I don’t enjoy traveling as much as some people.
Unless I’m touring (which I’m doing at the time of this writing, and which I enjoy because the people are amazing) I tend to avoid extensive travel, opting instead to stay in my home town most of the time.
All my clothes likely fit in a single suitcase, but I don’t enjoy living out of a suitcase. I find value in traversing the globe, in discovering new cultures, in learning more about myself in the process—but I truly enjoy living in a home, a place I can call my own.
The problem with homes, however, is once we establish a long-term dwelling, it’s easy to accumulate a bunch of junk we don’t need.
I built my first house when I was 22—a feat that seems ridiculous now—but its size was even more ridiculous: it contained three bedrooms, even though only my former spouse and I lived there; it had a huge basement, which was a great place to hide last month’s discarded new possessions; it featured not only a gigantic living room, but also an “entertainment room”—which is just a fancy way to say, “room with a too-large TV and expensive surround-sound system.”
We think we must fill all our space—we must cram every corner nook and hidden cranny with supposed adornments. We believe if a room is nearly empty it is underutilized. So we buy stuff—silly stock paintings, decorative thingies, and IKEA furniture—to fill the void. What we’re doing is attempting to establish the place in which we live as our home, an extension of ourselves. And so the logic goes: the more I buy, the more this place is my home.
The problem with this line of thinking is it’s circuitous. Your home is your home for one reason: you call it your home. The stuff doesn’t make it your home—you do.
If you need a reminder, do what I do: find one thing, something unique, and display it somewhere prominent. For me, it’s a red phone—a relic from my twelve years in the telecom industry. It’s a simple, beautiful design that stands out (the same phone is in the Museum of Modern Art), and whenever I see it, I know I’m home. For you, your red phone could be a one-of-a-kind painting, a photograph, a child’s framed drawing. When you have a single reminder of home, everything else begins to look superfluous—even silly.
What is your red phone?
Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.