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

Similarly, most people rent apartments for a year or more at a time. This is the kind of decision that impacts everything you do. You’re 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 can change that.

If you want to scale down — perhaps make less income for a spell, but take more time for yourself — you can’t, because you’ve committed to paying a set amount of money 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 realize.

One of the most common complaints I hear 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 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 that new iPhone now, but doing so results in a highest overall cost over the next two years, and you’ll be stuck with that phone, and that plan, for the duration.

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 that guided your decisions the same as they are now? Probably not.

The decision I made 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. 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 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. This kind of lifestyle comes with limits, but they’re 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’ve found so far. If you want to give it a shot, do what you can to eliminate existing commitments from your life and don’t accept any new ones beyond a certain span of time. It’s that simple.

At the end of the day, this is a lifestyle experiment like many others that I’ve tried, but it’s stuck around longer than most I’ve undertaken. Thankfully this experiment is also called into question every six months, 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.

Update: February 17, 2017

I don’t do this anymore. Not formally, anyway. Though I do still recoil a little from commitments beyond a certain period. I’m currently renting an apartment in Kansas, and it’s the first flat I’ve rented for longer than six months since 2009.

I hadn’t yet written my book Some Thoughts About Relationships when this post was first published, so people didn’t fully understand my comment about checking in when it comes to relationships. The idea is to ensure everyone involved has the opportunity to check in with themselves and see what’s changed, and whether the relationship still makes sense within that context. In most cases, it probably will. But if not, it’s beneficial to have a pre-set opportunity to establish that, and to really take the time to ask yourself that question and know that the other person or people will be doing the same.

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