Really, How Much Is Enough?

midas gold

How much is enough? I guess it depends. For most people it seems there’s never enough, they’re always wanting more. American consumerism has conditioned all of us to the hamster-wheel of life. A hamster will literally run himself to death for want of a little more cheese, whether he needs it or not. The hamster-wheel goes by many names; Henry David Thoreau said it was:  The mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might be a good place to start. Physical needs come first. As an avid backpacker and outdoorsman I learned that early on. The Rule-of-Threes always comes to mind:  1. The lack of shelter can kill you in 3-hours, 2. The lack of water can kill you in 3-days and 3. The lack of food can kill you in 3-weeks. In a survival situation it’s shelter, water and food in that order.

hierchy of needs

When your physical requirements are met you can move up the pyramid exponentially. How many of us, though, get stuck in the first two levels, thus depriving ourselves of the higher and more rewarding levels? Lots I would suppose. We overindulge in physical comforts:  the shelter gets bigger (and better) until it totally exceeds our needs, plain life-sustaining water gets replaced with caffeine, soda and alcohol and food becomes excessive and downright hazardous to our health.

Our safety needs also get a lot of attention. We’re afraid to leave an unsatisfying (but well-paying) job, and will in fact spend years of our life slaving away at something we hate. We spend thousands of dollars a year on every kind of insurance you can think of. Our health becomes an issue to the point of neurosis, just a few minutes watching the Boob-tube will confirm that as fact. Money and its accumulation becomes the overriding concern in our lives (how much is enough?).

What then of love, esteem and self-actualization (the higher aspirations of Man)? All relegated to the back burner, and with that relegation goes all the attendant noble accomplishments of life well spent. Does it have to be that way? Of course not. But to change course requires awareness, courage and action. To consciously step off the hamster-wheel will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It is simple (conceptually), but not easy (in execution). Following are some thoughts to ponder.

  1. Need or Want. Do I need it or do I just want it? A small house will last a lifetime. A car can easily last 10 to 15-years. When not concerned with fashion, clothes can last an extraordinarily long time. Smartphones are superfluous and certainly don’t need to be upgraded every six months with their expensive calling plans.
  2. Minimalist versus Extravagance. Stop buying “wants” and focus on “needs.” When forced to buy a need, buy cheap. Buy to resolve the need, not to impress. Rather than buying new, consider buying used. Maintain and repair rather than replace. Buy with pragmatism not with emotion. Research carefully and think long.
  3. Cash versus Credit. Always pay cash when you can. I spent thirty years in banking, and I can tell you that credit is the scourge of mankind. Save for what you need, don’t just whip out the plastic thinking you will pay it off in 30-days, you won’t. Staying debt free is freedom, incurring debt is a prison sentence (and sometimes it’s life without the possibility of parole).
  4. Pay Yourself First. Always pay yourself first, meaning save for the proverbial rainy day. Before you pay anything else a minimum of 10% of your gross income should be tucked away every payday. Without fail. Consider it a down-payment on your freedom. Don’t speculate, don’t gamble—save.

Consumerism is a socially transmitted disease (STD) and it’s not good for you. It exacerbates and promotes an insatiable, emotionally charged hunger and dissatisfaction within your psyche. Like eating too much food to satisfy an emotional craving as opposed to quenching physical hunger, you will never get enough. the Buddhists call this feeding the Hungry Ghost. I have learned much of this after leaving the United States.

The things I no longer have:

  • I no longer have a house (payment, insurance, maintenance and repair). I rent (hostels and cheap hotels). I am location-independent and free to travel.
  • I no longer have a car (payment, insurance, depreciation, maintenance and repair). I use local transportation (buses, taxis, bicycles, tuk-tuks and river pangas).
  • I no longer have insurance except Medicare which I don’t use.
  • I don’t have a phone (no payment, insurance, calling plan or replacement cost).
  • I don’t have cable TV (in fact I don’t even have a TV).
  • I don’t have fashionable clothing (what I do have lasts for years).
  • I don’t have debt (I am 100% debt free).
  • I don’t have a stressful job (I pursue my interests:  photography, writing and world travel).
  • I don’t have extra pounds (I lost 35-pounds and stay slim & trim).
  • I don’t have restrictions on my diet because I eat local, healthy and cheap (and only twice a day).

What I do have is a new philosophy on life:  I live simple, I live cheap and I live free. I take my pictures, I write my articles, I travel the world, I read my books, smoke my cigars and drink my Scotch whisky and beer. I live where I want and how I want. I answer to no man, and no man answers to me. I am content and often even happy. I not only have enough, I have more than enough.

Antigua Steve WEB

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveler

Lima, Peru


8 responses to “Really, How Much Is Enough?

  1. A wonderful ramble,as you get older there’sdrastic changes in your needs and
    wants become not easily attained”the best laid plans do often go arai”….

    • Thank you Jens. Simple is better, life is complicated enough on its own. Americans are spoiled and over indulgent for the most part. There are better ways to live your life as you’ve found out, same for us. 🙂

  2. Great post. One thing that I learned when I was in my doctoral program, Maslow used a very small sample for the study that led to his Hierarchy of Needs. Later scholars have tried to debunk it, but I think the concept is a good one.

    • Yeah, at the very least it’s a good starting point. I would probably change it around a little bit too, but it still provokes thought (and that’s ALWAYS a good thing). Since starting my adventure about 5-years ago (4-years on the road) I’ve learned how simple a person can really live. Granted, in many ways, it’s easier abroad, but it proves it can be done. With simplicity in one’s life comes contentment and, dare I say it, happiness. People can’t believe it when I tell them I can usually live on $350 – $650 USD per month (shelter, food and transportation) depending on the country. The vast majority of my retirement income goes straight to the bank every month, and I am often able to defray much of my daily living expense through my photography and writing. People feel sorry for me because they think I’ve lost everything, and smile (knowingly) when I tell them I have, in fact, gained the world. I have more money in the bank than most will amass in a lifetime of saving, and I don’t need it. And just 5-years ago I was broke, absolutely penniless. Life is strange, but wonderful. I preach and I preach, but I know it mostly falls on deaf ears. 🙂

  3. Well-said. On Feb 18, 2016 11:38 PM, “Expat Journal: Postcards from the Edge” wrote:

    > Dennstedt posted: ” How much is enough? I guess it depends. For most > people it seems there’s never enough, they’re always wanting more. American > consumerism has conditioned all of us to the hamster-wheel of life. A > hamster will literally run himself to death for want of a ” >

    • Thank you Jonna. If I recall correctly you were the one who introduced me to Maslow. Your intelligence always blew me away (a sexy trait in a woman, and even in a man I suppose). I’m pretty smart, but not terribly well educated (mostly self-taught). I never made it to college, but I competed okay with those who did when push-came-to-shove. 🙂

  4. Steve,
    I appreciate that simple is blissful, I am glad you have achieved a level of contentment with your life, I could almost be envious and there are days I am.

    It is great to follow the Buddha, give it all up and wander, finding self enlightenment. I wonder what the world would be like if we all wandered, how might we find shelter, food, clothing, if all we did is wander and produced nothing. I speculate we would be like the animals we were meant to be, before we learned to think, use tools and create.

    I do agree that possessions are pretty meaningless in of themselves, we have possessions that have strange meaning only to us, sometime quite arbitrary, yet important, they signify a memory, positive or even negative. Possessions tie us down, we are now responsible for it and responsibility in itself is binding.

    I have thought much about this lately as my mother approaches her sunset and how she has possessions that only have meaning to her, yet they are important to her, to keep, knowing well that once the sun has set they no longer may have meaning, unless another can carry its meaning for her. Upon our sunsets our possession have no real meaning in our new state, but only to those still in this world. I remember from my childhood that the Incas believed they did have meaning in the next life, they were buried with them so they would not be without them.

    As you have chosen your path, others choose a different path, they can all be fulling paths. Wishing you the best as you admire the nature and the great works of others along that wandering path you take.


    • Yep, we all have our paths to follow. I suppose my posts often sound like preaching and pontificating, but really they’re just my own soliloquy (talking out loud as it were). I will say, however, after spending 50-years in corporate America (being successful?) I don’t think I ever produced a damn thing one would think of as important or meaningful. Five years into retirement I think that’s changed, at least in my own mind (and perception is its own reality as they say). As always Harold your comments and insights are welcomed and appreciated. Salud amigo.

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