Last month, I went back home to Toronto for a quick family visit, which was really nice, and made me realize how much I missed my family when I am here. Ideally, all of my family would move to Thailand, and we would all live happily ever after, but that’s another story.
While I was there, I rummaged through the few boxes of stuff that I have left behind in my parents’ home, as all children do. There were maybe 6-7 medium sized cardboard boxes. If you can imagine the scene. I am standing there, dressed in a huge winter jacket, thick socks, and boots, in my parent’s cold room in the basement, freezing my ass off. From the heat of Chiang Mai (CM), Thailand, coming to this dreary cold, I was not making the transition as gracefully as I wanted.
I am down there, dressed cozily to the nines, and I open my boxes.
It’s All Relative, Baby
The first thing that strikes me is that I have a lot of stuff. Now, if someone from North America looked at how much stuff I have, they would scoff at me. Ha, they would say to me. They would laugh in my face, pointing, as they did so. The truth is, I don’t really have a lot of stuff, by American standards. By Canadian standards, even.
By my parents’s standards as well.
When I decided to take on this digital nomad lifestyle, one of the first things I did, as we all do, is I sold everything off, and I gave away as much as I could. The rest, I piled into boxes, and piled into my parent’s basement, to come back to, as nostalgia hit me. Of those days, when I had much more disposable income, and I spent my money willy-nilly on nonsense.
When I go off to Thailand, my sister always comments on it. “You are going away for months, and you have the same amount of stuff as when we go away for a couple of weeks.”
So Much Crap, So Much Money Wasted
When I looked at my stuff, I didn’t see the same story played out, unfortunately. When I looked at my stuff, I saw all of those hours of wasted time, energy, and money drained down into inconsequential items that I will never use. Most of the items I have purchased over my lifetime, I have used maybe a couple of times. Some of the items I have bought I have never ever used, before donating them to charity.
It’s horrendous, absolutely horrendous.
I looked at the boxes of clothes, shoes, canvases, and other crap. All I could think in that moment was, “Man, I spent so much of my time working at miserable jobs, earning money. All of that money that I earned is in this stuff.”
I didn’t even save as much as I could, because I spent it all on crap.
Now, of course, some of it was spent on stuff that I needed. I needed to replace shoes, or clothes, occasionally. I needed to buy food, and other necessities. But mostly, I spent a lot of my income on crap.
Crap that is now sitting in my parent’s basement, collecting dust, doing nothing, never going to be used.
This Isn’t All Of It, No, It’s Not
The sad thing is that these few boxes aren’t all of the crap that I bought with my hard-earned money. The cycle of misery-buy-misery-buy perpetuated a lot of shopping trips. So many shopping trips in which I needed nothing, but I bought everything, because I wanted to fill a damn hole.
That hole that was inside of me, because I wasn’t living the kind of life that I wanted to live. I was living a life on other people’s terms, and that was literally making me sick.
Whenever I thought about how miserable I was, I would go buy more crap. More nonsense. So much of my money has been spent on crap that is now sitting at the bottom of garbage dumps, or perhaps in someone else’s closets, from donation boxes.
I consoled myself whenever I bought something that I wore not even once, and donated, that it would go to a good home. Someone else would get to use it, even if I didn’t.
But why am I buying things that I am never going to use??
Why Buy If You Are Not Going To Use It?
Now this is such a good question that I spent so much of my time pondering it, as I travelled back to Chiang Mai, with my one suitcase. Why am I fine with fewer things now?
The thing is that there is an undercurrent of consumerism in Western cultures that pervades our mind, body, and soul. It takes over so completely that we don’t even realize we are listening to that refrain, until we leave it, and go live somewhere else for a long time.
When I moved away to CM, and started living in a less consumeristic culture of Thailand, I realized that that refrain of “Buy More” wasn’t in the air anymore. I’m not saying, Thai people don’t love to shop. They really do. But they have a culture of cash only here (mostly), so that means that they can only buy things up to their limit. They cannot be charging everything to their credit cards, but that won’t work here. That restricts them in a good way.
I also realize when I go back to Canada, that there is more of a judgemental tendency there. When I walk around with my old jacket and old boots, everyone does look at me oddly. I see everyone else wearing nice, new, clean jackets, and I think to myself, “Hmm, I look so shabby. Maybe I should upgrade my wardrobe.”
I stop myself by realizing that I am just visiting and I am never going to use this jacket again, except for a few weeks of the year!!
The Buy-More-To-Feel-Better Culture
I noticed this culture pervading everyone back in Canada. Whenever anyone I know in Canada feels bad in any way, perhaps, they are feeling stressed, or tired, or bored, the common tendency is to use shopping as a balm.
There is nothing about going to yoga, or for a run, or hanging out with a friend. Those are not considered as solutions to our ailments.
The only thing that is going to help you feel better is to go shopping, and buy something big, and juicy for yourself. Because after all, you deserve it, you’ve worked hard, and you lead such a hard life.
I don’t disagree with that statement entirely. Yes, you’ve worked hard, and you should reward yourself. But unfortunately, in the dreary winters of Toronto, it seems like every day needs to be rewarded. Every day seems so hard, that soon you are buying more things than you can afford, and then you are going to work, to catch up with your soothing purchases.
We shouldn’t, firstly, be feeling terrible all the time. It’s this misconception in the world that everyone is sad, and needs to go shopping to feel better. In fact, there is the possibility of happiness all the time, and sadness only some of the time. Secondly, we shouldn’t be using shopping as a balm every single time. It is the worst thing for it, because it doesn’t actually make us feel better at all. In fact, if anything, after the initial high, we feel terrible that we spent money that perhaps we don’t have.
So Many Hours Spent Buying Things
When I think of my life back in Canada, oh man, so much of it, so many hundreds of hours, were spent shopping. I would go, at least, every other day to a shopping mall, and do some “window-shopping”. Not really window-shopping, because I would always end up buying something.
Stuff, that I would never be use in a lifetime. I bought so much stuff, that when I think of all of those hours wasted, and all of those monies discarded, I feel sick to my stomach.
I can’t go back, I know that. But this knowledge of going back and seeing that waste, really motivates me not to do anymore. Not to waste that money, or energy, or time, on stuff anymore
It’s not worth it. We might think it is, but it really isn’t. Looking at all of those boxes of stuff, really makes me realize that it isn’t worth it. At all!
Every Item Bought In With Consciousness
One of the great things about Thai culture is that they don’t really have a return culture. Which means, that you can’t just buy a bunch of things on an impulse, and then go and return all of them the next day.
So many people I know back home, spend most of their time on this return culture – they buy and they return, and they buy and they return. It’s just a horrible cycle to be stuck in. A huge waste of time, energy, and money.
But, in Thailand, if you buy something, you are pretty much stuck with it. You can’t go back to the street vendor and say, “I bought this from you last week, and I don’t like it, so I would like to return it, please.” They wouldn’t understand you, and they wouldn’t give your money back.
Thus, we have to be really careful with our purchases here. Thinking several times, if we want it or not.
In addition, the spaces we have here are limited. The condo I live in is not that big. There is no storage locker and there is no parent’s basement to dump all of my stuff in. So I know if I buy something here, it will stay in my apartment forever and ever.
I think over each item, I purchase a million times. If I don’t think I am going to get proper use out of it, then I don’t buy it. Proper usage meaning at least a 100 usages, at least for me.
I don’t want to have hundreds of pairs of shoes, and clothing, that get used once, and never again. Shudder!
One In, One Out Rule
You have probably heard of this rule before. And it is such a great idea to practice. Do not buy anything, unless you are comfortable throwing something out.
Seriously, this rule means business. It can’t be that you throw out a sock, and then bring in a huge-ass LCD TV. The items have to be of equal value or size, in your own opinion.
This rule has really helped me keep the amount of stuff I keep in my condo and my possession small and useful. I don’t want to bring things in, just for the sake of bringing them in.
Also, it is pretty hard as a nomad to carry all of these things back and forth with you on your trips everywhere you go. In fact, it’s damn near impossible, especially when you really start accumulating things, and cluttering up your house as you go. It’s a nightmare, that cannot be repealed.
Don’t Take Free Stuff, Just Don’t
Another rule I have is that I don’t accept free things. It doesn’t matter if it’s free, if I wouldn’t buy it, I don’t take it. We have this weird thing as humans. If someone gives us something free, we will clamber over each other, like animals to take it. Why?
Most free stuff is crappy anyways. It doesn’t work well, and it breaks after a few uses, and then it sits there in your home, taking up space and cluttering up your view. Why do that to yourself?
Just like the anti-drug campaign, I ask you to say no to free stuff. It’s quite simple actually. “No, I don’t need it or want it. Thank you.” That should do it.
Simple, and easy! Try it the next time around, and let me know how it goes!
Stuff Occupies Mental Space And Distracts Us From Our Work
The final thing I want to mention that is really important to me, is how stuff distracts us from our creative work. When I was spending all of my time buying things, I was doing so, not because I needed it, but because I was trying to run away from my creative work. I was afraid to be a writer, and I was using shopping as a way to fill that gap.
But now, that I know that I do that, every time, I get the shopping urge, I think to myself, what am I trying to distract myself from right now? What project do I have on the go right now, and what am I trying to run away from?
It usually ends up being some creative project that is important to me, that I didn’t want to focus on, because I was afraid as fuck.
Once you realize that for yourself, it’s going to be an eye-opening journey, where you will be to eschew shopping in favour of doing your important creative work. No more hiding from it, no more running away from it, no more distracting yourself.
Just do the damn work, and everything will just fall into place, oh so perfectly.
Be aware, I am not saying to give up shopping completely. There are a lot of beautiful things out there made for us to enjoy and use, but there’s always a time and a place. If you are shopping because you need something, or want something, that’s a different story, from shopping, because you are trying to run away from something.