Living with Enough

I’ve been a proponent of living with enough long before words like “minimalism” and “essentialism” became a thing. Maybe it was my introverted (maybe even slightly anal-retentive) nature that led me to it. I’ve always felt strongly about using resources such as food, water, and electricity (among other things like hard drive space, software applications, etc.) resourcefully and mindfully. In fact, I can’t help but cringe when I find others wasting one or more of those resources. Here we are getting stuff we want (for which we should be grateful), and then not consuming it appropriately. Think about others for a moment who don’t have what you have. How would it look to them when they find you using these things sub-optimally? The fact that a lot of people don’t even have access to clean drinking water makes me teary-eyed and just plain mad thinking about it. Then, there is stuff — the things we buy to add value to our lives in some way. The problem is not with consumption here, but with compulsion. The point being, we buy more than we need and/or want (way more!).

Living with enough goes way beyond the physical stuff in our lives. For instance, it’s not about having a bigger house, or a fancy car or jewelry because having stuff doesn’t make us happy even when we think it will. You can live in a small space that is comfortable enough. Of course, you’ll have to define how much space you need, but the fact remains that most big homes barely use 40% of their space. I also don’t mean to suggest you live in a tiny house. I think both scenarios are extremes and one has to find the right balance between the two.

Here are some everyday examples from my life as to what enough means to me:

It takes me about 10 minutes to take a shower. Alternatively, I may use a bucket of water. The point I want to make is that I use that water for that duration or quantity and it is enough for my needs for one time. It’s not like its a self-imposed limit that I’ve put on myself, because I haven’t. I just end up using that much, and it’s enough for my purpose. It’s also not like I am consciously thinking about this all the time because I don’t. I end up doing it naturally without thinking. It’s not that I am skimping on using less water either (or other resources), because less is not enough, nor is more, and one has to find the right balance. For me, those “sub-conscious constraints” work great. Your mileage, as usual, may vary.

When it comes to having food, I’ve created templates for some of my meals so I don’t have to think about what I am having or not having. Although the specific foods inside the template can change, the quantity will remain the same. What I am having will be enough, and I know if I have more than that (from previous experience), I will feel bloated. In other words, I clearly know my limits. This goes back to applying the principle of moderation, but more on this below.

To give you another example of a more deliberate constraint, I like to collect timepieces. At the same time, I have set a personal limit of having no more than a dozen in my lifetime. The point being there is no end to things we want, so unless we have some limits in place by design, we will always end up having more by default. When we have fewer things, we tend to value them more. In other words, I define what quality and quantity means to me without relying on someone else’s metric. It’s about defining what enough means to you and then sticking to it.

Having some kind of self-imposed limit/constraint in place is essential for having self-discipline; besides, constraints don’t limit us, but free us. It also helps us deal with situations where we might have fewer resources than we are used to, so we can get creative based on the natural constraints that are available to us to make the best use of it without complaining.

I tend to buy a notebook computer once every 3 years or so, which is typically when the (hardware) support for it runs out. When I do, I typically get the fully-loaded model (or near-about) to future-proof it for the longest time possible. It’s unusual for me to keep using the notebook after that. That said, my previous notebook retained 85% of its battery life after five years of heavy usage. That means it used only 15% of its battery capacity during its lifetime. Think about that for a minute. Maybe I just got lucky with it. The only reason I no longer use it is because the smaller-screen no longer did it for me. I still have the computer, but I want to give it away to someone who is less fortunate.

The same is true for me when a new phone comes out. I don’t rush to get one every time there is a new phone because the one I have works just fine for my purposes, and I will use it for as long as I can until it stops working or until the company that makes it no longer supports it.

The only time I put software on my notebook or apps on my phone is right after I get it. Then, I disable all the automatic software (or app) updates, simply because I don’t want any more than what I have. Sure, I might lose out on fancy new features by not updating the apps, but the idea is that if it was good enough to use it when I first got it, it’ll be good enough for later as well.

When I get a new notebook is also the time when I buy the upgrade copies of software licenses and then leave it as is. The only reason I buy the copies for these upgrades is because the older copies of the software won’t run on the newer devices. I tend to only get the upgrade copies of the software that I already own. So, it’s not like I am necessarily looking for new software. This is not to say that I don’t get new software later on, but that is often an exception to the rule. Getting a new device is also a perfect time to reevaluate my software needs.

Ditto with using the apps on my phone or tablet. I only install updated versions of apps. Even then, I would only update those apps and leave the rest as-is, even though there might be a newer version that may be out with fancy new features. I am perfectly content with what I have, and for good reason (because it’s working for me!).

Here’s an example from the sartorial arts. Fashion repeats, but style is eternal. Instead of running after what’s new and trendy and “in fashion”, I believe in having a personal style with select pieces that are classic and timeless in their design, which will likely stand the test of time if cared for properly. I believe in making final choices about things. I believe in permanence and spending more on fewer things because they are not expensive in the long run. Most of us look at price tags and balk at them because we’re only thinking of the short term value. We don’t take into account the long-term value. If you look at the value of an item over the long haul, then it doesn’t turn out to be expensive at all. In fact, the opposite couldn’t be truer. When we buy cheap, disposable things, it turns out to be more expensive over a period of time. Maybe this sounds too obvious, but we need to get our thinking straight about what truly adds value to our lives.

The idea of enough to me doesn’t mean less per se, nor does it mean more. To me, it means having just the right amount. It means having everything you need, and nothing you don’t. It’s about having the right tools at our disposal and using the heck out of them. It’s about having fewer things, but better. Everything in your life is important and should add value. If it’s not, it should not be in your life, period. Of course, you have to figure out what enough means to you as it’s a highly personal metric that only you can define for yourself. It goes without saying that this idea of enough transcends beyond just owning physical things.

So what are the benefits of living with enough? Once we know what is enough for us, we no longer are compelled to get things out of compulsion for many reasons. First is we know that it’s not stuff that we want to fill the void in our lives as we come to realize that the problem is not external, but internal. Second, we find ourselves happy and content with what we have, while we have the freedom to grow all we want (the sky’s the limit!).

When we live with enough, we have more physical and mental space to do things and to just be. For instance, having more mental space means devoting more time and attention to our health, doing work that matters and contributing to the world, giving quality time to our relationships by being totally present with them, and growing all the time.

Having less physical stuff also means less waste. Having a lower footprint on the planet means long-term sustainability for future generations to live and thrive.

So how do we live with enough? Well, having enough is a personal metric and everyone must come up with their own measure of what it means to them. It’s not about having everything you want, but wanting everything you have. That starts with being grateful for what you do have, while you’re free to pursue all that you want. These might be things you’ve often overlooked or taken for granted because you’ve always had them. Again, most of us take things like food, water, electric, and gas for granted because we have never not had it. We can’t fathom living without it because we never have. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re quite well off in the world, which is all the more reason to give back.

As Socrates has wisely said:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

One way of having enough is by putting everything you have in boxes. Then, take things out as and when you need them. I wrote about this in my draft on stuff. You see, we end up using only 20% of the stuff we own (from the Pareto principle). You can use the same idea with apps on your phone or software on your computer.

Look at every single thing in your life and ask yourself if it adds value to your life. For instance, how many carry-on bags do you need for travel? If you’re like me, you already have more than you need, in which case consider giving it away or selling it. Everything in your life should be important. If it’s not, it should not be in your life, period. Learn to identify things that truly add value to your life. Wash, rinse, and repeat every quarter.

The other thing you can do is buy things mindfully, and only when you truly need them. That means making a trip to the store/mall only if/when you need something, and not shopping arbitrarily. That also means not going to the store/mall until you figure out what you want in advance. Of course, that leaves little room for serendipity.

Enough could mean eating 80% of your diet capacity and enjoying the meal experience rather than eating 100% and feeling remorseful, let alone over-eating. That would mean taking the time to eat mindfully without distractions (screens), as your body registers the capacity only after 20 minutes or so. Of course, this principle goes beyond eating mindfully, and also extends to our work and relationships.

Figure out the select few tools you need for your work (in terms of hardware, software, and applications), then use the heck out of them. Don’t worry about upgrading them all the time. If it was useful enough to begin with, chances are it will still be useful later on without needing an upgrade.

When it comes to using resources such as food, water, electricity, oil, and gas, use them mindfully. For instance, rather than owning a SUV in the city, opt for a smaller car or a car that is more planet-friendly.

Just because we have more of something doesn’t give us the license to use it mindlessly. We have a responsibility to use things mindfully and more importantly for the sake of the planet. Consider the inverse, which is equally true. When we have less of something, we should be more mindful about using it, and only then we’ll learn to use it well when we have more of it later. How we spend money is a perfect example of this.

Think of the contacts you have in your phone book and in your favorite social network. They say that it’s not possible to have more than 150 relationships at any given point of time. If that is true, consider the number of people in your social network accounts (in addition to what you have in your phonebook). If everyone over there is your friend, then who is actually your friend? Surely, they can’t all be “friends”. Pick a number you’re comfortable with (whatever it may be) and then stick to it. Like most things in life, relationships are also about depth, but this idea of having more connections on these networks runs contrary to the number of meaningful relationships one can have in life.

When I see people following thousands of people on their favorite social network, I wonder if they can actually keep up with all that. The answer is no one can. It’s for this reason that I follow about 60 people on Twitter. I want to read their every single tweet. I also disable their retweets as I am more interested in what they have to say.

Living with enough also means treating your time and attention as sacrosanct and saying no by default, unless proven otherwise. More often than not, it means being less popular with the crowd in the short term, but certainly gaining their respect in the long haul.

Ultimately, defining (and living with) enough is about having the freedom to focus your time, money, and attention on things that matter, and away from things that get in the way of your life.

Be grateful for what you have. It’s not about having everything you want (because that is a bottomless pit), but wanting everything you already have. It’s about being satisfied and content with what you have now, which gives you the freedom to perpetually grow.

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