This post is the twin to “Enough is Enough” which you will find here: http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/enough-is-enough/ This is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of that post:
Max Weber put economic systems into two broad categories which he called “modern economics” and “traditional economics.” Modern economics, by Weber’s standards, is roughly akin to capitalism, a system in which accumulating more and more wealth is everyone’s goal. I use the phrase, “more is better” to describe this system. A general way to put it is to say that if you like something, more is usually better. In particular, if you enjoy what money can do for you, the more, the better. Westerners tend to think this way as if it were an obvious dictum. I certainly thought that way, most of my life. I was always trying to earn a little more so that I could buy a better car, improve my house, go on trips abroad, and whatnot. It seems natural, doesn’t it? But not all cultures think this way.
I’m currently working on a chapter in a new book I’m writing that deals with life changes in general. The chapter is examining what happened to me as a teenager when I got my first job in a factory during my holidays. The bit I am wrestling with right now has to do with why I worked at the job at all since I had no need of money. My parents gave me what I needed – as long as I was frugal. I first took the job in 1968 over the Easter holidays for 2 weeks because it dropped in my lap, and it paid enough for me to buy a stereo radio/record player, which was an extravagant luxury back then. That’s fair enough – but it was a decided luxury. I continued to work at the factory for 2 summers, the second being the summer before I went to university, meaning I could work from the end of my A-level public exams in June until I went to Oxford in October. I was also offered overtime during weekdays and on Saturday mornings. I did it all. I worked like a dog – at one point putting in 11-hour days and 4 hours on Saturdays. For what?????????? I had absolutely no need for money. I was, however, caught up in the “more is better” philosophy. I earned a ton of money that summer, and there was absolutely nothing I wanted to buy with it. Sounds a bit mental, I know.
From that point in my life until I retired 8 years ago I was caught up in “more is better.” It’s an unthinking philosophy, really — one we rarely, if ever, question. I ended up with a 4-bedroom house in the Catskills, choked with possessions, on an acre of land beside a trout stream. I had three family cars (one for each family member), plus a 1976 Alfa Romeo Spider convertible for fun. All idyllic, of course. My garden was magnificent, with 2 koi ponds, several rockeries, a wood lot, gorgeous trees and fruiting brambles, a wildflower spot etc. etc. My books lined my study, plus the porch, and most of the living room. I had about 3,000 in total. I had thousands of slides (mostly for my anthropological work), and thousands of print photos. My clothes filled 3 closets, I had rooms full of antiques, . . . you get the picture.
Eight years ago, I packed a small suitcase, locked the door of my house, and took a plane to Argentina. Four years ago, I sold the house and contents, and never looked back. My life of “more is better” was finished. I now have two suitcases that hold everything I own. I live in rented apartments where I end up. So far it has been Argentina, England, China, Italy, Myanmar, and, now, Cambodia. Not sure where next.
I am not going to condemn “more is better.” That was how I lived for most of my life, and I managed fine with that way of thinking. I got immense pleasure out of working in my garden and then sitting in the cool of the evening surveying my work. I loved tootling around in the narrow country lanes in my Spider, or buying new kitchen gadgets. I always bought new books for pleasure or for my research. I had a special bow tie collection that grew and grew via eBay. All of it brought me happiness – and I am not going to be an annoying old git and say it was “fake happiness.” It was real enough. There were two negatives, however.
- My stuff tied me to one place.
- I had to work hard to maintain my stuff.
For most of my life I was OK with my stuff owning me as much as I owned it. Then I walked away from it all, and a huge burden was lifted. Sure, I left behind many things that had deep sentimental value, and for a while I was grieved at the loss. But the fact is that when I owned them and could take them out and look at them or use them, I rarely did. They were (and are) lodged in memory: their physical presence is unimportant. Everything of true value to me is within me. That realization brings me freedom.
To be clear – I am talking about me, not anyone else. If “more is better” works for you – have at it. All I can talk about is what works for me. “More is better” worked for a long time; now “enough is enough” is my watchword. The most I can hope for is that you consider your life from the outside for a moment.