Minimalism and Extravagance

I see strange things going on with my neighbors these days. Much more than usual. One such member of our little community is busy selling off most of his possessions, only to buy other things such as survival gear, guns, and quantities of canned goods. His next door neighbor just bought an expensive new SUV complete with a power winch and off road tires, which he could not afford.

Like everyone of us, these people are responding to the events of September 11th, and the suddenly hostile world around us. Before that time, the biggest doings around here was the yearly Bar-B-Que on our little cul-de-sac.

So, times being what they are, let’s pose the question: If you could only take with you what you could fit in your vehicle, what would you take?

For someone like my wife, who never throws anything away, this would be an impossible dilemma. For myself, who considers himself somewhat of a minimalist, my list would be very short.

You and I should stop for a few minutes and sort this out. This is a very real question for a potentially real situation.

I understand that by being Americans this should automatically make us Consumers above all else, right? Therefore, we must load into our modest means of transportation all of our goods, our computers, our televisions, our appliances, etc. (How trite!)

I will dare to take the stance that being American means I am NOT a Consumer above all else. I know that by doing this, I might single handedly TANK the Economy, but I will dare nonetheless.

Those of you who know me might already guess where I am going with this, don’t you?

I think it is very ironic that something so simple as determining what to take and what to leave in a crisis situation is an accurate barometer of who we are as individuals or as a nation.

Therefore, we need to talk about Minimalism. And we need to talk about Extravagance. There is a place for each of these in our lives today.

A true Minimalist actually would need to take nothing with him in a crisis. Think about how he might live. A table. A chair. A lamp. A bed. A hook to hang his clothes. Maybe he might have a special book, a portable computer, a radio or a TV. You see, he already has almost nothing to leave behind, and thereby would be able to walk away from it quick and easy. (How un-American!) You ask him about his favorite book, he already has it memorized. Same with his music. Those songs he loves play in his head. His memory is no better than yours or mine, he just uses it more than we do.

People who are extravagant about their possessions are actually possessed by those same possessions. They cannot leave in a crisis. How could they leave any of the great and wonderful things they own? How could they leave their collections, and their expensive treasures? How could they leave their expensive home? Such people might actually die in a crisis, unable to move to safety because they chose the apparent safety of all their belongings.

Most everyone I know lives somewhere between these two extremes.

So, how will you chose what to take? Forget the car. What if you could only take with you what you could carry?

I would like to offer a completely different choice for you to consider, if you are having a problem deciding what to do in such a crisis.

First, you must consider what is most valuable to you in life. Is it what you own? Or is it the relationships that you have with other people? What of your spouse, your children, your parents, your brothers or sisters, or your friends? How important are they to you? Are they more important than your Collection of rare things? Your house? Your hobby? Your business?

I believe that if you sat down and thought seriously about it, you would discover that those people you have a relationship with are much more valuable to you than anything else you possess.

If this is not true for you, perhaps your life is somewhat upside down.

Let us consider my Survivalist neighbor again. He recently cut off his relations with his spouse, his kids, and his family. Probably in a few days or weeks he will quit his job. I expect him to move soon as well, as this neighborhood is likely not a safe place to be in his mind. Will he survive in a crisis? Most surely he will. Because he lives the Law of the Jungle, the Survival of the Fittist. He will sit in safety and watch his neighbors and friends starve. I think you would agree that his life, as he is living it, is not worth saving!

In his mind he probably considers himself to be a Minimalist, cutting every tie to Consumerism. Yet this is a lie he tells himself, for he is still an extravagant Consumer of weapons, survival gear and canned goods. Only the best will do, right? Would you trust your life to something less?

Where did he go wrong? He should have been extravagant with his relationships with those he loved. They might have kept him from going off the deep end somewhere in the wilderness of Montana.

So what about you?

You and I would do well to be less extravagant with our possessions. Being a Minimalist instead of a Consumer is a very good idea in this new World we live in.

America consumes about 80% of the world’s production of consumer goods, while the rest of the world’s families live on an average income of about $300 a year. Facts like those are an indictment against us in the world’s eyes.

When you think of the rest of the world you must also think about the billion or so who are homeless. You must also regard the fact that half of the children in the world go to bed hungry every night.

When you consider the great disparity of our extravagance of possessions and the forced minimalism others in the world must endure, you might begin to see why there are avowed Terrorists in the world, determined to make things equal by causing our destruction and downfall. Yes, their cause is evil and must be stopped, but perhaps we were the ones who set them on their course.

We all could use a big dose of Minimalism today. I think our Economy would survive if we did so. Stop buying so many things. Pay down your credit debt. Find some group you can fund and sponsor who are helping those who have nothing. Spread some of this great wealth around in places where they don’t even have an Economy. Our survival in this world depends on this, IMO.

Then be Extravagant. Be extravagant in your relations with others.

I know when I was young I had it all backwards. I spent on cars, boats, golf clubs, hobbies, and sports and exercise equipment, while giving minimal attention to my wife and children. I was a minimalist with my family. I paid the price for my stupidity, so I know whereof I speak.

Now I treasure my relationship with my wife and children, with my parents and friends. I invest my time, my money, and my heart in those precious people in my life.

A good friend of mine died recently. He was very wealthy. His home was a showcase of elegance and good taste. He worked very hard for what he had, and he had it all. Yet he was alone. He once confided to me that his search for a mate was going nowhere. He admitted that it made him upset to see someone else in his home, messing things up, and touching his things. He was fearful of losing what he had worked so hard for, but when he left this world, he left it all behind.

I pity him, for few attended his funeral. No one wept over his passing. What a wasted life!

I have another friend, a young man who by my judgment is richer than Bill Gates. He has a wife and four little kids. He drives an old car, and in his rented house he has a few sticks of furniture. This guy knows how rich he is, for he loves his wife and kids. He is loved by them in return. He loves his friends too. He even loves the guy on the corner begging for a handout. What a rich life he has!

Therefore, in telling you to be extravagant in your relationships with others, I am really telling you a profound secret of Life.

Don’t just love those who love you. Spend your time and money on those who cannot do the same for you. Make friends of those who have none. Be extravagant toward those who cannot return the favor. Why? Because in doing so, your will have the finest relationships to be found on earth.

So, if you had to leave suddenly what would you put in your vehicle? Those you love, of course. If all you had was the clothes on your back, that’s OK. You will rebuild. You will own things again. But those people you love are not replaceable are they?

Think about this some more. What of your community, your neighborhood, or your town? If there were a crisis, would you stand or fall together?

Somehow, in watching the people in New York, in the aftermath of September 11th, I caught a glimpse of such a community. People were helping each other. People were sacrificing their own safety for strangers in their community. People lined up to donate blood. People praying for others.

What you and I did not see were thousands of people loading their cars and heading for safety.

I was very proud to be an American right then. I believe as a nation we will stand or fall together, for we are a united people. THAT is the America I want the world to see, not the besotted Consumers they think we are!

Therefore, when a crisis comes, leave your vehicle in the driveway. Decide that you and your loved ones will stand or fall with your neighbors, and your friends, and your nation.

Minimalism and Extravagance–this is your choice in Life.

Extravagance of possessions should not define us as a people. Therefore, practice Minimalism in what you own. Because whatever you or I own of this world’s goods, we will one day leave it all behind.

But our courage and bravery which we exhibit in our extravagant and loving relationships with others, and how well we have treated those who are poor, THAT is something tangible and solid that each of us can possess for all eternity.

Be well,

Roger Born

Roger Born

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