Something Mike said over at Crime & Federalism resonated with me. From the post, The Prison is Your Mind:
Partial Objects asks: Could you live in an 81 squre foot home? My first semester in law school, I lived in a garage that had been converted into an apartment. People found this hard to believe, but it had a bathroom, shower, and stove. How much more do I need? I grew up in a family of 6 in a house that only had one bathroom. Comparatively speaking, one man and one bathroom is awesome.
I moved into a much larger space. What was my reward? I acquired boxes of stuff that was never removed from the boxes after various moves. I gave a bunch of stuff away. I’ve been in my current – large – apartment for two years. I have boxes of stuff that have never been opened.
How many thousands (tens-of?) did I spend on stuff? How much less money might I have spent had I lacked the room for boxes of stuff?
I don’t know if I was ever addicted to “stuff,” but I certainly used to care much more about it. A year out of college, I was working at a 400+ lawyer law firm for a year as a runner/project assistant/gopher, getting ready to go to law school the next fall. Friends were moving around and people were moving on to different stages in their lives. And I just sort of looked at my life and realized the thing I enjoyed most was Aikido – the martial art I was training in at the time.
So I just said, “Screw it. I’m young and this will probably my one and only chance to do something like this,” and I moved to Canada to train as an uchi deshi (inside student, one who actually lives inside the school) to a shihan (master) in the art for nearly a year.
It was crazy and awesome and painful and beautiful – one of the best and most difficult experiences in my life. It’s the sort of thing that’s hard to encapsulate in words. Sleeping in a storage closet under the stairs in the basement of the dojo on a tatami mat. Subsisting primarily on rice, vegetables and PB&Js (okay, and beer). Training 5-8 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. Bleeding toes and cracked ribs. Scrubbing toilets and washing mats. Friendships gained and lost. Intense spiritual moments of training and camaraderie, intense times of loneliness and introspection. No TV, no movies, no cellphone. A computer with a 56k connection and stacks of books to occupy my free time. All my possessions in a suitcase.
I remember moving back and staying in my parent’s house the first night home. My parents have a very nice home, but it is not anything extravagant. I told them it was like being in a palace. I slept on the floor because the bed was too soft.
My entire experience highlighted how inconsequential “stuff” was. I needed very little to not just live, but to thrive.
I’m in a different place now. Married, a son, a new career. I am responsible for needs no longer my own. But I don’t need to provide them with more “stuff.” I want to make sure they are healthy, clothed, sheltered, and fed. But outside of that I want to be able to ensure that we enjoy new experiences, places, cultures, and ideas. I want to be able to grow together as a family and as individuals. To push ourselves to beyond whatever limits we think we might have.
And “stuff” has very little to do with that.