A little shed in the wilderness
Photo by Ben Chun

I was playing tennis with a friend over the weekend. We were taking a rest and chatting about girlfriends and moving in together (with our respective girlfriends, not with each other), the whole ordeal of moving out and finding a place to live, and so on.

At one point, talking about when he lived in a studio before getting married, he said, “That tiny studio made me realize I don’t need much. I remember thinking I could live in a box.”

If this had been a poetry reading I would have started snapping my fingers (I’ve never been to a poetry reading so if the whole snapping thing is just something they do in movies please let me know so I don’t make a fool of myself when someone invites me to my first poetry reading).

Since it wasn’t and it would have taken too long to explain this whole train of thought, I just gave him an enthusiastic nod as I’ve reaffirmed this notion for myself living alone in my own little studio over the past year.

I’ve always been a “minimalistic” type of guy.

In college my roommates said my room looked like a prison cell (a very luxurious prison cell, I’d imagine, the type rich Bernie Madoff type criminals get put in) since I didn’t have anything hanging on the walls nor much stuff laying around.

I’ve always found it freeing to realize how little I need to live comfortably.

I have a queen bed, a desk to work on, a laptop, a fridge stocked with food, and a closet with more clothes than I use.

What else could I want?

Who you are surrounded by and the type of thoughts that consume you are much more important than your current life circumstances.

Marcus Aurelius makes this point often in his Meditations.

For example:

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.

Another one:

Do not dream of possession of what you do not have: rather reflect on the greatest blessings in what you do have, and on their account remind yourself how much they would have been missed if they were not there. But at the same time you must be careful not to let your pleasure in them habituate you to dependency, to avoid distress if they are sometimes absent

One more:

You have power over your mind––not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

It’s not about not buying things or being “minimalistic” for the sake of slapping a label on yourself.

There’s no threshold of things owned you need to stay under. You don’t need to torture yourself over every little purchase or stop yourself from buying something you’d get a lot of use out of.

But if your wish list is always overflowing or you constantly find yourself window shopping, then even if you’re not actually buying stuff, you’re still trapped in this “wanting” mindset.

To me, it’s about realizing you don’t NEED more than you already have.

The studio where I live doesn’t have its own kitchen. There’s a kitchen on the floor which is shared among the 8 tenants.

Am I looking forward to moving and having my own kitchen? Heck yes.

Is not having my own kitchen worth whining about? Does it impair my ability to be “happy”? Heck no. It’s a small inconvenience at best.

As FDR once said, “Look at me. I’m in a wheelchair, but I’m happy as a clam and I’ve been President of the United States for the past 12 years. The people just keep on electing me. In fact, I plan on being president until I die. Washington and his 2 term precedent be damned. What I’m here to say, though, is that you need less than you think to be happy. Thank you and God bless America.”

We’d be wise to listen to FDR.

Note: FDR might or might not have said this.