Today I’d like to share with you a little philosophical piece by Dutch author Janwillem Van de Wetering:
You are eight years old. It is Sunday evening. You have been granted an extra hour before bed.
The family is playing Monopoly. You have been told that you are big enough to join them.
You lose. You are losing continuously. Your stomach cramps with fear. Nearly all your possessions are gone. The money pile in front of you is almost gone. Your brothers are snatching all the houses from your streets. The last street is being sold. You have to give in. You have lost.
And suddenly you know that it is only a game. You jump with joy and you knock the big lamp over. It falls on the floor and drags the teapot with it. The others are angry with you, but you laugh when you go upstairs.
You know you are nothing and know you have nothing. And you know that not-to-be and not-to-have give an immeasurable freedom.
Ah, the freedom not-to-be and not-to-have…that’s what I love about this quote!
It’s so refreshing in a society where there’s so much pressure to-have (the big house, the new car, the right clothes) and to-be (the perfect spouse, the supermom, the model employee).
But isn’t a life of acquisition—of property, of cars, of possessions, of status, of power—little more than a game of Monopoly? For in the end, we can’t take it with us; all the spoils go back into the pool, for a new round of players. We’re not even guaranteed to be remembered for the perfect people we strove to be; our loved ones are more likely to recall that we were fun to be with, rather than that we maintained our abs or chaired the PTA.
Although I recently purchased a house, and some furniture, and a few plates for dinner guests, I still feel relatively detached from it all. Back in my younger adulthood, I might have agonized over finding the perfect house, the perfect sofa, the perfect tableware—and goodness knows how devastated I might have been if circumstances caused me to lose them.
Now, however, I see all these things as just things—serving a practical function for the moment, and readily disposable (or, more accurately, saleable or donateable) when they no longer do. Sometimes I almost feel like I’m playing house, as the material things in my life have little more significance than a game.
I’m also learning to reject the pressure to-be. I’ll do my best to be a good writer, a good wife, a good mom, a good friend—but not stress out too much when I sometimes fall short of my goals. Far better to devote my days to enjoying my work and my family, rather than striving to achieve some prescribed ideal.
I’m grateful that as minimalists, we can keep the expectations of society, and their relative unimportance, in perspective—and instead of striving for more and more, we can laugh, jump for joy, and enjoy our immeasurable freedom.