Open Thinkering


A Week of Divesting: an introduction

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, having a Zen moment at home in 1982

I can’t seem to find the exact clip I want online, but there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Homer eats a chilli pepper and hallucinates. He eats it at the Springfield fair where Otto has hippy-like booth encouraging people to “Simplify, man…”

It’s amusing because we’ve all come across the stereotype of the zealot who wants everyone else to live their lifestyle. They sing its praises and assume that as it’s a lifestyle they enjoy and value that it’s both more appropriate and morally superior to others. In the Simpsons clip it’s a lifestyle defined by the mantra ‘simplify.’ What I’m interested in this blog post – and, in fact, this week – is not merely the ambiguous call to simplify one’s lifestyle, although what I’m going to do could be seen to be a constituent part of that. I’m going to spend a week divesting.

The best definition of ‘divest’ that I’ve found comes from Wiktionary:

To strip, deprive or dispossess oneself of something (such as a right, passion, privilege or prejudice).

What prompted this?

I subscribe to a number of podcasts that I listen to whilst driving. One of these is a Radio 4 programme called Beyond Belief. I caught the end of it when it was broadcast live and then listened to the podcast on my way to the National Christian Football Festival the weekend before last. This particular programme was about poverty and whether or not, especially in this time of recession, it could be seen as a good thing. I was particularly struck by what the Jainist monk had to say.

As my wife will attest I have, at several times during our marriage, talked of ‘getting rid of everything’ as I felt it was weighing me down. The Jainist spoke about this directly, and mentioned a poem [find poem] about a prisoner locked in a cage. This prisoner pleaded to his captors now and again. However, his pleading was not to be released from the cage, but simply to have a newer and shinier one. The Jainist likened this to being in the thrall of collecting material objects and wealth.

After the programme, and unusually for me as I like my music, I spent the rest of the journey in silence, contemplating. I reflected upon my new job, my Dad being half-way across the world, and my wife’s accusative statement the other day that all my son sees me do is ‘go on the computer.’ I realised that there’s stuff getting in the way of that which is important. I need to get rid of that stuff.

Why are you telling me this?

It would, of course, be quite possible to ‘divest’ quietly and with only my immediate family knowing about it. After all, as Jesus said, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. Am I showing off or attempting to garner praise?

Not at all. There’s three reasons why I want to document my actions and the thoughts behind them:

  1. Sharing what I’m thinking and what I’m up to comes naturally to me.
  2. I’m human and therefore weak. I may not actually go through with it unless I’m accountable to someone or something.
  3. Perhaps you or someone you know wants to do something similar. This may give you ideas or lend support.

This week, therefore, I’ll be writing blog posts focusing on the following:

The final blog post of the week will be my reflections on whether it’s all gone to plan!

Are you weird?

I expect some of you reading this will assume that I’ve had some kind of re-religious conversion, especially given the references above. That’s not the case. This is purely a secular decision to reclaim some mental and physical space.

Some might think that I’ve turned into a Luddite. Far from it! It’s hardly likely given my new official job title is ‘Director of E-Learning.’ There’s a difference between recognising the appropriate use of technology and being the equivalent of a dog chasing shiny cars.

Others may consider that this is simply a fancy way of saying I’ve got too much stuff in my house and it’s time for a clear-out. Actually, the opposite is true, actually. We’ve moved house recently to a larger property. Compared to others, our house looks quite spartan.


Have you gone through or thought about something similar to this? If so, I’d like to hear about your experiences. Again, I’d like to point out that I’m not doing this for the back-slapping or to be praised. It, like many things I do, is an experiment. I hope it pays off!

12 thoughts on “A Week of Divesting: an introduction

  1. Hi Doug,

    I certainly know the feeling, it’s something I’m often wrestling with myself, including at the moment. Thanks (as ever) for sharing, and I look forward to seeing how the week goes, and perhaps getting some inspiration myself!


  2. Hmm. Is this just digital de-cluttering? If it goes well, you could host a reality TV programme on it…

    In principle, I’m all for the idea, especially “to live simply that others may simply live”. (Can’t remember where that cliched phrase comes from.) When helping empty my father-in-laws house, I suggested, “If in doubt, whoosh”. (ie. chuck it in the skip.) Meantime events move on and I’m all but divorced, so I will be looking at doing some of the same – what don’t I want? what is part of my “old life”? Very easy to think like it, much harder to do. I’d love to take bags of stuff down the charity shop and get rid of all that stuff I kept “just in case I’ll need it again”, but will I find the time? have the nerve?

    But there’s another big problem – in simplifying, are we just getting rid of perfectly good stuff in order to buy (fewer) replacements? eg. clearing the wardrobe sounds good, but does it also mean “I’ll have fewer things, but some stuff that feel more up to date”. ‘Cos then the danger is that we’ll just clear out again in two years and buy more – consumerism without the track record.

    At the moment, the “altruistic” side of it’s a struggle, but the desire just to “start again” is strong, but gonna entail some serious replacement and re-decorating. At the end I hope to have a house that looks cleaner, brighter and less cluttered, but there is no doubt I will have paid a lot for it!

    1. “…consumerism without the track record” – that’s an interesting and challenging thought! I realise that ‘simplifying’ usually goes hand-in-hand with ‘paying less’ and ‘living more frugally’ but that’s not what I mean by ‘divesting’.

      I’m more interested in having quality stuff that makes my life easier. Not hoards of stuff around just to remind me of events I can remember anyway! Perhaps when I grow more senile… ;-)

  3. The dilemma is an interestingly familiar one: it’s all to do with the battle to determine what is ‘authentic existence’ and what is extraneous clutter that obscures the transcendent reality. One answer is to live in the moment – it’s something that Satish Kumar (who may well have been the Jain to whom you referred) would suggest. Living in the moment is very difficult, however, when one has to consider others, and their moments.

    It’s this dichotomy that creates problems. ‘Stuff’ – pursuing it, acquiring it, maintaining it and using it – certainly gets in the way of this, since so many of our actions and aspects of our existential reality are predicated on having the ‘right stuff’ (with due acknowledgements to Tom Wolfe). I want to play golf, so I need … ; I’m going to grow stuff, so I need an allotment and some … ; I’m an e-learning leader so I need …

    Maybe it’s your wife’s comment that all your son sees you do is go on the computer that has triggered your self-examination. You want to live in the moment with and for everyone, but there aren’t enough moments in the day. Two simple solutions offer themselves: 1. Live on your own and don’t have anything to do with anyone, and 2. Don’t ever sleep, and get your own stuff done at night.

    Now, I have a feeling that neither of these may be appropriate. They certainly haven’t worked for me.

    The only thing that has is to constantly reschedule and reallocate things to try to keep my life in balance – and then accept that every so often I won’t get things right. Just go for best fit.

    Oh. And get a cat. Then when things aren’t working properly you can kick it.

    1. John, thanks for the comment, but I’m not entirely sure I equate my desire to ‘divest’ myself of unncecessary things with wanting to ‘live in the moment’.

      What I *am* interested in this experiment is getting rid of unncessary things so I can concentrate on what’s important in life. I think that’s a slightly different focus that what you mention. It’s a pragmatic focus on productivity rather than a philosophical stance. :-)

  4. Had a interesting realisation on the way to work this morning along similar lines to your thoughts but in the other direction.

    For the last few years we have been up against it with 2 kids in nursery, a big mortgage and other necessary outgoings meaning we have been breaking even every month but dreading an emergency that would really cause us problems.

    Over this time, I’ve been getting used to the idea of having no cash and assessing what things are really necessary – I’ve had no new gadgets, very little social spending and to all intents and purposes stopped buying music (for me, very significant!).

    Unsurprisingly the world has not caved in. We are not in penury and are as happy as a family as we have ever been.

    This week, however, my daughter starts school which means we now have extra money each month not having to pay for child care. This morning I actually caught myself looking at other people’s cars and getting a thrill out of thinking I might be able to afford that or that an iPhone might be a possibility.

    It’s alarmed me how quickly one state of mind has changed to another.

    1. Again, this isn’t financially motivated on my part, but your story is interesting. You believe whatever you’re exposed to most, I suppose – unless you’ve got a reason to kick agains the tide…

  5. I agree with your sentimant and from time to time… clear out my ipod, my podcasts, my reader, my emails… this works well for me… my de-clutter come to my life via my allotment and having ‘electronic device free’ time with my kids… love it.

  6. Doug, your posts, and the comments, are really interesting and have made me re-think a lot of assumptions about possessions and ‘stuff’. I can’t say that I’ve come to any definite conclusions, but electricchalk’s observations about states of mind certainly ring true.

    The ‘analogue time’ concept is well worth pursuing.

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