Saturday, February 26, 2011

need less stuff

With the specter of another move on the horizon, I have once again decided that I need to travel lighter. As shocking as this may sound to some of you who think I wear the same dark blue, short-sleeved, collared shirt every single day, I own a couple gray shirts as well. Actually, it’s not just clothes, which are a significant weight percentage of my possessions, but a need to really examine what I keep lugging around with me and asking if it is both necessary and if there is an equivalent product that is “better, faster, stronger” if you will allow me to borrow a line from Daft Punk. (No, Kanye is not orginal).

A part of me feels like I should invest in some quality travel gear. Another (more miserly) portion of me thinks that my kit has made it through five moves so far so it can’t be all bad. The more miserly portion could also argue that until these things break, I am somehow helping save the planet be owning less stuff. (This is rather delusional as the significant air travel I do more than offsets the minimal gain of keeping my stuff.) The real question is if I am at a point in my life where I should start acquiring nice things that will last me for many years. These are not purchases as much as they are investments. Investments in my comfort, convenience, sense of style (or lack thereof), or general desire of want. There are no material desires of need that are unfulfilled at this point, because if that was the case, I would go and fulfill that need. Plus, there are precious few true needs. Regardless of that, how much stuff do I really want at this point in my life.

Let’s say that all the things you own get you through 95% of all days. In that sense, about every three weeks, you have to go and purchase something that you either need or feel will noticeably improve the quality of your life. If you are reading this, then you are likely somewhere where such purchases are possible. So, the question becomes how much more stuff do you need to get to 98% or 99% or 99.9% keeping in mind that there is no such thing as having 100% of all your needs fulfilled since needs change. Now, imagine you’re me and you’re in a place where the acquisition of many material goods is not possible. What percentage should I be try to get to before I come here if you imagine that I can struggle through the days that fall on the wrong side of the ‘stuff percentage’.

Actually, let’s speak in terms of normal distributions and sigma to give ourselves a nice visual. (If you cannot visualize the normal distribution of a bell curve, then fine, here’s a link, but just know that I am very disappointed you didn't take a class on statistics.) Imagine the most typical day in terms of how much stuff you need (that’s not food) is the middle of the distribution. On any day where you need less stuff than average, that is to the left of center. On any day where you need more than average, we look to the right. Of course, everything left of center is covered so we really only need to focus on the right side. How many standard deviations, or sigma, do I want to cover? Three sigma would be quite a bit of coverage. But I definitely don’t have that much stuff and neither do you once you realize everything to the left of three standard deviations on the right is nearly 99.9% which means the acquisition of something new less than once a year.

Let’s be serious. I don’t even own an umbrella which should speak to either how little it rains here (not true) or how little I care about rain (mostly true). The tools I used to have (and still do but away in storage) just can’t make the cut to bring here due to their poor weight-to-usefulness ratio. Let’s keep boiling this down. What do I plan to take with me on my next move? Clothes? Of course, but there are a lot of things (mostly dress shirts and pants) that I rarely wear. Furniture, household goods, kitchenware? Not needed, will be provided. Toiletries? Yes, but what do I need versus what do I want to pamper myself. Books? Perhaps it is time for an e-reader or something else. Personal electronics? I think the laptop won’t survive the next move and I will go for something smaller and more suitable to what I need from a computing device, which is very little. I'd fancy myself somewhere like a 1.6 sigma guy, maybe more, maybe less. If you are here reading this, then you might be in the 2.0 sigma range. It's just a guess after all since I don't assiduously track the days I say, "golly, I really wish I had X today because that would make my life a lot better."

In the end, the real answer to how much stuff I need is very simple. Less than what I have right now.


Anonymous said...

You may want to look into this vest for warmer days or this coat for cold traveling days.

They both come in black.

buickguy said...

On the cusp of moving is always a good time to "clean house". Get 'er down to two modest-sized duffles, the kind that don't require wheels. (But wheels are good.) Why two? One for each hand, Silly.

Anonymous said...

While traveling, you may want to try this coat on a cold day and this vest for a warmer day.