Posted on May 15, 2012 by Colin

Committing to No Commitments

A few years ago, I made a decision to stop committing. Long-term, at least.

Think of how many commitments you have in your life. Agreements and contracts and relationships that will be with you for years into the future.

Now imagine what life would be like without those commitments.

These days, monetary commitments are a big part of what make large purchases viable. An iPhone would cost upwards of $600 off-contract and not locked into any particular phone company. Commit for two years, though, and you get it for a fraction of that cost.

Unfortunately, these are the types of commitments that are harmful long-term. Not only are you locked into using a particular network for two years, you’re also committed to paying a certain amount of money every month for that amount of time. Your overhead has increased, and will stay increased, regardless of how your life changes in that time period.

Similarly, most people rent apartments for a year or more at a time. This is the kind of decision that impacts everything: you are stuck in that apartment for at least a year, and short of breaking the contract (which can be tricky to do), you have no way out. You owe a certain amount of money each month for at least a year, you will live in the same place for at least a year. Your year is pre-planned, and nothing that happens during that year can change that.

If you want to scale down — make less money for a bit, but take more time for yourself — you can’t, because you’ve got a set amount of money you’ve committed to paying every month.

Commitments can be positive things, of course — it’s nice to know how long you’ll be living someplace so that you can plan ahead — but they do limit your options significantly, and perhaps more than most people even realize.

One of the most common complaints I hear from people who tell me about what they want to do with their lives is that they’re locked into a certain lifestyle. They have a job, they have an apartment or house, they have a phone plan, they have loans, they have pets and relationships and gym memberships.

There is nothing wrong with having these things, but it’s important to realize that having them limits your options. It may make sense to spend $100 and take on a new two-year contract so that you can enjoy an iPhone now, but doing so results in your paying more over the spend of the next two years, and results in you being stuck with that phone, and that plan, for the same amount of time.

Think back to who you were and what you were doing with your life two years ago. Are you the same person with the same needs? Were the technologies at the time the same as they are now? Were the variables in your life that guided your decisions the same as they are now?

Probably not.

The decision that I made a few years ago was not to eliminate commitment completely, but to put a ceiling on how long my commitments would last: six months.

Six months is the maximum amount of time I will commit to anything. In work, in relationships, in subscriptions or services, the most I’ll be locked into is six months. After that time, I can reassess my life and my needs and decide whether or not to continue working with that company, dating that person, or living in that apartment, but giving myself the opportunity to check-in and make that assessment has made all the difference in the level of freedom I enjoy.

There are things I’ve had to give up as a result of this rule, but generally it’s not too big an issue. If I want to rent an apartment, I have to look a little harder for someone who will rent for a shorter term. If I want to have a mobile phone plan, I choose the monthly option and only use unlocked phones. If I want to date someone, I take the time to explain the philosophy behind this concept. Adapting this kind of lifestyle comes with limits, but they are far less invasive than the limits you remove.

This approach isn’t right for everyone, but for people like me, who value freedom over convenience, it’s the best I’m found so far. If you want to give it a shot, do what you can to eliminate existing commitments from your life, and accept no new ones beyond a certain span of time. It’s that simple.

At the end of the day, this is a lifestyle experiment like so many others that I’ve tried, but it’s stuck around longer than most I’ve undertaken. Thankfully, like everything else, this experiment is called into question every six months, as well, so if it ever ceases to suit me and the lifestyle I want to lead, I can easily cast it away, once again enjoying long-term gym memberships and discounted smart phones.