Fifty Things Jim Can’t Live Without

by jimowensjr

Today, whether we like or not, much of the world is staying home most of the time in hopes of avoiding spreading or contracting a potentially deadly virus.  For some it’s a minor inconvenience.  Others are struggling with balancing the demands of working from home and insuring their children are entertained or completing school assignments.  Many are having far too much time with their spouses to enjoy it. But for all of us, save for victims of domestic abuse or mental health issues, those who are trapped in poverty—the ones just struggling to survive while some of us bitch and moan about petty things–perhaps this is an opportunity to reevaluate our lives.

This morning, I picked up a journal—I have several laying around my house—and began to run through an exercise I’ve done repeatedly over the last few years.  I sat, once again, and tried to make a list the fifty items that, if I could own nothing else, I would want most.

  1. Phone—I want to keep in touch with family and friends.
  2. One phone charger.
  3. One laptop (I like to write) and charger—that’s two items.
  4. One car. It could be a place to sleep.

I worked through my list without the need to omit truly essential items like medicine, glasses, and food.

  1. Three pairs of blue jeans–’cause, you know, pants are important.
  2. Three button down shirts
  3. Five pairs of socks

It might get cold, so I added few things.

  1. One coat.
  2. Two pairs of boots (one for hiking, one to channel my inner cowboy).

I won’t bore you with the rest of the list.  But even those that list has only nine numbers on the list, there are nineteen items on it.  Just as always, the further I get down the list, I realize how little I really need.  Now, I’m not an ascetic.  Nor am I suggesting you should be.  But every time I work through this process, I learn something about myself.

The reason I have to put yet another load of dishes in the dishwasher or laundry in the washing machine is because I have so much of both.  As I write, I’m staring at a pile of pillows—four to be exact—that need to be clothed in cases.  And there are already three on my bed that have cases on them!  How the hell did I end up with so many pillows?  (It’s because I’ve bought some new ones in the last year, but never gave or threw away the ones I already owned.)

Why do I have a closet full of linens and towels, when I live alone and rarely have guests?

Why do I have so many—well, I think you get it.  But in case you don’t, the point of this “fifty things” exercise is twofold.  It’s an exercise in gratitude, as well as to remind me how little I truly need.  It helps me make sure I have my stuff and it doesn’t have me.

You can do this with a lot of other things, too.  You can ask yourself to list the friends, if you could only have—pick a number—you couldn’t do with out.  You can ask yourself about the club or civic meetings you attend and ask, if I could only attend one a week or month, which one am your truly passionate about.  And you can ask yourself, if you could only do one job—okay, you can pick two or three—for the rest of your life, what would they be?   Are you doing one of them?  Why not?

Every time I work through this I realize how easy it is to drift from the path of dispossessing myself of things that don’t really matter to me, both material and immaterial.  I can end up buying stuff I don’t need and chasing things that I think will fill me up.  But, over time, I do less of that—at least I think I do.  I hope I do.

Tomorrow, I have some work to do.  I have some things to pack up to give to a local non-profit.  I have some books to sort through to give away, some clothes, some pillows, and some coffee cups.  (Those damn cups breed like rabbits.)  There’s some stuff I’ve been “saving” that needs to go. And there are some ideas about life I need to rethink—again—to make sure I’m as close to living a life of purpose as I can be.

There will be a few things I will keep.

  1. Three books.
  2. One Leatherman multi-tool.
  3. One watch—my phone might die.
  4. One backpack—I need somewhere to stow all fifty items.

If my math is right, that’s twenty-four items.  To be honest, it gets a little harder to choose as I move down the list.  But I think that’s because that’s where I’m getting into things that seem to add relatively little value, or at least are of even value, to my life.  Which is even more the point, I suppose—being sure the things you have add value to your life. 

And what you do with your time, well, maybe it should be about adding value to other people’s lives.  You can do that as a banker, a lawyer, a business owner, or doctor and lots of other ways professionally.  (The guys working at Walmart and the grocery store are doing it for most of us right now.) But every now and then, check in with yourself and make sure your doing it for that and not something fleeting like prestige, power, or money.  Because if we haven’t all realized it by now, there’s always a virus out there lurking threatening to take away those three things—if not more—in a matter of weeks.