“If you want to learn, increase every day. If you want to have wisdom, decrease every day.”—Lao Tzu
“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Henry David Thoreau
“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden in Fight Club
We’d been living in Panama for about 3 years but I still had a nice, low-mileage SUV in a storage facility back in the U.S.
It was one of the few things we didn’t jettison when we moved here back in 2006… Of course, we should have — 3 years x $135 per month in storage fees is an insanely irrational path to wealth creation.
Since I still traveled a lot back to the U.S. to meet with clients, I decided to rent a small apartment and park the car in the underground parking lot there so I’d have some wheels when I was in town.
I picked up the car from storage (yet another expensive and frustrating 72 hour ordeal punctuated by a dead battery, clogged fuel lines, a tank of bad gas, a tow truck, and several expensive cab rides back and forth).
Once the SUV was back in working order, I drove it to the apartment, bought the annual parking sticker, and parked it in the underground lot at the apartment.
The next morning I left on a flight back to Panama.
Six weeks later I flew back to the states for business and went to the underground parking to get my car.
It was gone.
I told the apartment manager who ruffled through some papers… “Yeah, according to this receipt here, your car was towed 6 weeks ago.”
I had forgotten to put the parking sticker in the window.
Another cab ride, this time out to the tow lot. I complained to my Ethiopian cabbie in screeching, crying noises about the long litany of problems I’d been through with this f**king car.
He listened wearily and politely shook his head in mock sympathy, which must have taken an incredible amount of self-control given that his experience of “problems” probably had more to do with countrywide famines, civil wars, brutal dictatorships and such.
We arrived at the tow lot and I asked the cabbie to wait while I went inside to pay what I was certain was going to be an astronomical bill.
More ruffling through papers… “Sir, your car was sold last week”.
I was incredulous…
It turned out that by law cars that weren’t picked up from tow lots after 5 weeks were considered abandoned and sold at auction.
After much stomping around, flapping of arms, and yelling I got back in the cab… There was nothing I could do. My shiny SUV was gone.
More screeching and crying noises…
My Ethiopian cabbie friend had quite enough.
He pulled the cab to the side of the road, turned around in his seat, looked me square in the eye and said, “My friend, listen to yourself. You have a family, you have children, you’re healthy, and it seems to me that you’ve become obsessed with this thing. I’ve listened for the past 30 minutes as you’ve complained about all of the problems you’ve had with this car… My friend, your problem is now solved!”
And so it was…
Remember this tomorrow at Thanksgiving. Remember it the day after when the Black Friday orgy of consumption gets under way.
Being preoccupied with owning stuff is a hopeless attempt to fill a vacuum. Furby’s, iPads, and Razor Pocket Mod Electric Scooters won’t shrink the hole. You quickly adapt and the hole grows enslaving you even further. You end up being a janitor to all of the worthless gimcracks and fandangles that clutter up your space.
Retailers have no responsibility to discourage our rampant consumerism, nor should we expect them to. You and I have that responsibility alone, and judging by the annual Black Friday carnage we have bungled it spectacularly.
Luxury, leisure, speculation, debt and worshipping at the altar of consumption are not the way to wealth creation despite what Keynesian economists may believe.
Saving, investment and real output of goods and services are. This is true of societies, and it’s just as true for individuals.
Do yourself a favor and stay home on Friday. I guarantee you will thank yourself for it.