Monday, 13 August 2012

Exercising Your Freedom By Giving It All Up

Take a few moments to look around your home and to look at all of the things that you have accumulated during your life.  Some of these objects will be gifts from family, partners or friends.  Some might be heirlooms or inheritances, handed down from the generation that came before.  Souvenirs from your travels.  Photograph and pictures in frames on walls and on shelves.  DVDs, CDs and books.  Of course, there is some furniture - a bed, a wardrobe, chest of drawers, sofa, table, chairs, cabinets.  You might have a television, music player (CD / MP3), a computer, a games console.  In the kitchen probably a refrigerator, a cooker, a microwave, a kettle, a toaster and maybe a coffee machine.  There will be things hidden in the drawers and cupboards - crockery, cutlery, saucepans, containers and so on.  In the garage, on the driveway or on the street there maybe a car or motorcycle.  Maybe you have sports equipment - a bicycle, roller blades, skateboard, ski equipment, golf clubs.  That's quite a lot of things isn't it?  I am sure that if you started to look, you would find a whole lot more hidden away in boxes or tucked into corners.  These are the things that say who we are, what we like, what we've done and where we've been.  They define us.  They belong to us.  But is that really true?

Now imagine giving up all of these things. Every thing.  You even have to give up the home in which all of these items have been stored, so that you no longer own anything other than some clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, a personal washing kit and maybe just a few very personal, sentimental items - just enough to fill a suitcase or a backpack.  How do you feel about that?  Does it seem wrong?  It doesn't seem to make much sense... or does it?

In the autumn of 2005, I was in such a situation.  I had made a bold decision in my life, a decision that at the time seemed the most logical and easiest - to quit my successful career with a global corporate IT company and to go backpacking to Asia with my girlfriend.  Resignation in, plane tickets purchased, no going back.  Everything that I had purchased and owned needed to be seriously downsized.  In fact, I had to be rid of nearly all of it.

I have realised that during my life, I have never been materialistic.  Well, okay, I probably was as materialistic about some things as everyone else (CDs, DVDs, cars - a big weakness) but I was never one to splash out on new TVs, new furniture or to keep upgrading existing items.  My motto was: If it works, use it.  If it's broken, fix it or get a new one.  I still used the same kettle I had since I had first left home, 16 years earlier.  It worked, I liked the look of it and to me, it did exactly what I needed it to do.  I used saucepans that had been given to me by my brothers girlfriend.  My dining room chairs were being discarded by my parents, so I rescued them.  Yes, I did possess some newly purchased Ikea furniture but this had been purchased out of pure necessity and yes, just a little frivolity.

There I was, an apartment full of things, two months to go before I was due to fly to Thailand and no where to store anything.  So, I set about selling everything that I owned, or giving it away.  I utilised eBay for the good quality furniture and for selling items that I thought might be collectable.  I discovered that there is always someone who will buy your item.  One of my favourite sales was a well worn tour t-shirt of a little known UK rock band from the late 1980's, that was purchased by someone in Germany.  A guy flew down from Scotland to have a look at my car that I had advertised on eBay.  I figured that if he was coming all that way (a round trip of around 900 miles or more) then he must be serious.  He was.  He drove the car back to Scotland the same evening.  Charity shops benefited from clothes, board games, old VHS videos I could not sell and other miscellaneous items.  The local internet cafe was the recipient of approximately 50 disposable ball point pens that I had accumulated on various business trips from the hotels I had been staying in.  The selling process became addictive.  I enjoyed watching the bids flying in on my on-line eBay auctions, as the auction came to a close.  People paid me more for some items of Ikea furniture, than I had paid for the item new.  I was amazed.  But I was not really out to make money, that was just a bonus.  My only intent was to be free of these possessions.  Slowly but surely, everything began to go.  My old life was disappearing.  All of the things that I had once held dear and enjoyed had gone.

During this process it occurred to me that actually I didn't miss any of it.  Not a single thing.  Many of the items had been in cardboard boxes or on shelves in cupboards and I simply thought to myself that if the item was hidden away in a box or a cupboard, then I was never using it, and if I was not using it, then why was I keeping it?  Items that had meant so much to me previously, no longer held the same meaning.  In fact, they became poisoned chalices from which I needed to be free. 
And that is what I learned during the process.  That once everything was gone, I was free.  Until that moment, each of the possessions had some how had a hold over me.  I needed to protect them, to look after them, to find places to put them, I had to pay insurance for them, I even needed to find an apartment of a suitable size in which they would all fit.  I hadn't owned my possessions after all, they had owned me.  These inanimate objects had a power over me and a control over my life.

I also realised that I didn't need to have the books I had read on show in bookcases.  I know which books I have read and enjoyed and I can discuss them with anyone I talk with, at any time.  What is there to prove by showing that I have read such and such a book?  The same was true of everything that was on display in my apartment.  The concerts I had attended, the CDs I had collected, the movies I enjoyed the most.  None of this was really important to me any longer.  I realised that I was finally comfortable and happy to be me and that I had nothing to prove to anyone else.  And besides, I could borrow books for free from a library and then return them after reading.  I didn't need to own the book.  The same was true for DVDs and CDs.  And besides, if I listened to the radio, then I could hear music for free.  I changed the way I did things, in order to exercise my freedom.

Now, I travel with a backpack large enough to carry some clothes and a washing kit, a bag that contains my scuba diving equipment, and a small backpack for personal items.  I do have one other small suitcase in my parents attic, that contains mostly those items that are sentimental to me and cannot ever be replaced - my journals, some old photographs, a wooden bowl my grandfather turned on his own lathe and some other bits and pieces.

At the beginning of this post, I stated that all of our possessions belong to us and asked if this was true?  My own experience tells me that this is in fact not true.  It is us who belong to them.  They own us because we need to take care of them and to protect them.  You do not need an object to show or to prove who you are or what you have done in your life.  That is what your voice is for - to share stories and experiences with others.  Once you are without possessions, you will experience a liberation and a joy.  You will begin to experience true freedom in your life. 

"We are born into this world with nothing and we return to the Earth with nothing, except the memories of all that we did and all that we accomplished in life."

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