An Exercise to Start With

Let me propose an exercise that everyone can try at home, assuming they have a home:

  1. Identify all the things in your home that you don’t need or use. Be exhaustive. Include the canned food in the back of the cupboards, the books that will never be read, the appliances that won’t be used, the cable channels, DVDs, and videotapes that won’t be watched, and everything else. If you have house, include the rooms, crawl spaces, closets, and areas of the yard where nothing is stored and no one ever visits.
  2. Figure out how much time you’ve spent working to pay for those things, and if they’re ongoing costs (rent, subscriptions, and so on), how much time you’ll keep working to pay for them
  3. Imagine how your life would be different if you could reverse the exchange you’ve made (and may be continuing to make), such that you didn’t have those things, but instead had the time you worked to get them.

As an example, my wife and I have a cable television subscription. I don’t watch it at all (not due to any moral or aesthetic superiority, but because I just never get around to it), and my wife watches, if we’re being very generous, maybe 1% of the channels available. To pay that cable bill, I work about one morning a month.

I propose this simply as a selfish exercise—each of us considering the effects of our decisions on ourselves. There are, of course, much wider consequences of so much being produced and not used, and of so much being unused with so many in such dire need, but those are beyond the scope of this exercise. For now, just consider these things and the time to acquire them. Consider them as you happen upon the unused and during the time you work to pay for them, and imagine how your life could be different. That’s all. It’s so easy, a child could do it.

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