This is part 2 of my thoughts on ‘limitations’. If you haven’t read it, check out ‘Finding freedom in limitation‘
I’ve been having a lot of free time. Time is a variable of life I highly value, such as is the feeling of freedom that comes with having time.
I always thought I’d be the happiest having as much time as possible and planning it out to my liking. Working 9-5 has never appealed to me for that exact reason. I always thought that would limit my freedom and thus have found other ways. However, I did realize how not having much work, but instead relatively little and therefore, a lot of time to fill wasn’t making me happier either. Not only the pandemic but also previous experience made me realize that having too much free time decreases its perceived value to me. There is something so special about having an afternoon off once during the week. Have four afternoons off and suddenly, you’re struggling to fill them with something meaningful continuously. Instead, you have idle time that you’re fretting about ‘wasting’, when you should feel grateful for this time, knowing that others envy you for it.
Other areas of life can have the same effect. I remember when I first left home to live, actually travel and thus live on my own. I was backpacking Australia and was thrilled that, having escaped my parents’ eagle eyes, I could have ice cream for dinner if I wanted to. That turns out to be a fun game until you overeat on a whole liter of ice cream and start wishing you knew how to cook something more substantial. Making ice cream a treat and go out to have some with a friend has a much better ring than the former situation. Our world does offer an abundance of food to many of us, and we have simply gotten used to it and overindulge. The one country where it felt a little different for me was Japan. Super-size food has yet to set foot into this country. Yes, fast-food is becoming a thing, but regular food and items sold in the store come in surprisingly small quantities. It was hard to overeat there and you really valued what you had.
Remember when streaming wasn’t a thing and you had to wait a week until you could see the next episode of your favorite sitcom? That agony and excitement made watching TV something special and left me running to the TV not to miss a second. These days you can access whole shows with a simple click and watch them no matter what time of the day and until your eyes hurt from too much screen time.
Part of why we can become so overwhelmed these days is having too much of everything. Information overload is surely something I don’t have to get into in more detail.
In marketing, value is created by making things’ scarce’. ‘Only 1 seat left’, ‘only 5 more items available’. This practice makes us think more highly of the product or service. However, many things have become such a commodity that we do not appreciate them enough.
One of the principal propositions of being ‘happier and more content’ in life is to ‘notice the small things’. It can be harder to notice when we’re making the small things’ bigger’ while overindulging on them.
One of the best things about traveling for me was living with little possessions. The limitation actually gave me freedom. Having only a few clothes freed my mind from the tedious process of deciding what to wear that day. Having less luggage made me able to move to a new place in a heartbeat. Having fewer ties meant there was nothing much to organize when I wanted to move on. Having less space to store things (I had close to no space left in my backpack) meant that I simply decided not to buy anything unless I absolutely needed it. Again, it freed my mind of the arduous decision-making process of whether to purchase something or not.
In some places that I volunteered at, the internet was scarce or food supply. How you learn to appreciate these commodities afterward. After 6 weeks on a farm without Wi-Fi and grocery stores (we got food delivered once a week), heading to a coffee shop for a cappuccino and screen time was the treat of my week. Sleeping in a private room after weeks in a hostel almost brought tears of joy into my eyes. That German pretzel that I found at a bakery in a shopping mall in Quito in Ecuador is still etched in my memory (even now that I’m drowning in options of buying baked goods here in Germany).
You can even go as far as applying this to people. Despite being more connected than ever, loneliness has been on the rise (even before the pandemic). We have the whole world at our fingertips, but maybe it is precisely that overwhelming number that makes us connect less with just a few people.
I have continuously met people throughout my life who decided to live with less. Minimalism has gotten quite a bit of momentum over the years and I have ridden that wave since I started traveling. I am beginning to wonder, though, whether this should only apply to materialism or other areas in life as well.