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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler