Know What You Have

This week was ‘exchange summer clothing for winter clothing out of the attic’ week. I have a lot less clothes than I did a year ago, but it was good to do because it kept me conscious of what I have. And presented the opportunity to examine whether or not I still need everything.

I had nine pairs of jeans, four of which had holes in the knees. I only wear jeans with holes in them when I am raking leaves, so I only need one pair. Pulling them out of the attic made me realize that I did not know I had three other pairs that were just taking up space that I do not have in my dresser.

That seems to be common among many people. They simply do not know what they have. They know they need one of something so they will not throw it away, without realizing that they have six.

This is probably most common when it comes to clothes, but it could be anything. Do not be afraid to empty out a drawer or closet you have not looked in for a while just to see what you already have. Chances are you have forgotten about something that you can either put to good use or get rid of.

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Buy More, And Be Happy

When I walk into Wal-Mart I think of THX-1138.*

People rush back and forth chattering. Kids whine to their parents to get them this new toy. People spend time trying to decide between this product or that, loading their carts high with a bunch of junk that they very likely do not need and will not think about after next week.

Not that I can blame them all that much… this was me a few months ago. Before I found out about minimalism.

I was there the other day and realized that there is nothing in this multi-acre space that I want to buy. Nothing that would make me happier now or six months from now (one of my new criteria for buying anything).

Overall though, society is en route to the world of THX.

In THX-1138’s world things are pretty bland. There is a lot of white going on—white floors, white walls, white ceilings, white clothes (it is actually quite minimalistic).

There’s a shampoo sale on Tuesday, don’t miss it!

But there is one thing that the people know above all else: Spend money.

“Let us be thankful we have commerce,” their government controlled ‘god’ drones on, “Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.”

It is difficult to pick up on when you watch the movie, but as George Lucas explains in the director’s commentary,** they are not really buying anything. Just these plastic widget-things called dendrites that have no purpose and they throw away as soon as they get home, seeing as they are so drugged out of their mind they do not realize what they are doing. The government then puts them back on the shelf so they can be bought again next week.

But hey, spending money makes you feel good so why not? It is actually quite efficient and there is a lot less to clean.

I cleaned out my room and was picky about what I gave away and what I kept. But most importantly I did not do that just so I could fill it back up with more stuff.

So when I see people buying stuff, I can’t help but see its resemblance to the world that THX lives in. The good news is, recognizing the similarities means being able to prevent the former from coming true.

* If you aren’t a complete nerd, THX-1138 is George Lucas’s first film.

** If you are nerdy enough to sit and watch THX-1138, you are nerdy enough to watch it with the commentary.

Who Are You Rooting For?

I have six Terrible Towels. The regular one, the black one, the Myron Cope special edition, the Super Bowl XL edition, you get the point.

Obviously I only have two hands, so why the hell do I need that many?

Sports merchandise seems to be a great microcosm for consumer society. There are over $400 worth of jerseys in my closet. Which is to say, there are three of them. And I have no idea when the last time I wore one was.

I bought all these things and much more that I have since given away. Multiple stuffed Steelers footballs, two foot-long plastic Penguins hockey sticks, twenty-five bobble head dolls, a different shirt for every division, conference championship, and Super Bowl or Stanley Cup the Pens and Steelers have won, a 2-inch pig wearing a helmet that rode around in a football while holding a Steelers pennant. OK, so that last one was unique.

As I was buying all this stuff I was telling myself I was a bigger fan of the team than before. And a bigger fan than people who did not have whatever it was. This is, of course, insane.

I must not be the only one who told myself this because every professional sports team sells memorabilia. And yet, nobody needs any of this stuff. Fandom is about emotion. Victory or defeat is no sweeter or painful because of the shirt or the underwear you are wearing (I still have Pirate and Steeler boxers, but only because they are clothes).

So the next time you go to buy something with a logo on it, ask yourself if you really need it. Nobody is going to question your fandom if you do not have it, at least not if you are rooting hard enough.

Clearing Out the Chickens

Once upon a time, there was a guy from rural Poland. He lived in a one-room log cabin with his wife, his wife’s parents, and his three kids. They had a simple farm with a few acres and a barn with a few animals.

He would work hard in the field all day to grow his crops, but when he came home at night and tried to relax, it was mass chaos. His kids would bicker and fight, would not eat their vegetables, his in-laws would argue, his wife would nag him about the leaking roof, blah, blah, blah.

One day, he had enough. He went to the wise old town elder and explained the situation.

“I can’t take it anymore,” he told him, “can you help me out?”

The old man thought for a minute and asked, “Do you own a goat?”

“Umm, yes. He lives in our barn. But I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” said the farmer.

“I want you to take the goat out of the barn and let it live in your house,” the wise old man told him.

“Are you crazy?”

“The goat lives in your house for one week,” said the elder, “then come back and see me again.”

“Fine,” said the farmer. He could handle one week of living with a goat, even if was a stupid idea. So he went home, unhooked the goat from his spot in the barn, and brought him inside.

Obviously the farmer’s home did not get any calmer with the addition of a goat. But after one week the man went back to the wise man.

“This week has been terrible,” he said, “now what?”

The old man thought for a minute and asked, “Do you own any chickens?”

The farmer hesitated, “Yes.”

“I want you to take the chickens out of the barn and let it live in your house,” the wise old man told him.

“Fine,” said the farmer, “it’s not like things could get any worse.” So he went home and took his three chickens out of the back yard and moved them into his house.

Things got worse. The chickens pecked him while he was trying to sleep, the goat ate his children’s homework. The family fought and argued even more than before.

The next week he returned to the elder. “This better be good,” he told him.

The old man thought for a minute and asked, “Do you own a cow?”

The farmer stared.

“I want you to take the cow out of the barn and let it live in your house,” the wise old man told him.

The farmer stared.

But eventually he went home, untied the cow from his place in the barn, and brought her into his one-room home.

“Are you nuts?” his wife protested.

“One week,” he said, “just one more week.”

Finally, after one of the worst weeks of his life, when everybody in the house at each other’s throats, he slowly walked back to the wise man’s house.

“Now what?” asked the farmer, at the edge of his wits, “you got a woolly mammoth you want me to watch for you?”

“No,” said the wise man, “I want you to go home and take the goat, the chickens, and the cow and move them back out into the barn.”

“That’s it?” the farmer said.

“That’s it,” the wise old man told him.

And so he did.

One week later, he ran back to the wise man’s house. “This past week has been one of the most serene of my life! Everything in my house is quiet, things are so much cleaner, it’s so much calmer now. Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome,” said the old man.

 

This story came to mind these past few days after I discovered The Minmalists and their thoughts really made sense to me. You see, most of us live with the cows and the chickens, but don’t realize it.

Over the past week I tried to clear out all of the chickens in my bedroom. It took ten garbage bags and was completely worth it.

Most people wish for a bigger house to keep their shit in (when they got a bigger house though, they would probably buy more and fill that one to the brim as well). The alternative of course is to have less shit.

Now this is what my desk looks like when it’s messy. About 1/10 of the stuff when it used to be clean.

When I was in second grade, some lady came in and told our class this story. I have no idea who she was or why she was there, but I never forgot it for some reason. That is neat in itself—I have no idea who this person was, why she was in my elementary school gym, or where she is now, but her little story still is impacting my life almost twenty years later. So, never underestimate the potential impact you could have on people, especially kids.

If you want to learn more about minimalism, check out The Minimalists.