Full transcript of Angela Horn’s TEDx Talk: The Less You Own, The More You Have at TEDxCapeTown conference.
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Angela Horn – Lifestyle blogger
So it’s a weekday morning early in April of 2007 and I’m staring into my mother’s cupboard, a spectacularly cluttered cupboard. Having just moved the folks into an old age home the week before, it’s now my responsibility to clean up the house that they have called home for almost 40 years. I have no idea where to begin.
Scanning mom’s cupboard, my eyes land on this pile of towel sets, still in their original packaging. The sight of that makes me a little sad but mostly I’m smiling because I had this image in my mind of dad, scooting up to mom’s cupboard in his wheelchair. His mission: to pick from that pile of forbidden fruit and not get caught. You see mom were saving those towels for a special occasion. So there was no way she was going to let dad wipe his hands on one of them after he’d spent the morning, tinkering in the garage. Looking at them now, all I can see is a pile of missed opportunities, special occasions that in the end never came.
Fast forward to July of 2008 and my partner and I are on the verge of selling almost everything that we owned. At the time I didn’t even consider that our decision to downsize might have had anything to do with the way that my parents lived their lives. But looking back now I can see that the two are inextricably linked, because whether they had meant to or not, my parents left behind a very clear message: the less you own, the more you have.
Ask most people what they want out of life and it’s usually the same three things: more money, more time, and less stress. But yet as much as everyone aspires to this life of Riley, most people don’t believe it’s possible. So what if I was to tell you that the secret to having it all lies in that message my parents left for me, because as simple as it is, that message is also powerful beyond measure.
Today I’m going to ask you to do just two things. Don’t panic. One of them is not selling everything that you own. I guarantee, though, that if you do these two things, not half-heartedly but as if your life depended upon it, you’ll have more money, more time and be less stressed than you ever imagined possible.
I’ll tell you what those two things are in a little bit. But first, I want to talk about the upsides of downsizing. At the point where we decided to sell everything that we owned, my partner and I were living the good life: on the bank’s time. We were in debt to the tune of 120,000 Rand and I’m talking actual debt, not car payments or home loans. We had no real investments and no savings either. Our financial advisor’s pursed lips said it all. We were up shit creek without a paddle.
I’m happy to say that we’ve since paid back everything that we owed. We now have a sizable investment in growing NASDAQ. We live comfortably well within our means. You see, living a debt-free or close to debt-free life is more than possible and it brings with it a whole lot of extra cash — cash that can be put to far better use, doing those things that you love but just never seem to be able to afford: traveling, weekends away, whatever blows your hair back.
And by reducing your monthly overheads you also make way for new career possibilities. You can consider going freelance, taking a sabbatical, heck, you could even change direction completely. But as fantastic as they are, there is more to what I’m proposing than just the financial benefits. You see, stuff, it turns out, is a very demanding mistress, and as soon as we go over the boot, our weekends and, in fact, our whole lives went from being jammed packed with chores to wide open, the less you own, the simpler your life, the more time you have — time that can be put to far better use doing those things that you enjoy but just never seem to get around to: reading, playing sports, taking those all-important afternoon naps.
Now more money and more time are both great, but I also promised that you’d be less stressed. In a study titled Life in the 21st Century, researchers at UCLA observed 32 middle-class families and what they found is that all of their stress hormone spiked during the time that they spent dealing with their belongings. Stuff makes life unnecessarily complicated. Bigger house just means more to clean, more to maintain, more to fix when things go wrong.
The less you own, the less there is for you to worry about. And this lack of stress comes not just from having fewer things to take care of, it’s also a direct result of having lower those mentally overheads. Because if you no longer have to worry about how you’re going to pay the bills at the end of the month, suddenly life is decidedly rosier.
My partner and I were never big shoppers but we spent without thinking and we lived beyond our means, which as you can imagine made month end a pretty stressful time in our house. I’m happy to say that we no longer live paycheck to paycheck and I can’t begin to describe how liberating that, that feels. There is a saying: Nothing tastes as good as thin feels and for us there is no single object or thing that could ever, ever come close to giving us or measuring up to that sense of freedom that we have, that peace of mind that we’ve experienced since downsizing.
So I have outlined the benefits and I’m sure you’ll agree that’s pretty awesome. Now let’s look at those two things that you need to do.