20 December 2004

In praise of simple living

I recently spent about 6 months living with little more than a sleeping bag and a few clothes since my luggage was in storage until I had a permanent place. At first, living without basic household articles was a hassle. I did eventually buy a few essentials, such as a cooking pot, a spoon and a broom. When the six months was up and my goods finally arrived, I was surprised at how little it really takes me to live. Many of the luxuries I was used to were in fact still available, of course. Instead of watching TV at home, I went to daytime movies at the theater. And I ate out a little more often.

After my boxes finally arrived, I couldn't believe how much useless stuff I've acquired. Countless books that have now been through several moves without once being opened. Clothes that fit thinner versions of myself. Keepsakes that are kept stored in boxes everywhere I go. I'm determined that this will be the last time I cart this junk around. Every chance I get, I'm going to take boxes to the Goodwill and try to get free of this crap cluttering up my closets.

This experience makes me wonder--Am I so different from others in my material needs? Do large houses and garages full of trinkets really make people happier? In my own case, I find that material goods bring incremental happiness only to a certain point, after which the work required to buy them and the hassle of maintaining them offsets any convenience they could bring.

For this reason, I love the idea of a library--a communal area where people can borrow things without having to buy them. I don't know why we don't have more places that function like libraries. It seems to me that every town should have a public TV watching place where anyone can come in, sit on a couch together, and watch TV or play a game of chess. And there should also be public gyms and public places that lend power tools--there's really no point in every person on the block owning something they only use a couple times a year. I also don't see why houses are built so large. I don't want or need a $300,000 house. A small house with two bedrooms would do just fine. But everything in my neighborhood is huge. Sometimes I get the feeling that our whole economy is supersized. Myself, I'd like the lite version, the bare wooden floor with a small tatami mat, a pot to boil water, and a tiny shelf of books.


Gail said...

I've had this experience a couple of times - most recently about 6 years ago when I got my first place in Australia after emigrating from England. My cousin gave me a slab of foam from the back of his van to use as a bed and someone gave me some plates and a couple of saucepans, and that was it. Its somehow good for the soul going through phases of stuff-less-ness - like a materialistic form of fasting. Our culture seems to implicitly suggest that a sense of security can only be derived from having a lot of material possessions - "he who has the most things when he dies wins" - periods of stuff-less-ness reveal how false that Idea is.

I love the library concept. I want to live in a community designed by you!

Dave said...

I agree with all of this (hell, i'm living it, just about) except for the bit about the tiny shelf of books! Certain types of books i do collect, especially poetry and nonfiction that i know i will come back to often, and use as inspiration for my own writing. Where fiction is concerned, I agree that it's easier to borrow it from a library.

There is a lot of tool- and appliance-sharing, not to mention pooling of labor, in rural and small-town PA and probably many other places in the U.S. It's only in suburbia ("only," he says, as if that isn't over half the country now!) where people are so atomized and move so often that cultures of communal sharing rarely get off the ground. Your idea of institutionalized sharing centers makes a great deal of sense.

cul said...

Smells commie to me...next thing you know we'll be sharing significant others, not bathing and sitting around all day blogging and smoking pot. :)

Communal services and items makes perfect sense...unless of course you are running an economy based on conspicuous consumption...then its a threat to the whole ball of goo.

Karlo said...

Not bathing? Hell, we'll share bathtubs too. Or better yet, have communal bath-houses, just like they do in Japan (and Rome)! (:

Anonymous said...

excellent post and comments. i think life is much better if lived more directly without all the clutter. 99% of it is not needed. i moved back in february and i'm happy to say that all of my belongings fit into a 93 toyota tercel... oh, my desk (found and refinished in 88) and 2 small bags had to go into a van. the point is, i don't have much and i'm happier for it.

as for the library, yes! my previous abode was a housing co-op in memphis and almost all our stuff was communal... which is partly why i don't have or need much!

i'm hoping to build a small cabin in the woods within the next year, maybe 15X20. i'll have access to a lake and enough room to plant a large garden. all i need is warmth in the winter, a couple electrical outlets, and a phone line.

denny, where we're bound

Karlo said...

Sounds great. I have a lot of respect for those who manage to live simply with a clear sense of what's really important.