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Subtraction > Addition

As Americans, we have been sold on this dream. The dream is to accumulate "stuff" and label it success and happiness. The problem is, with more things to take care of, we tend to choose one of two paths; to be burdened by our possession or to let them diminish and decay.

The greatest example I can give you is a home. Think of most young people's apartments. They buy or rent, then accessorize. Their homes look straight out of a catalog. Then they start to collect and their space lessens and their so-called assets increase. Soon, their dwellings look like a storage room and they feel they need to move into something larger. They do, and for a while, they enjoy the comforts of their spacious new homes. Then the process repeats itself, but now, they're locked into this home for years, maybe even decades and they start to forego their chores. Pretty quickly, their home not only looks tiny and cluttered, but it becomes unclean and unhappiness settles in because in attaining their dream, they allowed their ownership of things to own them.

Another great example is friendships. In school, we're taught to appreciate and like everyone. We have huge groups of friends, then in high school, we form cliques, then in college our circle and later in life we usually have a partner, and for many, children. Our friends become acquaintances unless proximity is kind to us and we put forth the effort, but like the house, we tend to let our relationships go that we deem a burden. Sometimes simply maintaining friendships is a burden.

Now, think about the workplace. What brings people more happiness, the addition of a good coworker or the subtraction of a bad coworker. You'd be hard pressed to pick anything but the removal of a thorn in your side. This also goes with circles of friends, even family, as we get older. So why don't we look at our possessions this way? Isn't getting the smaller car more enjoyable? Isn't cleaning less or doing fewer chores a far more enjoyable existence? Think of our daily commute? Sure we can boil it down to the cliche "less is more," but it is much more than that. Things are a distraction that prevents us from doing what we really want. Think of every magazine you bought for one article and what you could do with the money? Think of the kitchen gadgets you never use or the furniture that has become nothing more than a somewhat organized garbage heap. Think about that coat rack you bought, so you didn't have to open the coat closet. Now look in that closet. Do you need any of that stuff? Think of the China set you've never used or the fancy stemware or silverware that takes up an entire drawer. Do you really need six sets of bedding, six different black suits or dresses?

Now put this into everything in life and with the exception, but not always, of money, there aren't too many things you're not better off with less of. As someone who works with children, we often have to stay within ratio and let me tell you, while it's much easier to handle ten children than it is to handle twelve, the real beneficiaries are the children. This also works in other ways in that setting but I'll spare you my psychological theories.

If you still don't believe me, look at marriages. Why do so many crave someone to share everything with, when they still haven't figured out who they are and what they want? Finding someone who wants, even needs, the same things as you is almost impossible. Look at most people when they break up or get divorced. Initially, there's a feeling of loss, but eventually, often very quickly, there is a euphoria because they've gained time, freedom, and most often a new found serenity, even happiness. This isn't to say marriage is a bad idea, it's just saying that to commit to another, you give up yourself and to know you've found that one person who shares everything you share isn't nearly as beautiful as it is unrealistic.

I know my feelings aren't shared with most but I sincerely believe this is because we've been taught to believe more is better. By our parents, teachers, employers, friends, advertisements, and pretty much everywhere we go, we are sold on this theory that achievement, success, and happiness is dependent on what we accumulate through life and with the exception of memories, I just don't believe this to be true.

I'll end with one explanation of subtraction through addition. I know some who know me may read this and immediately point to the addition of my cat, Swag. Semantically, you'd be correct but one must realize, Swag has made me think less about myself, spend less money, spend less time chasing things that aren't there and sit around less. He's also a fairly big part of why I was so easily able to give up eating meat and dairy, plus, because of his eating schedule, I spend much less time dwelling on bad thoughts and I don't go out for a drink every day after work. He's been a big part of me giving away almost forty pounds.

I still have a long way to go to fully realize what I want, but I do know, it won't be something I have a receipt for.


  1. So you definitely don't subscribe to the notion that he who dies with the most toys... WINS!


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