As I write this, I’m waiting for a half-dozen people to show up at my apartment so they can cart off my furniture. One lady wants my bedroom set, a younger gentleman is interested in one of my three office desks, and a couple of college students want to take a look at my one remaining bookcase.
And I, like an organ donor who is systematically giving away his innards while still alive, am feeling a little empty (but fulfilled), very light, and quite curious as to where I’ll be sleeping for the final 13 days I’m living in Los Angeles.
Fortunately, I’ve been preparing for this moment for several months. I cut my wardrobe in half, and then in half again. I sold off 3 of my 5 computers and all of my monitors. I’ve been slowly whittling down my gadget supply, even getting rid of my fancy Bluetooth headset (a staple of LA business: we aren’t allowed to talk on cell phones while driving here), and I’ve made myself go without most of the items I still own (but haven’t yet sold) for the past month.
The reason I’ve been denying myself use of these things before I have to is that I am trying to readapt myself to the scarcity mentality.
The scarcity mentality has been used to describe a lot of different things in a lot of different fields. One definition that is probably the most popular is the idea that there is only so much of anything, so if someone else has something, they are taking that thing away from you.
I am definitely not using the term in this way. If you have that kind of scarcity mentality, then you are seeing the world in black and white and will likely not have many good relationships (business or otherwise).
The scarcity mentality that I am working to bring myself back to is a reflexive response to certain situations, especially those involving consumption and saving.
Consider this: when I quit 3 of my 5 jobs in college in order to start up a culture magazine and design studio, I was incredibly broke for about 4 months. I’m not just talking “get a frozen pizza for dinner instead of going out” poor, I’m talking “man, I wish I could afford some Ramen noodles, looks like it’s water again for dinner” poor.
I was living alone in a fairly nice-sized apartment a few blocks from downtown, and the rent was eating up the meager funds I still had coming in from my columnist and lab monitor jobs.
I learned a lot of tricks in those 4 months: how to consume less, save more, find activities that didn’t cost anything to participate in, and generally how to take more joy in common, everyday, oft-overlooked things.
Fast forward to now. I’ve been living in LA for a little over two years. For the first year I made a decent living working for a studio, and for a little over a year I’ve been running my own business and doing very well. If I want a new computer, I can buy a new computer. I could buy a car straight up without much trouble (though I’ve never been much of a car guy), and things like taking my girlfriend out to eat, going out for drinks with friends, going to movies and plays and networking events have all become quick and easy. I take for granted that I can afford to do these things without thought.
The trouble with not having even the slightest trace of a scarcity mentality is that you have established a routine in which you could keep consuming at the level you are at forever and without thought…but only so long as nothing changes.
In the kind of economic conditions we’ve been dealing with recently (but really at any point in time), consistency of work and income is never a sure thing. Absolutely ANYTHING could hamstring this kind of lifestyle because at any moment you could lose your job, clients, health, significant other, family member, advantage, niche, etc etc etc. One little change and your entire lifestyle could collapse because its sustainability depends on a much higher level of income (this is what happened to me in college…drop in income leads to no food).
The reason I have been preparing months ahead of time to get back into this mindset is because I don’t want to experience another 4 months of famine like I did in college. Don’t get me wrong: the lessons that I learned were incredibly useful, and nothing but good came from starting my businesses and shaking up my life. I strongly believe, however, that I can spark the same kind of renaissance without the suffering this time around, so long as I ease my way into it rather than jumping in headfirst.
If all goes well I’ll be able to reduce my consumption, increase my output, and completely alter my entire lifestyle without having to miss out on life. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Have you ever tried to reduce your consumption or dramatically change your lifestyle? What did you learn? Share your story in the comments below!
Update: May 9, 2016
Interesting. I use very different terms for these concepts today (minimalism, simplification) and tend to think about scarcity thinking as a negative thing, but primarily in terms of one’s work. Clutching at the one good idea you have, for instance, and never allowing it to see the light of day is scarcity thinking keeping you from growing, from acting, from doing. A lot of people do this with their books, too, because they’re afraid they’ll never be able to write another book after this one that they’ve made and will likely never let out of their desk drawer.
But what I’m describing is still a key component of my lifestyle, today. I try not to take anything for granted, be it money or notoriety or relationships. I invest in them when I can, and try to enjoy the fruits of these things, but I don’t assume they’ll always be there and plan around them. If anything, I’m probably a little on the opposite side of the spectrum, responding to such things a bit too little, rather than too much. If I was handed a million dollars today, very little, if anything, would change about my lifestyle. The same is true if I suddenly got Brad Pitt-famous; why wrap your life around such things, when they could disappear just as easily as they arrived?
Now, it’s different with things that have emerged over time. If you can see the growth of income, the slow increase of reputation, then it’s something that adjusts as your life adjusts. But it’s interesting to think that this was the time in my life where that habit probably emerged, or at least shifted to become what it is now.
Also: I actually had 8 computers at one point, but three of them were in the closet. I remember deciding not to mention those in this post because 5 already seemed ridiculous.