Happiness is not in the pursuit of stuff, but in the pursuit of freedom to enjoy life.
My quest for happiness seems to have involved the accumulation of material possessions. A couple years ago–in the midst of one of my 23 residential moves thus far–I was exhausted from packing and hauling my belongings yet again. I was a single, empty-nest woman moving alone. I wasn’t just tired, I was feeling so drained that I knew I had to rest or die.
During my breaks, I considered how I would feel and function with fewer material things in my home. My wild spirit loved traveling in a house trailer as a child with my sister and our grandparents. I couldn’t help to wonder: Could I do something similar as an adult? How much of my furnishings could I give up and still make a place feel like a home, like MY home? And, what about my books, my thousands of books?
I considered an uncluttered life where material possessions would not rule me and set related goals. I stopped purchasing non-essentials and began my quest to thin out the unnecessary burden of stuff from my life. I started noticing all things minimalistic including unconventionally small homes on wheels, some of which could be classified as tiny houses, and many of which looked very inviting to me!
In an unlikely set of circumstances, I met Alex, a man who would become my boyfriend, who lived in a tiny home. It was a house trailer, 6′ x 12′ with a propane stove and electricity. It had the facilities for water and sewer, but utilizing them would create more work than Alex wanted to exert. Instead, he walked down the dirt road of the campground where he parked his trailer to use the shower house, as did I when I visited.
Alex’s tiny house held few material possessions: his clothes, television and video player, his guitar, one drinking cup, one 3-quart pot, and his bedding. To me, this little home was a rugged version of my childhood vacations. To Alex, this was freedom! Living this lifestyle meant Alex could keep his overhead as low as possible while still having his home. It meant he did not have to work a job he hated, one that had sucked the life from him day in and day out. Instead, he had plenty of time to tend to and ride his horses or play his guitar. He was content and enjoyed the freedom to work only odd jobs when he chose.
Alex told me stories of his marriage ten years earlier and the relationship his wife developed with money. His distaste for a conventional lifestyle was largely due to her spending both her income and his on material non-essentials. He revealed that his wife’s spending was out of control and once he discovered it, it was too late for him to recover. He filed for bankruptcy and divorce, resenting that she was never satisfied. He had lost everything he had worked hard to earn to her irrational spending. No wonder he now prefers this simple life: Having only basic needs allows the provider the feeling of success when he fulfills those needs, and it leaves time and energy for true living.
Alex and I were together only a couple of months. My want for a toilet in the dark night of the cold Midwestern winter combined with his lack of closet space for my most basic belongings meant I did not fit into his life. Our limited compatibility made it clear there was no good reason to attempt a long-term relationship. In the short time we shared together, I learned that I can live in a tiny house so long as it has a pot for my use when running down the road to the shower house isn’t a comfortable option.
In our culture here in the States, convention until recently dictated that the man of the family be the provider. Alex believed it, which was one of the main reasons he initiated our break up. He did not want to be a provider except for his needs, which meant he had to be single. Despite me telling him “I am not looking for you to support me,” my wanting a toilet lead to him feeling pressured to provide for me, which pushed him away from the freedom of the lifestyle he had enjoyed before he invited me into the picture.
In dating over the years since my divorce at age 21, I had heard so many stories from men, many of whom said his ex-wife spent everything he earned and then some. I wondered if they were completely honest with themselves and with me. If these men were only slightly exaggerating, the women were insensitive to the psychological programming of the men. A man who believes he must be the provider can only feel successful when he satisfies his and his loved ones’ needs. I recently pondered if I did any of what the wives had done when I was married long ago.
My ex-husband was a provider in mindset and action. Unfortunately, as young, uneducated and immature as I was when we were together, I did not know that men show their dedication by providing. As a result of my ignorance, when he was working–gone from home for 10-14 hours per day–I felt alienated, not grateful. Even though I was not spending like the ex-wives I had heard about, my disregard for his diligent effort was equally selfish.
Fast forward to my sweetheart, John. While John is far from a minimalist, his philosophy on work-life balance is similar to Alex’s. As I fill my schedule with article writing, part-time jobs, client projects, website work, and my search for a full-time career-level job, John gently shakes his head “no”. He frequently reminds me that he has no interest in taking on stress to keep up with the Joneses or to pursue a career path. John and I wonder if we will have sufficient compatibility to continue as a couple or if we should be “just friends.” He is content to have what he has and no more. I am not; I aspire to be, do and have… better, not more.
In my maturity, I evaluate my relationship to material possessions in my life including my romantic relationship. I do not request that my sweetheart must or even should provide for me. I continually work toward a life where I provide for my needs, keeping in mind the lifestyle Alex achieved with his tiny home, and John’s simple, low-stress life. I consider my next residential move and what non-essentials I can get rid of before then to lighten my load. In observing all of this, I have come to be sure, satisfying simpler needs brings us peace of mind, which allows for the enjoyment of life. Happiness is not in the pursuit of stuff, but in the pursuit of freedom to enjoy life.
Photo: Flickr/ litlnemo