that book, start now because tomorrow is not promised. If you’re going to be that amazing father, start this instant because you’re not promised another breath. Avoid deathbed regret whenever possible.
Amor fati — love your fate and let it update who you are. The good and the bad should both be leaned into to become a better you.
Don’t react — respond. If you don’t know how to do so, train your mind through meditation. Sit with your thoughts to see that they are thoughts. This is how you will be able to create the buffer necessary to respond to life’s happenings rather than impulsively react to them.
Life is too short for your second string anything. After finding the cut of pants you like the most, the coffee mug you go for first, and socks that actually positively transform your mood, don’t feel the need to regularly tolerate anything less than these if you can help it. Your second favorites are likely only taking up space not only in your cupboard and garage but also in your mind.
There is a certain buzz that can be attained by simply choosing to be present. Most of the time, we’re not wherever our bodies are or actively taking in experiences as they unfold before us. Even during moments of elevated experience, our minds are time-traveling — considering the possibilities of the future or ruminating about the past. Life-changing moments are witnessed through phone screens instead of being fully savored as they unfold. Purpose-infusing experiences are completely missed due to mental scab-picking. Deciding to let the past remain in the past, the future to come in due time if at all, and to concentrate fully on experiencing the present moment like a live-streaming camera is so rare that doing so can actually bring on a lively rush. Choosing to be fully present can drastically transform your life.
One of the struggles of this series is finding something in the text of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch that can apply to anyone — Jew and non-Jew alike. Chapter 3 holds one of those more difficult topics, but I believe that anyone can profit from it.
So, what on earth am I talking about? This chapter discusses not dressing as they do. Who are they? Well, to put it bluntly…well…non-Jews.
“We are not permitted to follow the ways of the gentiles, nor adopt their styles in dress or in hair style or similar things, as it is said: ‘You shall not follow the ways of the gentile.’”
Before my non-Jewish readers are quick to turn the page and feel “well, this obviously isn’t for me,” I do feel there is something that everyone can apply.
“…our heritage demands of us to be modest and humble, and not be influenced by the haughty.”
“You should not dress in extravagant clothing because such a practice brings a person to haughtiness…”
We live in a world where the red carpet has found its way to our magazines, television, and even the devices in our pockets. It’s easy to be caught up in the world of luxury, glamour, and expensive taste. While an escape to this world is fine and dandy for an occasional “wouldn’t that life be grand?” daydream, the rate at which we are inundated with the exterior symbols of success is unparalleled…and for many, crippling.
These exterior indicators of success can make us feel like inferior second or third class members of society. However, we need to recall one detail about those donning these “haughty” displays: many of them are completely miserable.
We imagine these successful individuals to have their lives completely together. Donned in the finest clothing, equipped with a fleet of luxury cars, living it up in mansions or even yachts in exotic locations, many of these are also those we later read about in the news checking into rehabilitation facilities for depression, drug abuse, or that we even younger celebrities in the obituary pages. It turns out that these outward images of wealth and success are often but a mirage.
One such case was the late rapper, Mac Miller. Almost overnight success gave this 20-something musician a net worth in the millions of dollars. What it couldn’t give him was inner peace.
In the lyrics to his song “Small World”, Miller rapped, “You never told me being rich was so lonely. Nobody know me. Oh well. Hard to complain from this five-star hotel.” On September 7, 2018, Miller was found unresponsive in his home by his assistant, who tried to perform CRP. Paramedics pronounced Miller dead at the scene. The cause of death was ruled an accidental overdose — a combination of fentanyl, alcohol, and cocaine. He was buried in his home city of Pittsburgh in a Jewish funeral. Many idolized Miller for his talent and fame. Meanwhile, he was crying out for help in his own lyrics.
What the text is telling us is to not forget who we are on the inside. While the rest of the world tries to sell you an image of success, the text tells us, “…rather you should be distinct, in your clothing and speech and all other endeavors just as you are distinct in your perspectives and concepts.”
Anytime you start to feel inferior to those adorned in fancy clothing or living an extravagantly wealthy lifestyle, remember that these are not indicators of inner peace. The simple pleasures of life — community, family, passion, contentment — are worth more than all of the world’s riches.
“Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot.”
– Ben Zoma, Pirkei Avot 4:1
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
– Jim Carrey
Listen; we need to talk. Things aren’t the way they used to be. It seems like the more time I spend with you, the more drained and unfulfilled I feel. Where once I felt connected to those all over the world, now you make me feel disconnected from the people sitting right across the table. Sure, I’ve changed over the past 13 years, but so have you.
I still remember the day you were introduced into my life—the first time I received a university email address. Back in 2006, you still required a “.edu” email address in order to set up an account. You were…exclusive. I started an account at the behest of one of those edgy, cool kids in high school of which I was not (I had the edginess of a sousaphone). Upon setting up my account and filling out the necessary details, I instantly noticed…how boring the service was. Initially, I only had about four “friends” — most of whom were high school acquaintances at best. Still, this didn’t matter much as you were but a novelty…that, and MySpace still had my back.
Shortly after this time, you would come up in real life conversation.
“Are you on Facebook? No? You should get on it.”
I remember when the “Like” button functionality was introduced. I thought it was so stupid. “Why can’t a comment suffice? We’re becoming mindless idiots!” Still, I used it. Over time, I started to crave these little bits of social media currency. They provided a sensation that what I was posting was enhancing other people’s opinion of me. It still makes me feel uneasy when I think about it. I’d later discover that the strategy and technology of the “Like” feature were akin to those of a digital slot machine and mostly for you to compile a clearer picture of me through an algorithmic lens. Not cool, Facebook.
I can’t put my finger on when I went from occasionally checking you to having somewhat of a problem. I don’t think it officially became absurd until 2010. This was when I upgraded from a flip phone to a smartphone. Any friction that existed between me and checking you was removed.
It’s such a bizarre sensation to think back to when I first observed someone using social media from a phone. The year was 2005. I had arrived early to a venue where I was set to perform in the rhythm section of a band. One of the sound technicians was thoroughly engaged with his cell phone. Not even owning a cell phone myself yet, I asked him what he was doing.
“I’m checking MySpace.” “From your phone?” “Yeah.”
This behavior seemed completely absurd to me. Can’t he just wait to check it at home? Little did I know that just a few years later, I’d be checking my notifications first thing in the morning before even rolling out of bed and often before going to sleep.
For many years, using you from my phone seemed completely harmless. I would surf a bit or post an opinion I had at the time that I thought was genius or uplifting. Scrolling through most of these posts years later via the Memories feature, I would quickly change the privacy settings to “Only Me” out of cringe-inducing embarrassment.
I should have known that my using you wasn’t always healthy when I started deleting my browser history from work computers. Though I wouldn’t have acknowledged it at the time, I now know it was hurting my job performance.
Over the years, I experienced a functioning addiction to you — like a smoker who only smoked two to four cigarettes a day. It didn’t feel like a problem. I was even making new “friends” online who shared my interests and beliefs. Even though I spent more time “with” these new “friends” than I did with many of my closest friends, I began to feel lonelier and disconnected.
At one point, I physically met up with an online community I had first met through you. I spent several days with these people. People from all over the country and even other countries, people I had messaged with back and forth for over a year, were suddenly before me. I saw their quirks, heard their voices, and truly bonded with them for the first time. After the few days were over, we all returned to our lives and online personas. I continued to have “community” online with these folks for years…but it stopped feeling like a community. It just felt a bunch of icons that occasionally emitted textural replies. The magic of that first interaction would only return upon seeing these people in person again.
It wasn’t until I replaced this online community with a physical one that I began to see how much I had been attempting to replace the physical community with a digital version and how much the digital version had fallen short. Suddenly, a digital hello meant little in comparison to a physical handshake. I had been fooling myself all along.
Scrolling through your infinity pool of posts from acquaintances I probably wouldn’t bother to greet in person grew even more unfulfilling. I felt less like a “friend” and more like a voyeur. I would log onto you in expectation of a sensation of connection and leave feeling disoriented, disenchanted, and even lonelier than I had before I started my scroll session.
You also seem to be intent on ruining a new story. Person-to-person “wow, that’s crazy!” moments became devoid of excitement. Suddenly, a story a friend or I would impart was old news even before the chance existed to mention it. “Oh, yeah — I saw that you had posted about that” would quickly deflate the excitement of hearing about something. I’d find myself going to catch up with a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while, only to find that we didn’t have anything new to talk about. Our “news feed” had already fizzled the spark. No story was fresh. Every in-person telling was but a retelling. Every get-together was but a review of posts on our timelines.
One day, I looked up from my screen and noticed that my life was passing me by. I felt like the train I was riding was now moving much faster and I hadn’t even looked out the window to enjoy the scenery.
I don’t regret my time with you. I made initial connections with people I now call dear friends. But the time has come for us to go our separate ways. It’s time for me to appreciate the scenery.
Sure, I may miss out on certain things by leaving you. Still, these events pale in comparison to the events I could miss the longer I keep my nose to the screen. Moments with my wife, my growing son, spending time with my wonderful family, catching up with a buddy, making music with my friends, reading books that help me grow, exercising my body, or reconnecting to my God and community — these are essential. Everything you provide, however, is not.
So, in the words of Curly Bill:
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Even though I was easily a head taller than most of my classmates, my lanky frame, red bushy hair, and freckles made me the target of many bullies. One attempt at replying to my “carrot top” insult was to reply that “carrot tops are green, genius” — which didn’t so much help me win the day as it just made me seem that much more interested in carrots. (Thanks for the suggestion, Dad, but it backfired.) I was at a loss for a clever comeback. So, I did what any 11-year-old would do when facing down a schoolyard bully — I asked my mother for advice.
“Whenever someone calls you a name, just say, ‘so?’ They’ll soon leave you alone.”
What? Just say ‘so?’?” Mom, that’s middle school social suicide. I would be essentially agreeing with my oppressor!
But I was out of options. So, I gave it a whirl.
“Man, you look like if Ronald McDonald and Gumby had a baby.” “So?” “Haha, you admit it, you freckle-faced freak?” “So?” “You probably burst into flames from the refrigerator door light.” “So?” “Yeah, heh. If I tried to play ‘connect the dots’ with your freckles, I’d need a truckload of pens.” “So?” “Eh, uh, your hair looks like I could roast marshmallows over it.” “So?” “Man, forget this. You’re not even worth it.”
And just like that, my willingness to endure this bully’s insults without letting them penetrate my, yes, extremely sensitive skin proved to be a strain greater than he could bear. Even more than his own disinterest in insulting the “uninsultable,” the idiocy and sad plight of his need to put others down became implanted in my 11-year-old psyche. For a brief moment, I started to pity this bully’s need for validation at the expense of losers like me.
I was reminded of these occurrences during my morning prayers. In the Amidah (Jewish standing prayer), there is a passage that follows my mother’s wisdom to a T.
“To those who curse me, let my soul be silent — let my soul be like dust to everyone.”
Insults can hurt, this is true. Words can damage. Still, when we take a step back from the situation and assume a third-party vantage point, we can begin to see that the true weakness lies with the offender. A sad emptiness exists within them. You may even notice them coveting your own contentment.
“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”
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One of my best friends is a bit of slob. I’ve known the guy since high school, love him like a brother, and… he’s been this way the entire time I’ve known him. Visiting his apartment when I was in high school, I remember seeing what I thought was flour in his sink — it was mold. While attending college classes in the city, I moved in with him for $150 a month (not a bad deal for 2009), though I think part of my rent was tolerating his filth. The first week staying there, I got pink eye. Later, I would get in fights with him over him using my bowls for cereal and then leaving half-eaten batches out only for the milk to develop a personality. For the longest time, I thought the shower and tub were a tan color until I accidentally kicked up a patch of filth to expose the blinding white porcelain beneath. Needless to say, I showered with flip-flops on for the rest of my stay.
Despite all of his filth, there was something about his living habits of which I was envious — everything had its place. Despite not necessarily being poor (well, I mean, for a part-time college student), he didn’t have much stuff. He didn’t seem to want much stuff. I think he probably owned two or three pairs of pants, maybe two pairs of shorts, a handful of t-shirts, and probably one dress-casual outfit for buddies’ graduations and weddings. Nothing folded — everything was kept on hangers. He probably could have also rented out his walk-in closet for the amount of room left in it.
Looking back into my room, plastic tubs of random stuff lined the walls. Clothes I rarely wore, trinkets I rarely looked at or used — just…stuff. Every time I would move, which was pretty often for a self-supporting college student/bookstore employee, I’d either have to rent a truck or make a half dozen trips with my car just to shlep my stuff.
I kept carrying this stuff around for a solid decade — six apartments and finally into a house. In one of the apartments, my stuff nearly filled a room of its own. As long as I could shut the door, I thought I was escaping it. Still, the stuff still seemed to take up mental real estate, keeping it spinning like an overtaxed computer with too many systems running in the background.
Last year, my slob-yet-barebones buddy moved out of state for work. One of the perks of his job was a rent-free house with two bedrooms and two full bathrooms all to himself — quite the upgrade from a dinky-yet-acceptable one-bedroom apartment in the city.
I went to visit him in his new digs after he had been living there for a few months. Walking through the house, I recognized the same items from the apartment. A chair. A coffee table. A second-hand TV. A kayak…in the empty dining room. As we caught up, our voices echoed as though he hadn’t even moved in yet.
“Man, this place is empty. We need to get you some stuff,” I commented.
His response was simple, yet echoed in my mind as much as it did off the walls of his empty living room.
Exactly. Why would he need more stuff? Why would I feel that he needs more stuff?
The more I pondered it, the more I began to enjoy the spacious feel that his lack of unnecessary stuff provided. Every item in his house had a purpose — selected as though they were items on a campsite. Even the decorations had a unique significance. Drawings, framed ticket stubs, photographs, and artwork that doubled as history textbooks. Nothing mass-produced.
I became quite envious of the arrangement — not of his specific choices, but of the intentionality of his selections. All of his objects were only his favorite versions of whatever that thing was. For one reason or another, he had chosen only to be surrounded by his favorite stuff — most of which he used nearly every single day. As close friends, we’ve spoken about everything from the intricacies of civil rights to the meaning of life, relationships, divorce, jazz…but we’ve never spoken about his lack of unnecessary stuff. (He doesn’t even know I’m writing this.) My friend was the first minimalist I had ever met, yet he’s never uttered the word.
That trip and realization weren’t quite enough to get me to buy into minimalism. Hell, I didn’t even know that “minimalism” was a thing or the potential benefits of such a lifestyle. Not until I was flipping through Netflix and found a documentary that piqued my interest — Minimalism.
Minimalism is a documentary, directed by YouTube filmmaker Matt D’Avella, largely starring the duo-author pairing of Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, together known as The Minimalists. The premise of minimalism as a lifestyle is being hyper-intentional about the objects you choose to keep or acquire. The reason for this particularity is the idea that many of our possessions usually end up owning us — taking up mental and physical space while draining our emotions and bank accounts. A combination of keeping up with the Joneses and impulsively buying things that we think will enhance the quality of life has led to an existence packed to the gills with stuff and far less freedom — spatially, emotionally, and financially. At least, that’s what I know to be true now. As the minutes of the documentary ticked along, I still hadn’t fully bought it…until one sentence made it completely click for me.
“I don’t own a lot of clothes now, but all the clothes I do own are my favorite clothes.”
At that moment, I remembered rummaging through my sock drawer, casting aside substandard socks, looking for one of the four-or-so pairs of my favorite socks. I did the same thing with almost all of my clothes. Pants and shirts hung in my closet that I had either not worn in months or that I had worn reluctantly because all of my favorite versions were in the wash. When Joshua said that simple line, minimalism made complete sense for the first time. Everything I own could be my favorite. I suddenly felt like a kid who had just been told that they were now allowed to only eat ice cream for every meal — you know, before you actually attempted it.
Arguably, if you only own your favorite versions of each necessary item, you’re probably going to have significantly less stuff than the average person…and that’s actually great. This is because of what truth minimalism forces you to confront — that having or buying more stuff doesn’t make you happy. While it may be fun to open a new Amazon package, the appeal diminishes very soon after.
“The novelty, I think, of everything wears off, right? You get a new car and, ‘Ok, no one eats in here’ and two weeks later, there’s french fries in the seat. The whole novelty of it all, man, it wears off which is why happiness is a complete present state of being. That’s just what it is.”
Most of us, in some part of our minds, think that once we’ve attained a certain income, a certain size house in a certain neighborhood, that new car or that elevated status in the office that then we’ll be content. The truth is that contentment is a choice. For a minimalist, contentment isn’t achieved by stuff — it’s achieved by meaningful, intentional experiences.
“Happiness is the absence of desire. It’s what you feel when you no longer want to change your state.”
Shortly after falling down the minimalist rabbit hole of books, videos, and podcasts, I downsized and decluttered substantially. After many loads to donation centers and downsizing objects that were just taking up space, I started to feel less burdened by my stuff. Even more powerfully, I began to realize that my happiness was not dependant on possessions, but on my relationships, on my own spiritual alignment, and seeking wonderful experiences. If anything, I could feel my happiness increase while my stress levels decreased with every load of stuff I gave away.
So, as a minimalist, do I still have stuff? Absolutely. The difference is that, like my friend, all of my stuff is my favorite.
And I’m happy to report that he keeps his new place much cleaner than his old place.