Things from @vruba

March 13, 2013 at 12:33am

Wealth, risk, and stuff

Via Anne Galloway on Twitter, I just saw Living With Less. A Lot Less, an opinion piece in the New York Times.

I run into some version of this essay by some moneybags twig-bishop about once a year, and it bugs me every time.

Here’s the thing. Wealth is not a number of dollars. It is not a number of material possessions. It’s having options and the ability to take on risk.

If you see someone on the street dressed like a middle-class person (say, in clean jeans and a striped shirt), how do you know whether they’re lower middle class or upper middle class? I think one of the best indicators is how much they’re carrying.

Lately I’ve been mostly on the lower end of middle class (although I’m kind of unusual along a couple axes). I think about this when I have to deal with my backpack, which is considered déclassé in places like art museums. My backpack has my three-year-old laptop. Because it’s three years old, the battery doesn’t last long and I also carry my power supply. It has my paper and pens, in case I want to write or draw, which is rarely. It has a cable to charge my old phone. It has gum and sometimes a snack. Sunscreen and a water bottle in summer. A raincoat and gloves in winter. Maybe a book in case I get bored.

If I were rich, I would carry a MacBook Air, an iPad mini as a reader, and my wallet. My wallet would serve as everything else that’s in my backpack now. Go out on the street and look, and I bet you’ll see that the richer people are carrying less.

As with carrying, so with owning in general. Poor people don’t have clutter because they’re too dumb to see the virtue of living simply; they have it to reduce risk.

When rich people present the idea that they’ve learned to live lightly as a paradoxical insight, they have the idea of wealth backwards. You can only have that kind of lightness through wealth.

If you buy food in bulk, you need a big fridge. If you can’t afford to replace all the appliances in your house, you need several junk drawers. If you can’t afford car repairs, you might need a half-gutted second car of a similar model up on blocks, where certain people will make fun of it and call you trailer trash.

Please, if you are rich, stop explaining the idea of freedom from stuff as if it’s a trick that even you have somehow mastered.

The only way to own very little and be safe is to be rich.


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