All The Things I Don’t Have Make Me Free

We live in an age with a gazillion gadgets, appliances and other conveniences available to us, which, according to their slick ads, promise to make our lives easier, better, and happier.  An expensive house, fancy wheels, the latest fashions are the stuff of dreams, right? Despite having more than ever, record numbers are more stressed out, pressed for time and despondent than ever.  Most everyone agrees that there is an epidemic of depression.  So what gives?

In her book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too, Tammy Strobel tells us:

Extensive research has linked unhappiness and negative emotions with a materialistic mindset. In short, materialism distracts us from two main facets in life that actually make us happy – strong relationships and doing work you love.

In the book, Strobel, depicts how she and her husband, who were squarely on the middle-class “American Dream” path with two cars, long commutes, in debt, and knee deep in possessions, gradually down sized, or “smart-sized” as she calls it, becoming more connected, conscious and happy.

On her blog, Rowdy Kittens, and in the book, Strobel shared her journey as she and her husband divested themselves of both cars becoming avid bikers, moved from a 1,200-square-foot apartment to 128-square-foot tiny house on wheels and she quite her job in investment banking and became a writer.  Giving “micro-actions” you can implement in your own life, Strobel encourage us to choose to orient our lives around the pursuit of experiences rather than things, get more from less, and to stress connecting with community and building stronger relationships to find happiness.

Many people spend all of their time working to earn money to maintain a lifestyle in which they find themselves unhappy while not able to allocate time to what makes for happiness:  exercising, spending time outside, relaxing, travelling, or connecting with family and friends and giving back to the community.  When put that way, it seems silly and simple to remedy, doesn’t it?  Strobel tells of reading the book Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez, and adopting the concept of money equaling  “life energy.”  The idea being that when you spend money on a something, the real price is the time it cost you to make the money to pay for it.  One chapter of her book is appropriately titled “Time Is The Only Real Wealth.”

Many studies have shown that once a person meets a basic comfortable standard, additional income does not lead to increased happiness. In the chapter named “The Stuff You Own Owns You,” Strobel writes:

No matter how much we make, our advertising-saturated culture tempts us to buy more and more, which perpetuates a vicious cycle of debt accumulation.  ….Participating in an ‘orgy’ of consumer spending comes at a heavy cost – freedom of choice.

I know this to be true from my own experience.  When I left my marriage eight years ago, I relinquished an elegant four bedroom home in Florida complete with a swimming pool, marble counter tops, laundry chute (I never used it – although it did make an awesome slide for Pokemon figurines my sons found), and a Porsche in the three car garage.  Despite these beautiful surroundings, I was miserable.  (More about that, see blog: In A Cage With The Door Wide Open)

Newly single, but still trying to uphold the lifestyle, my sons and I moved into a 3000-square-foot, four bedroom house with a 1/2 acre yard.  After my suicide attempt, subsequent brain injury, and losing custody of my kids, I lived in that monstrosity for three years by myself as it gobbled up my time and money.  No longer a source of pride, the dwelling had became a royal pain in my ass.

Two years ago, I sold the house and relocated to a rental home 1/3 of that size, getting rid of much furniture and accumulated junk.  By divesting, I felt as if a physical weight had been lifted off of me.  Without the responsibility of all of the stuff, I have more time and money to devote to other things that matter which contribute to my happiness and future.

Enamored with the idea of a tiny home, the book inspires me to simplify and downsize even more. While I like to affectionately call where I live now “the dump,” it is incredibly freeing to not worry about “keeping up with the Joneses,” and I love that I can just pack up and move whenever I choose.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”  Will Rogers


The title is from the song, Genuine, by Mae Moore: