There’s a part of today’s consumerist world that drives us to want more, buy more, act on our impulses, hoard, spend to solve our problems, create comfort through shopping, seek thrills through travel, do more, be more.
What would happen if we broke from our addiction to wanting and buying more?
What would life be like if we didn’t need all that?
Imagine a life where we could enjoy simple, free pleasures like going for a walk in nature, meditating, reading a book, writing. By buying less we’d have less debt, less clutter, less to take care of. We’d need smaller houses, less storage. Perhaps we could even work less to support all this buying, unless the work were something we loved to do.
Now, I’m not saying we can free ourselves of all desire. I’ve certainly not learned to do that yet. But what if we could recognize our wants, and not be driven by them? What if we could let go of them when they are not helpful, and instead be happy with what we have?
I’m exploring this myself. I’ll share some things that work for me, with the acknowledgement that I’m still learning, I still fail at this all the time. I have a lot to learn, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Recognize when you have an impulse to buy, a desire to do what other people are doing, a need to solve problems or create a certain life by buying things. Learn to see this impulse, and say, “Ah, I have an urge to buy!” Just see it.
- Recognize that the impulse isn’t a command, just a feeling that arises like any other, just temporary, like a passing cloud. Watch it, feel it, stay with it, but know that it will pass.
- Set a limit to your stuff. I am experimenting with a limit of only having clothes that fit in one bag, but you might set an temporary limit of 33 personal things, one drawerful of clothes, etc. This limit isn’t to feel restricted, but to give you pause before you buy something, to remind you that you already have enough.
- See this moment as enough. A desire to buy, to experience what others are experiencing, to do more … these all stem from the idea that the present isn’t enough somehow. We aren’t satisfied with what we are, what we have, what is in front of us … we want more. But I’ve been practicing with the idea that the current moment is already enough. I’m already good enough. There doesn’t need to be more. When I have an impulse to buy or do more, I think about what’s in front of me, and I try to understand that it’s enough as it is.
- Enjoy simple things. There is already enough in front of us, right now, that we don’t need more. We can go for a walk, sit and read a book, do some pushups or yoga, sketch or write or play some music, have a conversation with someone, or do nothing and see what that’s like. We can walk barefoot on grass, drink a cup of tea, create something new, learn about something new, be curious about the life that’s in front of us. This is delightful, without needing to buy more or get more.
Finally, recognize that it’s an ongoing practice. In my experience, you don’t just get rid of desires and then you’re done. You let go of one, turn to the present moment, appreciate it, find satisfaction in what there already is … and then a little while later, another desire arises. It comes from advertising, websites, magazines, seeing what other people are doing on social media, watching the news, talking to people, walking past a cool store, seeing a new bag that your friend just bought, etc.
The desires will keep coming back, but we can develop the skill of recognizing them, letting them go, being happy with the enough-ness of now.
How to Want Very Little was first published on Zen Habits on 11/17/15.