It’s an incredibly liberating to do away with want.
Want sucks money directly out of our wallets, bank accounts, and the mattresses and coffee cans we hide it in.
In modern times it’s too simple to say, “I want this!” Whether we’re looking at a large 4K television strategically placed at eye-level at Costco, especially if the price tag seems “reasonable”, or that vinyl album from our favorite band, even though we already purchased it (or streamed it for free). It happens over and over again with any shiny new car, toy, or knickknack we’ll encounter throughout our day.
We cannot blame advertisers, retailers, vendors, or corporate conglomerates, as we so easily and eagerly hand our hard-earned dollars over to them. In fact, we’ll likely only play with our new toy or listen to our new record one or two times before forgetting it and moving on to the next shiny thing that caught our easily distracted attention.
Aren’t our homes filled up with an abundant assortment of these types of immaterial material items?
Unless we’ve been living under a rock (or in abject denial) we’ve heard the buzz. Minimalism, simplicity, Marie Kondo, Hoarders, there’s new examples of reductionists trending everyday. As with any addiction, we need to recognize the problem first. We also need to acknowledge that we are its cause and not the dealers and the producers.
We need to want to get help, or at least, we need to want to help ourselves. Otherwise, it’s just another idea; just more content to add to our already overwhelming reading list or Netflix queue. These are just more examples of the overabundance and collecting that occurs in our lives.
I’ve found one of the most impactful methods of reducing desires is to think of wants in terms of what the actual monetary costs of acquiring the things and their ownership are.
Simply put, if I want a seven hundred dollar flat-screen and I make approximately twenty dollars per hour it will take me thirty-five hours of work to be able to afford the TV. This is not including the additional cost of sales tax and the reduced net of my pay after state and federal income tax. That brings the TV’s total to closer to forty five hours of work, about ten hours more than the typical American workweek. Is it safe to assume we have no other bills or financial responsibilities already speaking for that week’s worth of pay?
That is just the cost of acquisition, but what about financial arrest of the television’s ownership? When we buy that new sixty inch, how many hours will we spend binge-watching Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and Dr. Who-knows what else on Netflix, Amazon, HBO-Go, and YouTube. Days and possibly weeks will be instantly transformed into unproductive time.
That means there will be no income or creative endeavors being accomplished while we’re enjoying our new purchase. Let us not forget our monthly bills for our on-demand streaming services, or our compounding the problem with a video game habit, or pot smoking and its subsequent requisite munchies.
We already find those piles of DVDs we don’t watch, and CDs we won’t listen to. There’s whatever other similar vices we’ve succumbed to over the years of our adult lives as well. It’s all so overwhelming, but sometimes it must get worse before it gets better.
Thinking realistically about these concepts in regards to our own lives and possessions should cause stress and discomfort. Those are the emotions that can drive change and improvement. That’s when we’re motivated to fill up some shopping bags with some of these overvalued, but underutilized material goods and bring them to our local donation centers.
Unfortunately reduction is only half of the battle. To make the behavior sustainable we have to change our habits in regards to spending and acquiring more new shit. We have to redefine want. Better still, we have to try to eliminate it outright.
By no means have I perfected this for myself, but I have come a long, long way.
I personally have spent many years spending money like it was going out of style. It has all been due to me allowing my want to drive my behaviors.
I went through an eighteen month period where I spent about forty dollars per week at my local comic book shop. To this day, many of those beautiful and artistic, but severely depreciating comics are still sitting in my basement; most have been read once, many have not been read at all.
Luckily, I peeled that band-aid off long ago, but the tendencies and behaviors remained. They just manifested themselves through different avenues and mediums.
Ironically, losing a six figure job caused a financial lifestyle change for myself and my family. We were forced to tighten our fiscal belts. Many of the luxuries we enjoyed got cropped out of the picture as we learned they were not only unnecessary, but they did not bring us any joy. In fact, some caused additional stress.
It became easier to understand what we actually needed. For so long we had told ourselves that things were necessities, when they were not.
Tonight my wife and I walked into one of our favorite retail shops. This particular shop carries all of our vices. They sell vinyl records and CDs, books, video games, movies and TV shows, clothing, toys, and candy. Many times in the past we entered with the idea of buying one or two things and ended up leaving with shopping bags full and arms weighed down.
Recently our visits have taken on an entirely different tone. The past few times we have frequented the store we have brought in boxes of item to resell them to them for their used item inventory. In most cases we receive pennies on the dollar in comparison to what we spent to initially purchase these items. Yet, the value of lightening our load and clearing additional space in our home cannot be discounted when assessing the true “trade-in” value.
Oftentimes in the past we would immediately squander whatever meager trade credit we were allotted for a new vinyl record or some other miscellanea. The past two visits we just banked our credit, choosing to leave the store without anything new.
Like the previous two visits, today’s experience was another breath of fresh air.
My wife and I decided to check out this store after our family dinner let out. We agreed on a twenty minute time limit to browse. Perhaps we were going to find something to squander our tab on.
We started at the vinyl records. There was the LP Evil Friends by Portugal. The Man priced at a reasonable twenty-one dollars. My wife had also found the Run The Jewels debut album reissue for the very ambitious tag price of thirty bucks.
I began to feel uncomfortable. I quickly recognized that I didn’t need anything, therefore I didn’t want anything. However, if she decided she was interested in bringing something home I wouldn’t deny her.
I wandered off and looked at things in a very detached and disconnected mind-state. When I arrived at the very few items that were intriguing I told myself I could find many of these things online or at my local library for free. The one piece I knew I could not, I was not willing to part with asking price and, further, was unwilling to find a place to set it and forget it in my home.
Moments later my alarm quacked at me. I found my wife. She was beautifully empty-handed. “Nothing?” I asked her. “Nothing,” she responded.
We walked out agreeing how nice it was to not want anything. More than not wanting anything, we were losing our drive, tendency, and capacity for want. As I said in the opening line, it was incredibly liberating.
I am not trying to preach that you should buy less or want less; well, maybe a little. However, I am stating that my family is a case study in the powerful effect reducing the influence of stuff and want has over us. It has directly led to increased happiness and improved quality of life and relationships with one another.
It’s obvious to all of us with our eyes open that the less we buy, the less trash and destruction we will cause to our planet. It also results in advertisers being less interested, and therefore less invested, in trying to win our time and our dollars. Subsequently, we will be seeing less unwanted and unwelcome attempts at our attention, allowing us more choice and influence on what we are exposed to and consume.
Fixing ourselves and our broken social programming just requires one easy to accomplish action. We just have to say No to want.
In other words, don’t want want.