Lean Machine

How much of your personal environment is truly necessary to your functioning and happiness?

In the pure survival sense of the word, you don’t need a car, or a phone, or a computer. In a really strict and not terribly helpful definition of the word, they’re luxuries. But even though they can be used for leisure-related things, they sure don’t feel like luxuries. They feel like the cost of entry into the modern society that surrounds us.

I’ve always accepted that… sort of begrudgingly. Phone, car, computer – I don’t like being squeezed or forced, so if I have to buy those things in order to unlock the tremendous benefits around me, I’ll do it with the barest investment I can make. I have always bought extremely inexpensive, stripped-down versions of those items. I’ve never bought a new car in my life (for all sorts of reasons they’re terrible investments), and my phones and computers are always whatever version has the fewest bells and whistles.

Those are obvious examples, but I think in general we build this machine around us to navigate modern life, but then we often overdo it and build on more features than are necessary. Everything you have an account for, every subscription service, every organization where you’re a member. Some of these are the end goal – you may have a season ticket to your favorite team’s events because you like to go. But others are means – everything from your metro pass to your subscription to a video call service is part of your Modern Machine.

Not only can there be a lot of bloat if you let this get away from you, but the more you build it, the more it can look like a cage. You build all these tools and frameworks around you and suddenly they’re funneling you into a very specific kind of place, or job, or activity, or lifestyle. You outsource your freedom to things that are supposed to give you more of it.

The modern world has a lot of advantages. I’m no proponent of isolationism (except in reasonable, cleansing bursts, anyway) or completely disconnecting from society. But I am a proponent of being deliberate about your choices, and only taking exactly as much as you need, without yielding anything you don’t want to lose.

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