Buy less stuffWed, 25th Jul '07, 12:15 am::
I'm not a big fan of productivity advice and lifestyle tips so when I casually glanced at the headline "The seven habits of highly subversive people" on reddit, I expected nothing more than a rehash of every other "Work Smart" Top 10 list. I imagine it was my disdain for this genre of articles that caused me to misread "subversive" as "productive." Now that I read the article without any preconceived notions, I can't help but pontificate about my own personal and lifestyle habits.
I'm not certain how this change came about in my personality but over the last couple of years, I have stopped buying things unless I absolutely need them. I don't go "shopping" anymore and don't order t-shirts, gifts, or cool gadgets online. I have no new collectible items to adorn my showcase and the only products I buy regularly are food and household items. I haven't even bought new clothes in years (sadly, it's starting to show.)
However, I realize now that contrary to my claim just half a year ago, I am not a bad consumer; I just spend my money differently. I've minimized buying things and maximized buying experiences. Instead of $250 to get a better cellphone, I got $150 wind-surfing lessons. Rather than spend $600 on a bigger TV, I'm spending $50/month so I can chat with my family in India every day on my drive to work for 25 minutes. The only major purchase I've made this year is a $2500 server/workstation to code Chime.TV on but that's strictly a development decision and given the expected four-year life of the PC, quite economical in the long run.
I remember asking my dad to take me to Fancy Market in Kolkata, India so he could buy cool wristwatches for me. It was a lot of fun to find a unique designs before others discovered them. Since then, a significant change in my thought process has occurred. You know how you love that one shirt or that book or that wristwatch or your lovely car? I don't. I barely care about objects anymore. My car is a mechanical device with a simple purpose to transport me around and requires regular maintenance. My computer is replaceable as long as the backups are current and my wristwatch costs $9. Stuff is merely stuff. And I refuse to allow my purchases to represent my inner-self.
I know this sounds pretty Fight-Club-esque and maybe I am going through the same disconnect with reality, after already having procured every minor item I thought would make me happier and not finding the satisfaction. It might also be that I have realized I don't have what it takes to afford a $12m house with heated pools and tennis courts and hence have opted to get out of the rat race altogether. Or my minimalism somehow makes me feel superior to the mass consumers out there and is just an elitist act to maintain my smugness. Or maybe I've woken up one morning to a fire in my apartment and realized that in times of life and death, the stuff you so gleefully bought is what gets in your way as you try to save your loved ones.
I often get caught up in long debates with my environmentally-conscious friends who think that I am single-handedly killing the planet because I am vehemently against most methods of recycling, use paper plates instead of washing dishes, and think purchasing carbon offsets is completely idiotic. While I can defend my position at length on all those issues, I would much rather explain that the best way to be green, save the planet, and be environmentally conscious, is to BUY LESS STUFF. Live in a smaller house with a bigger yard. Drive the smallest car you can manage with. Don't throw away things unless they break - upgrading for the sake of upgrading is sickeningly wasteful.
Learn to manage with less. Instead of a $600 GPS, buy a $15 Atlas. I did, and discovered that Okefenokee was only four hours away. You don't need a 650 DVD movie collection. You don't need a 32-piece set of steak knives. And despite your intellectual ambitions, you don't need a 3,200 book library. Manage with less, manage with alternatives, and manage with compromises. And with the money you saved by not buying the entire audio CD collection of Songs from the 80's, take Salsa & Merengue lessons.
I'm not the first person to say all of this either. Eradicating materialism has been the tenet of many a religion like Buddhism and Jainism. However, it's pretty difficult to give up all the things you're used to and care about. I can't give up computers and I rather fancy my kayak. Loving your pair of black shoes isn't going to destroy Earth so keep on dancing. All I'm saying is don't get in the cycle of desiring more objects, getting a more strenuous job to afford those objects, and then realizing you need more objects because your new peers have them, and working 70 hour weeks to afford these objects that you didn't even know you needed, only to find out that while you're working and buying and working and spending, you imprisoned yourself in a cage of debt, stress, and complete lack of direction.
So I say be less productive, less materialistic, and less successful and be more adventurous, more leisurely, and more content.