Friday, December 3, 2010

Life of Subtraction

Having been living a semi-nomadic existence of late, I have had to be able to fit all my stuff into my truck, an extened-cab Ranger, not a very big space. This is a source of pride for me. I, unlike most Americans, am always looking through my stuff to figure out what I can get rid of next. Thoreau said, speaking of possessions:

It is the same as if all these traps were buckled to a man's belt, and he could not move over the rough country where our lines are cast without dragging them — dragging his trap. He was a lucky fox that left his tail in the trap. The muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be free. ... If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it be a light one and do not nip me in a vital part. But perchance it would be wisest never to put one's paw into it.
My sister laughs at me, because while when she's standing in line to buy something, she often finds herself picking up one of the "impulse buy" products lining the checkout as well. Meanwhile, I'm standing there fretting about whether I need the thing I am about to buy, half the time leave the line to go put it back, then leave the store with my wallet intact.

Possessions are a burden. You have to take care of them, think about what to do with them, house them, labor for them. They clutter your dwelling. There are people who will break themselves with a too-big apartment or house, just because they have all this furniture and stuffthat they need to do something with. Myself, I feel a relief every time I lighten my load, drop one more thing on the side of the road of life.

I believe one's outer reality mirrors one's inner reality. Possessions can clutter the mind, too. I try to apply this minimalism, this life of subtraction, to my mind as well as my physical world. Simplifying my surroundings helps me to simplify my inner life, and that then helps me to see things I can further simplify in my outer world. It goes back and forth, ideally at least, though more often in fits and starts, with moments of accumulation, and others of dissipation. Sometimes I live amid clutter, my few things in a chaotic jumble all over the floor, and it is at those times that I cannot be bothered to organize it, that I sometimes stop and notice that I'm currently stressed and unhappy, my life in as much chaos as my room.

I try to pay attention to these things. Like in a previous post, where I talked about the body and its messages, one's surroundings are also always are talking to you, giving you clues about your inner states, and often showing the way forward. And sometimes just tidying up can help clear the mind, since the two are basically one anyways.

I'll end with what the Tao Te Ching says in chapter 48:

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.


  1. Yeah I'm doing the same. The less stuff I own the freer I actually feel. I don't drive though, so I'm striving to be even more minimalistic, to pare down my most essential permanent possessions to what I can actually carry, like two or three bags maximum. Anything that exceeds that amount is pretty much disposable, temporarily used as needed, and gotten rid of soon after.

  2. What you've both written is so true...yet so difficult to grasp in a society that pushes consumption at every turn. My wife & I are always working to pare down all the crap we have, but it's a lot harder to do when you have a house. I mean, the tendency is to want to fill it up, mainly with more useless crap. The thing that helps us to keep the crap at a manageable level is that we're dirt poor. ;-)

  3. Ah, the mixed blessings of poverty, I know them well. Cym, I'm not to that level yet, since I like being mobile and even with they're downsides, automobiles help me get to the places I want to be (and others that I need to be).

  4. I know too what you mean. All my life I lived wiith the model that if I can't throw it into my Jeep then I do not need it. However every night I pray. Bless me oh great one for I have consumed to much. Help me to find the way away from this hell that is of my greedy doing.

    I purge and not spend. Giving to charity all that has been over consumed by me.