By Leo Babauta
Eva and I and our two younger kids are in the process of moving back to California from Guam, where we’ve been living with family for the last 9 months. As we pack our stuff, get some stuff ready to ship to California, and donate other things to charity … it is a great time to reflect.
Why do people have so much stuff?
Even though we have relatively little compared to most, we’ve still managed to accumulate too much, from getting gifts from other people to buying necessities (and non-necessities) along the way. Stuff just piles up over time — that’s the nature of stuff.
But most of it is not necessary. Most of our stuff, we buy because of one feeling: the feeling of uncertainty. This is the underlying groundlessness, shakiness, insecurity we feel about the future and the present moment. It’s the uncertainty we feel all day long, every day, to varying degrees. It’s what causes us to feel fear, stress, anxiety, worry, even anger. It’s what causes us to procrastinate and put off our healthy and productive habits.
The feeling of uncertainty is the root of our buying too much stuff.
Think about these examples:
The Futility of Shopping to Deal with UncertaintyWe don’t like the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity – we try to get rid of it as soon as we can, get away from it, push it away. We have lots of habitual patterns we’ve built up over the years to deal with this uncertainty and insecurity … and buying things is one of the most common, other than procrastination.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually give us any certainty or security. We buy things and we’re not really more prepared, in control, or secure. We hope we will be, and yet the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity are still there. So we have to buy some more stuff.
We’re looking for the magical answer to give us control and security, but it doesn’t exist. Life is uncertain. Always. It’s the defining feature of life. Read the quote from Pema Chodron at the top — it says it all, we have to accept the uncertainty of life.
And in fact, this is the answer to our drive to buy too much stuff — if we lean into the uncertainty, embrace it, learn to become comfortable with it, we can stop buying so much.
We can learn to live with little, sitting with the uncertainty of it all.
The Practice of Opening to Uncertainty, to Live with Little
Imagine owning very little, living in a spare room, eating simple whole food, not being involved in social media, just working, reading, walking, spending time with loved ones. Meditating, drinking tea.
It’s a life of very little, and is beautiful in its simplicity.
But then uncertainty comes up, as it inevitably does. You have a trip, you have to go to a party, you have a new kind of project to take on, you are starting a new venture. You’re feeling insecurity and uncertainty.
Here’s how to practice with it instead of buying something: