When Mahatma Gandhi died he had very few possessions. Popular media list these objects as a couple of bowls, a wooden fork and spoon, a diary, a prayer book, a couple of letter openers, two pair of sandals, his eyeglasses, a pocket watch, a spittoon, and his three porcelain monkeys (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.)
One of my goals in perusing a Zen lifestyle is to break free of the materialistic lifestyle I have become accustom to, or at least lessen the hold material things have on me. I find that in all facets of my life I try to acquire more and more things. I noticed that, even in my office at work, I would always opt for more when offered. Morse space, more furniture, more pictures, more everything. I feel a necessity to surround myself with more and more “stuff.”
Paradoxically, however, what I really want is less and less. I really want simplicity. But I quickly trade that simplicity for material things with any real understanding why I do it. Why do I need 350 books on the shelf? Why do I need two different game consoles? Why do I even need one? Do I need a coffee mug from every city I’ve ever visited?
This list goes on and on. Literally thousands of objects that I hang on to (or some might say horde) for no apparent reason save that I might need them “someday” or for some sort of sentimental value.
So I have developed a five step plan to break the hold that material objects have on me and to create a more Zen-centered life style.
- One item in = two items out. Simply put, for each item I buy (not including things like food, medicine, etc.) two items must go out. The preference is that the item be similar to one another. (No fair buying a big screen television and getting rid of a coffee mug and an old tennis ball.) If I buy a new CD or DVD, two must go out. This not only challenges me to get rid of material things, but helps me focus on if I really need the item or just want the item, and if so, at what cost?
- Get rid of one item each day. Regardless if I buy something or not, I will get rid of one thing each day. It could be anything, big or small, but the goal is to focus on breaking the materialism a little each day.
- Set a goal for a number of items. It can be a short term goal, (like reducing the total number of items owned by 200 by December) or a long term goal (like reducing the total number of items owned to 100) or a combination of the two. The important part is to make a goal and work at achieving it.
- Set the goal realistically There is no way possible I could drop down to five to ten items tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. Frankly, I don’t think I could ever get down to 10 items like Gandhi did. But that isn’t the point. The point is to break the hold that material objects have on a person.
- Focus on what each item that I am getting rid of means. What is the nature of the object? Why am I getting rid of it? Why was I holding on to it? This introspection doesn’t have to be a huge production with mediation time and gongs or anything, just an acknowledgement that I am doing this mindfully and with purpose.