A few years ago I traveled up to Orlando for some business and has some time to visit with old friends. I happened to stop in at a watering hole where we used to hang out at and ran into a former acquaintance. I won’t call him an actual friend because he wasn’t. He was a former customer when I worked the parts counters at Harley. He is about my age and we sort of became friendly in the fact we would stand around and chat at said watering hole on occasion about motorcycles, wimmen, and life in general. He was always polite and genial enough but there was that constant feeling of being looked down upon. I was struggling as always to make ends meet, he had a thriving business along with three properties and an extensive collection of guns and antique motorcycles. I more or less felt he stayed in contact with me as I was one of the few people working the counter who knew what models of motorcycles he had and how to get parts for them. Though I had motorcycle knowledge, I wasn’t fit to be in his circle of friends due to my lower economic standing. But, as I said, he was friendly enough and we would have the occasional pleasant chat over a beer or two. I cared nothing about his wealth though I suspect my poverty bothered him somewhat.
When I ran into him this last time things were quite different. He came up to me to say hello and I could immediately sense there was something wrong. He had a look of panic in his eyes and his voice was a bit shaky. In the next few minutes he spilled his sad story out. As you may have guessed, he had lost everything. His business crashed, due to the recession/depression/chose your version of the current economic apocalypse. A business that had large construction vehicles, a crew, and lots of work, was now gone. Of the three properties he owned, two were gone and he was renting out all but one room in the third, the room being for himself. He was selling off the gun and motorcycle collection just to pay off bills, loans, and feed himself and was visibly terrified at the thought of losing what he had left. I guess when he saw me he saw a sympathetic figure to spill his tale of woe to. A tale to which I listened intently, and at the end replied with a very helpful and sympathetic, “Sucks, doesn’t it?”.
It’s hard to show sympathy back for somebody who in the past believed that their possessions and alleged wealth made them better than others. Now he was finding out just how easy it was to lose that for which he had worked so hard to gain. He was also on the verge of learning how to live without all that stuff. And I suspect he was going to fail miserably. I don’t know for sure how it all turned out as I haven’t seen nor heard from him since. But I’m guessing it wasn’t a fun time in his life. I wouldn’t know first hand but I suspect it’s far easier to adjust life to gaining wealth and possessions than it is to go in the other direction.
When you’re used to having it all and suddenly all is gone, life will definitely not be a happy time. You get used to having all creature comforts. It is assumed that the business will continue despite whatever else happens. You believe that all your possessions are yours and nothing can take them away from you. The properties will always be rented, you’ll always have assets, you’ll always be able to go out and purchase just about anything you want without the fear of not being able to pay the credit card bill next month. Then in an instant, before you can react, it all disappears. Suddenly there is debt that can’t be covered, bills that are late, business failures because you refused to see or accept the realities of a down economy. Then there you are, an involuntary minimalist. And chances are you’ll spend the rest of your life in a futile attempt to get back that which you lost, because that lifestyle was what you are used to and you can’t fathom the idea of living without that which you had. Sucks doesn’t it.
Personally, my quest for minimalism was not only voluntary, it became a passion. I couldn’t shed possessions fast enough. And the more I got rid of the more I realized how little I needed to get by in life. I have no idea what I would do if I suddenly came into a large sum of money. We all fantasize about what we would do if we won the lottery or otherwise came into a big pile of cash. Sure, I do to. I got that bucket list in the back of my mind. But, I’m finding out, many of the things I’ve wanted to do in the past, I’m doing now. And the things I’m planning to do in the future, can be done without the need for millions of dollars. For example…Most of my life I wanted to live in Key West. If you’ve followed this blog you know how passionate I’ve been about coming here. In the past I couldn’t come here because I couldn’t afford it. At least not with the lifestyle I was leading. I had possessions, debt, all the trappings of a consumerist lifestyle. Moving all that to an island was not possible. I always felt I would need lots of money to be able to live down here. Now, I’m living here, without a lot of money, and living cheaper than I did on the mainland. I didn’t need millions of dollars to achieve that dream. Just an adjustment in lifestyle. As for the future, some things I want to do require money and may or may not happen. That nice catamaran comes to mind. On the other hand, taking a summer off and traveling across the country by train, bus, other means seems perfectly doable. I don’t need vast wealth to accomplish those things, just a simple steady income. That is also attainable.
My “friend” on the other hand, will probably work and worry himself to an early grave trying to reacquire that which he lost. Never realizing that by losing all that he lost, he has a chance to start a new life of freedom and adventure that he couldn’t even imagine before. But no. Those possessions, that wealth is too important. When you are used to living a certain standard of life there can be no compromise. It must be maintained at all costs no matter what you sacrifice in exchange. And that makes for one miserable existence. Sucks, doesn’t it.