For most of my adult life, I’ve bought into the idea that if you learn how to make enough income, you can become independent. You know, not having to do stuff you don’t like or with or for people you don’t like. Or when you don’t like.
How many of you buy the income-producing programs so you become independent of (don’t have to go to) that daily job?
But there’s another way to become independent: spend less so you have to earn less. That too, is freeing in a very different but wonderful way.
My brother Bert was an extreme example of spending less – to the point where he was totally independent of any social or financial obligations.
In the middle of a successful art career, he decided he’d had enough with the office politics. For years, he’d also had running battles with our Mother about what was important in life. She had insisted for example that he should be more like his super-achiever sis (me, sigh).
Once Bert came to the University of Michigan where I was studying at the time, so he could tell her he was at U of M too (like Kim). He didn’t tell her he’d taken a job there in the kitchen (as a dishwasher).
About 10 years later (some 20 years ago now) Bert had had enough with people trying to run his life. One day he decided to live with the fewest obligations possible: a homeless shelter. He wouldn’t need a job to pay for housing. There was no dress code. Best, the office politics he could not abide wouldn’t exist. Nor would he have to deal with his independent art clients, who haggled about work and prices beyond what he could stand.
He told me once he knew more about homeless shelters from New York to Florida than anyone else alive – he’d stayed in them for over 3,000 nights – almost ten years.
But a year later, the requirements for living in shelters changed: now there were hours and rules for coming and going. This didn’t sit well with Bert.
He didn’t want people telling him when to come and go, so he decided to live on the streets, literally.
He traveled, by bike, from Michigan to New York to Florida, staying with friends from time to time, but mostly sleeping outside. He’d been a landscaper and loved the earth and wanted to tend anything that grew from it. He learned to make bedrolls for all variations of weather.
He was, by his own account and everyone who knew him, independent. No one could tell him what to do. No one did. He lived the way he wanted – no obligations he did not want. And he was happy to forgo all the niceties us regular folk seek – because they took away his independence. He would not be enslaved. Or bossed.
I wrote a little obit here for him here last year…
Anyway, ask yourself: why do you go to work everyday? Isn’t it to pay the bills? For the niceties you want(ed)?
And now we are slaves, working to service the debt we traded for the sweets of life. Still seeking independence. Buying into anything that offers it. We give ever more money for expensive programs, spend more of our limited time here seeking online distractions. And for the most part we’re only enslaving ourselves more.
My brother Bert had a different way of becoming independent. He traded all the niceties he’d known – and he’d known plenty – for his independence.
Bert was extreme. But the Buddha too, had little more than his (fine) robe and some sandals. And 400 years later, Jesus didn’t have any more.
While I’m not as extreme (yet) as Bert or Jesus, I’ve realized there is a lot I can do without. Some of you know I am back in CA and live in Berkeley again. In this town, folks have a practice of putting useful things (that one doesn’t want anymore) right outside on the sidewalk. You attach a “FREE” sign. Within an hour, the stuff will be gone.
I have put stuff out each day…It’s always gone within 20 minutes. Bookcases, dressers, CD cases by the hundreds, lamps, teddies, books, just stuff. All useful to someone else.
Less is more.
Might be a phase, but it feels good right now.