“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Bertrand Russell
There’s a common myth that goldfish will grow in proportion to the size of their environment, meaning that a goldfish living in a pool will grow to a much larger size than a goldfish living in a small bowl. The truth is that goldfish grow based on their diet and quality of the environment that they live. Despite the above myth, I find a striking correlation between the myth of goldfish filling their environments and the way people accumulate things based on the size of their environments.
When I first moved away from college and got my first apartment, I had barely anything more than clothes, a computer, a bed, and a small 13″ TV. After working in IT for a couple years, I quickly filled that apartment with a couch, 27″ TV, Hockey Gear, Kitchen items, etc. The apartment had quickly run out of space. After moving into my house, I once again felt compelled to fill the additional space that I had just purchased. So, I bought more stuff. Over time, I filled the space with an entertainment center, fancy kitchen table and chairs, deck chairs, tools, etc. Like a goldfish, I was “growing” in proportion to the space in my new environment.
When I started planning my trip abroad, I knew that I would need to downgrade my lifestyle quite a bit and sell off a lot of my possessions. I’d be living out of a backpack for awhile and knew that keeping a bunch of things around and unused for a long duration of time would be ridiculous. I was actually looking forward to this, because around the same time, I noticed there were many items that had gone unused for years in my basement. I decided to start cleaning up that area. For the most part, it wasn’t difficult due to the fact that much of the stuff was not in the best condition. But there were a couple items that I noticed I had some hesitation of getting rid of. I hadn’t played hockey in years….. yet….. I found myself wanting to keep the equipment. Over time, I finally realized I was being irrational and finally gave up the hockey equipment.
When I decided to finally sell my motorcycle, I finally saw for the first time the difficulty in parting ways with certain items. But why? It finally dawned on me one day when I started analyzing the items I was having most difficulty parting with. It was the items that I associated my identity with the most. The motorcycle, hockey gear, kitchen supplies, books, etc. Even though I knew I would not have a need for any of this stuff in the near future or ever again, I felt like parting with it was also parting with a part of my identity.
I’ve moved twice in the past 6 months – once after I rented out my house, and the other time, just last week. Each time, thinking I’ve parted with enough of my stuff and that the move should be simple, I’ve once again had my eyes opened to how much stuff I’m still clinging to. I still have too much stuff. So, I’ll attempt to “shed” my belongings again. Initially, I had this romanticized idea of selling everything off and starting over. With time and multiple rounds of simplification, I can honestly say that I’ve miscalculated how difficult this would be for my personality. However, with each step at simplifying my life and reducing the number of items that I own, I feel happier. I don’t worry about my stuff getting stolen or burned up in a fire anymore, and I feel much more free to live and enjoy my life the way that I want..
So what will happen after I’ve rid myself of most of my stuff and live out of a backpack for awhile? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. I hope that the answer is much like the goldfish analogy that I just used, but instead of acquiring more “things”, it will be my spirit that will grow in proportion to the size of my new environment (the world) and be filled with (hopefully) all the wisdom and perspective that only my upcoming adventures can provide.