zenhabits : breathe

Cutting the Cord to Materialism

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from David Damron of The Minimalist Path.

Let’s start with an exercise …

1. Grab a small sheet of paper and a pen or pencil.

2. After you read the following question, please take 5 deep breaths before answering.

3. Write your response to the up-coming question on your piece of paper in one sentence.

Here is your question to answer:

If you had the opportunity to do one activity for one week without any worry about finances, cost, or other outside commitments, what would you love to do for this week?

I hope you answered that question on the piece of paper. If not, please finish following the original instructions and then continue reading.

So, what did you come up with? Was it travel around your favorite Hawaiian Island? Was it to spend a week at Disney World with your family and friends? Was it take that honeymoon you and your significant other missed out on? Or was it watch television while you munched on chips and salsa for eight hours a day, seven days straight? I doubt it was that last one.

However, for some reason, the last response should be answered the most. At least by Americans. In 2008, we watched an average of 5.1 hours/day of television and that doesn’t include the 3 hours/month average of internet video watching. For Americans, that is a total of 10.92 weeks / year watching television. If that figure doesn’t shock you then I don’t know what will.

In America and much of western culture, our infatuation with materialism comes from the opportunity to have such. Being a minimalist pre-cable/satellite television was not just a fad. It was a way of life. People were these things called ACTIVE and ENERGETIC. Once television became such a monumental part of our lives, we began being consumed by this sedentary form of life that co-existed with unhealthy and unfit lives.

In many other parts of the world, being active is living. In Japan, Leo Babauta experienced the countering idea to the lives of western cultures. He found that many Japanese lives revolve around basic physical activities like walking and biking and there isn’t a focus on exercise. Those that have not accepted the forms of materialism similar to the addiction in America and beyond live longer and are happier. Though this may be for many reasons, such as financial, I like to believe it is for the health and life reasons that many the world over choose the anti-materialism way.

Health is not the only factor in the fight against materialism. You do not need me to tell you about the financial situation the world is in. The abundance of commercials and other highly influential advertising through our modes of electronic communication have caused personal debt to become just as bloated as our waste lines. In America, we spend 5.4% of our income entertaining ourselves. That’s $2700/annually that could be going towards savings, retirement, and/or travel. How different would your mindset be if you had $2700 set aside for a random, spontaneous week vacation? If you think that’s a lot, we spend $1881/annually just on apparel and services. Assuming we just cut those two totals in half, we would have an additional $2290 to our name. For me, just that half is a lot of money that could be used for activities that would be much more fulfilling than 500+ television channels.

The point of reducing our sedentary forms of entertainment is not just to save money and lose a few pounds. It is to save our lives! Just imagine how different your life would be if you spent one more hour with your family daily or a few more hours a week chasing your tour card on the PGA or training for a marathon. When we spend our time doing the things we love, it ends up being more valuable than any half hour sitcom can be.

Remember that question I asked you to answer earlier. Your response was only addressing one week. So, if you chose to spend your gifted week at the Great Barrier Reef finding Nemo, imagine what your life would be like if you took just half of that 10+ hours/week spent in front of the television and spent those additional 5 weeks exploring the entire Great Barrier Reef. Surely, your boss may not let you have that much vacation, but without that television being such a major priority, you could do many of the things you dream of doing, whatever they may be.

Being a minimalist and simplifying your life does not mean you need to eliminate all that you somewhat enjoy. I, to this day, like to watch a handful of hours of television per week. However, if you are able to reduce the quantity of time and money spent on that which you just like and apply both to that which you love, you may be able to live a longer, more pleasureful life.

Try cutting your cord to materialism and start appreciating more of the things you don’t just like but love.

David Damron is the author of PROJECT M-31: Simplify Your Life in 31 Days, and chronicles his journey to a more simplified life at The Minimalist Path.



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