Monday, November 30, 2009

How to Want Very Little

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from David Turnbull of Adventures of a Barefoot Geek.

There are two challenges that people face when choosing to live a more simpler life:

owning little and wanting little. Yet people fuse these challenges together into a larger “live simply” goal. Unfortunately, they’re two different beasts that need to be tamed in their own ways.

Owning little requires a practical approach – systematically decluttering your life and eliminating the unnecessary. Wanting little on the other hand is focused on the way in which we think, a far more blurred aspect of simplicity.

Sincerely wanting little is difficult. It goes against our firmly rooted desire for certainty, for ownership. To cut through this psychological attachment requires more than step-by-step processes or following a list of tactics, it requires a shift in your thinking, a shift in the way you approach your day to day life and how you make decisions.

1. Have a vision for your life.

Goals are somewhat useful tools to get from point A to B, but they often lack depth, emotion and meaning, and without those three things there’s a deficiency of purpose and drive.
Think about the lifestyle you want as a whole instead of simply focusing on your desire to want very little. What do you want to own? How will you spend your time? Where will you be? Be specific.

This outline acts as a funnel. Desires for more may attempt to flood your life, but because you’ve clearly defined what matters to you, only the things conducive to your aims will make their way through this funnel. It becomes much easier to say “No” to something when you’re certain it’s not apart of the bigger picture.

2. Find your motivation.

What is your why? Why do you want little? Because it’s trendy is unfortunately not enough to quench your lust for stuff. Personally, I want little because I have dreams of traveling the world for months on end, and stocking up on gadgets and gizmos doesn’t exactly gel well with that.

  • Here are some other common reason why’s:

  • Saving money – for retirement, travel, charity etc.

  • Eliminating stress.

  • Freeing up time from the offset of being able to work less, clean less, and maintain less.
    Don’t be meaninglessly minimalist. Be purposeful and deliberate in your quest to want little.

3. Experience the benefits.

No matter how many times you hear the benefits of wanting little, or visualise your motivation with all the intensity in the world, experiencing an uncluttered lifestyle will always be the best way to switch from a “want more” to a “want little” mindset.

Aside from simply throwing out everything you own, there are a few ways to go about this:

  • Plan a short vacation where you take as little as possible, including no technology or fashion accessories. Only pack the essentials.

  • Pick one room in your house or apartment that you want to transform into a no-stuff zone. Dump as much as you can from that room into a spare room or garage. Notice the difference in tranquility as you walk between your regular rooms and the no-stuff zone.

  • Visit locations that are inherently uncluttered. Buddhist temples spring to mind as being places with the bare minimal.

4. Be noncommittal.

Decisions become scary when they’re set in stone. In other areas of life a little fear could indeed be a good thing, but it’s unnecessary and undesirable when striving to eliminate the desire for more – the challenge is difficult enough without adding further resistance.

There’s no line to cross with attachment to stuff, no mountain you must overcome. It’s a lifestyle you can back out of anytime, a mindset that in no way restricts your ability to choose. Wade through the shallows before diving in the deep end.

5. Understand the psychology of influence.

Marketing and sales are apart of this world and it’d be silly to chastise those sectors because in reality we’re all marketers and salespeople – all livelihoods are fuelled by being heard and mutual exchanges. But that doesn’t mean you need to fall into the trap of cheap psychological tricks.

Start by reading about how marketing weasels will try to manipulate you and for more depth pick up a copy of Robert Cialdini’s classic, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Other books on the topic that I’m yet to read, but you may want to check out include:
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely
Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, Martin Lindstrom

6. Grow into it.

Start with small victories. Be mindful of all your purchases and desires and regularly ask yourself “Does this fit into my vision?” You will stumble, it’s the nature of the beast. The world wants you to want more, and the world is a mighty challenger.

Be persistent with your quest for less and surround yourself with positive influences – classical works of literature like the Tao Teh Ching and Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, plus like-minded individuals who want to cut themselves free from the leash of things.

7. Lose yourself.

Purchasing is a process we lose ourselves in. First something catches our eye, then there’s the inner conflict (should we buy it?). If we convince ourselves that we should part with our money, there’s that little buzz you get of claiming ownership. You take the product home. And then you use it.

It’s an exciting sequence of events – full of uncertainty and possibility – that we get swept up in. But the problem is, it mostly ends with buyer’s remorse, a dented bank account and all the other costs of owning stuff.

What you need to do is learn to get lost in activities rather than acquisition. Instead of being strung along by the latest gizmo, learn to transplant that process into an outlet such as writing, music or drawing. Focus on doing interesting things rather than buying interesting things.

8. Crunch the numbers.

It’s likely that you have a passion that has expenses (like travel or reading) or, at the very least, you would like to put away some money for a rainy day. One simple trick I use to avoid acquiring things is compare the cost of the particular thing in question, to the expenses of my passion.

For example, backpacking through Thailand is something I dream of doing. Now, say it costs $25 per day to live in Phuket. If I were to see an Xbox game selling for $50 I’d ask myself “Is that game worth sacrificing two days in a foreign culture?” Most of the time the answer will be a resounding “No” and it’s in those instances where you’ll be dodging a purposeless impulse buy.
If the answer comes back “Yes,” nothing is wrong with that. Wanting little isn’t about depriving yourself of what’s important to you, but eliminating all the clutter that makes its way into our lives. But make sure you’re being honest with yourself.


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