The Pursuit of Something Greater

“A thing is worth precisely what it can do for you; not what you choose to pay for it.” – John Ruskin

In early spring of 1992, I was in high school. I had just received my driver’s license. Yet, I always walked home from school… even though the winters of North Dakota were brutal. Luckily, the walk was only a few blocks.

We never used the front door to our home but always entered through the garage door. One particular afternoon, something out of the ordinary caught my eye as I happened to enter the garage. There was a brand-new car parked inside of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I had seen new cars before, but they were always parked in my neighbors’ garage – not in mine. I ran inside to ask my mom which neighbor had accidentally parked in the wrong garage. And at that moment, my hopes were confirmed – the new car was ours. Even better than that news, my brother and I would be the main drivers of the new car.

I couldn’t believe it. The car was a green 1991 Chevrolet Corsica – not exactly a Porsche or a Corvette – but it was certainly better than the yellow 1985 Oldsmobile we had been driving when my parents didn’t need it. It was an incredible improvement. And we loved it.

My brother and I took impeccable care of the vehicle. We washed it every week. We waxed the outside, applied Armor-All to the inside, shampooed the carpet, and scrubbed the tires. We did everything imaginable to keep that vehicle running smoothly and looking tip-top.

Five years later when I graduated college, I purchased the car from my parents. I paid them $4,000 – and it became mine completely. It was my first car and I loved it.

That was, until something better came along. Eventually, my wife and I purchased a newer vehicle, a 2001 Ford mini-van with low miles and a CD player. Because our family was growing, we felt a need to upgrade to a larger vehicle – especially for the long trips we were taking every year. So when we found a good deal on a used mini-van, we jumped at the opportunity.

Suddenly, with keys in my pocket to a newer, shinier vehicle, my Corsica quickly lost its appeal and importance in my life. In fact, about that time, some parts of the engine started to fail. I didn’t even bother to fix them (not that I could have if I wanted to). What did I care? I didn’t need it anymore. I had something better to drive – a newer automobile. Soon, the Corsica began sitting in my driveway for months at a time. One day, a young lady came by the house, knocked on my door, and offered me $150 for the car. I took it. I was just happy to get rid of it.

A short time later, I looked back at the interchange with an intentional eye. What in the world had just happened? This was, after all, the very same vehicle that 10 years ago my parents paid a large sum of money for – a vehicle that I washed and cared for – a vehicle that literally changed my life. It was a car that I genuinely loved. But it lost its appeal. And I practically gave it away to the first bidder just to get it out of my driveway. Why was I so willing – almost thankful – to part with it?

The answer lies in an important truth: Something better had come into my life. And when something better comes along, the old suddenly holds less value, if any at all. Just picture your storage room, your attic, or your basement. Often times, these places are stocked full of old things that at one time held great value, but no longer do. All because something newer, faster, or trendier came along – something far more valuable to you.

Looking back at this story again almost ten years later, I am almost embarrassed about the excitement I felt receiving this first new car. But I was in high school and owning a car was of utmost importance to me… maybe that is why I am so passionate about reaching teenagers and young adults with the life-giving message of minimalism (book coming soon, hint, hint). Minimalism wasn’t a discovery I would make for a number of years later.

But once I did, the significance of this story would again surface in my mind. Intentionally living with fewer possessions has provided the opportunity for the values that guide my life to be redefined. When we began pursuing minimalism, we quickly discovered our consumer-driven lives were not being lived to their greatest potential. We were too busy chasing the material possessions that always perish, spoil, or fade.

We also began to see many of the things we most valued in this world were actually holding us back, keeping us down, and preventing us from becoming all that we were destined to be. Becoming minimalist has allowed the value of material possessions to fade in my affections. I no longer desire to live in a big house, drive an expensive car, or keep a closet full of clothing. My pursuits now serve a higher purpose. You see, something better has come along…

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    While the obvious thing for you to have done might have been either trade in or immediately sell the Corsica when you bought the minivan, that’s often not what happens. Often, upon upgrading something I own, I’ll intend to get rid of the old one. I want to wait until I’m sure I have found the right replacement, but sometimes I never get around to unloading the old one. Other times I purposely keep the old one “just in case” but usually all it does is take up space. Thanks for the reminder about the real value of things, Joshua.

  2. Wilme says

    I think you left a loose thread in this post somehow… The bolded text read together almost outlines the underlying theme.

    I read it as: “Something better came into your life, and when something better comes along the old is devalued, and in the end the something better was Minimalism, which devalued the Ford which devalued the Corsica which devalued not having the Corsica.”

    But somehow I’m a little appaled by your lack of thankfulness for the service the Corsica gave you, I read it as you are embarrased you were able to enjoy it for the time you could.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Wilme. Interesting take-away, but that wasn’t what I was intending to communicate. This was not a commentary on the usefulness of either vehicle.

      My goal was to communicate that minimalism has devalued the “pursuit of possessions” in my life (not the Ford and/or Corsica specifically). The story of my first car was only intended to practically illustrate the point that when something better comes along, the old will naturally begin to hold less value to us.

      • Wilme says

        Ah I see. I was too narrowely focused on your car story. It was a good story haha, that’s why I had trouble pulling away from it. :-)

        Btw I’m sorry my post came off as disrespectful, I did not mean it that way but rereading it, it is.

        Respect!

  3. says

    The “something better” aspect is one I struggle with. For me, it has never been the amount I own, but more of only wanting to own that which I truly love. And there is my problem: because I tend to be so unattached to items, there is rarely anything I can’t get rid of easily to replace it with an item I am content with in the long run. Even with very little, the focus can still be on the stuff–just a different direction (what can I purge until I reach perfection? What can I replace in order to achieve the attachment I need to move on?).

  4. says

    I was NEVER going to sell the truck I got from my dad….. until they doubled the vehicle taxes here on Maui and I was riding my new Ducati!… the Motorcycle gets almost 5o mpg and I can fix it myself… not so the Diesel Ram 3/4 ton pickup that I didn’t need anymore…. So I had not renewed the registration…. well now the condo board found out about that and were pressuring me to renew it or get it out of here,,,it neede some things for the safety check … etc bla bla bla (long story) it was a PITA so…. I asked a friend if I could park it at his house for a few weeks until I could get it together… his neighbor fell in love with it and I sold it in a week! That got me started on “Becoming Minimalist”.. then things started flying out of here!

  5. andres says

    Its interesting because we think of possesions as precious things, but when we see the real meaning of them we understand that possesions are just things that helps us on the way but they dont define us.

  6. says

    I wrote the post “Completing Your Someday Statement” (http://wp.me/p2fSH9-5N) to challenge people to look back at their “someday I’m going to…” sentence they often quoted. It was said in the days when they believed anything was possible and that making a difference was more important than making a dollar. We need to return to those days, recapture our whys, and live with the excitement and simplicity of our childhoods. When we do, we’ll discover that so much of what we think is important is not, and so much of what we ignore is really important.

  7. Joy Watson says

    This really struck a chord with me today…thanks for posting such a thought-provoking story and more importantly, what you came away with from the whole thing… We had a yard sale this past weekend and I was truly amazed at how much junk we’ve accumulated over our 15 years of marriage and 4 kids. More amazing, leading up to the sale, was how EASY it was to get rid of so much of it! We sold a ton (or more!) and threw away just about as much!

    My little sister laughed–out loud–when I told her I was following a blog called “Becoming Minimalist”…so clearly we still have a long way to go to even come close to being considered minimalists, but I’m kinda liking the feeling of at least moving in that direction!

    I appreciate your thoughts…I take some, and I leave some…but nearly always they find their way into adjusting the way I look at “things”…and that’s GREAT! :o)

  8. says

    Great story, Joshua. My parents gave me an older car when I was 16, and a couple years later updated that with a newer car. I really wish my parents had made me pay for the vehicle & insurance, but they covered me until I was out of college (since I was mostly paying for that).

    I am grateful for their generosity, but making payments on a sub $3,000 vehicle would have taught me more respect for large purchases.

  9. says

    Great perspective. I guarantee I could walk around my house and find duplicate after duplicate of items that I upgraded but never got rid of the original. Even worse, I just cleaned out my garage and found actual duplicates…two or even three of the exact same item that was re-purchased because I couldn’t find the original in all my junk! So thankful for what you are passing along to inspire us to simplify. I’m looking forward to having more margin in my life as a result of simplifying. Thanks as always, Joshua!

  10. says

    I love your blog, first of all. But being a teenager I feel I should mention that a book is probably the least effective method of communicating to teenagers. At least in accompaniment to the book, if you feel it’s worth it, I’d suggest a highly-visual and auditory youtube video series. Youtube and facebook are the most visited websites by teens. I’m not saying don’t publish the book, there is a certain amount of teens who read a ridiculous amount (me being one of them) and you’ll reach a decently large market share that way but for a larger audience visual is the way to go.

  11. says

    How timely, seeing as today I just bought a “new” car, a big truck I’ll be building a Vardo on. The closer I get to my Vardo-goal, the less important other possessions seem to me. I’ve reduced my wardrobe to 25 or so items, everything else is boxed up awaiting a donation decision. 2 bowls, 2 spoons, my dog and the open road … what more could I need?

  12. ric zapanta says

    As a Christian I was reminded a few weeks ago about Jesus sending His Disciples out and telling them not to bring a wallet or an extra set of clothes. Then I came to reading about minimalist lifestyles. At first I thought it will just be about removing clutter around the house but as I continued to appreciate materials posted, I began feeling drawn to it the way scripture talks about it. Lust of the eyes is desiring to have all the human eye enjoys or thinks he enjoys. How guilty I am. I have a bicycle for almost every type of ride and still, with 7 bikes I thought I need 2 more. I thought we have been generous givers to people in need but now I realize how little we give when I look at how much we keep. In the old days marketing is about identifying a need and filling it up but now marketing is about making illusionary needs that people will succumb to. What a fool I have been. Thanks for all the wisdom you guys shared. Today, I will take my first step to becoming more like my Maker.

    • says

      Taoist scripture…..
      “The desireless one can see the essence (soul) while the desiring one only sees its manifestation (the superficial)”
      “overcome your desires, and show love to others”
      “desirelessness is a mater of respectfulness”

  13. says

    My father recently passed away and left my mother with his prized 1957 Candy-Apple Red ’57 Chevy. She has indicated in her trust that the car goes to me, and I’m to then make sure my nephew gets it. My nephew is 6. It’s not that I don’t think the car is lovely, or that I don’t value its worth – but my mother values the sentimental side of this car more than the practical side. For instance…where to store it, how to keep it in good shape for the next ten year, how to afford to insure it…and finally, the total possibility that a 16 year old boy could easily wreck it…or not even want it. I’m 40 and while I appreciate the car…I don’t really want the responsibility of the car. That’s how I feel about a lot of the possessions I’ve given up over the past three years. Ownership requires responsibility and some things require more energy than they give back.

    • says

      Missouri,,,,Welcome to the “Family Trap” read “How I found freedom in an unfree world” by Harry Browne. it is a free PDF file (public domain book) it is a classic

  14. Katherine says

    I think you are on a great mission. Most of us are consumed with stuff. I plan to keep visiting your site.

    But one question: if you are promoting owning fewer things, why isn’t your new book being sold exclusively as an e-book? Just thinking of bringing another THING into my home cause me anxiety. You are trying to get us to buy more stuff while telling us to buy less stuff, aren’t you? I am confused.

  15. Sarah M says

    I’m just on the verge of starting to scale down my stuff. When I shut this laptop I’m starting, one choice at a time. I never thought about my car as a minimalism decision, but it sort of is. It’s a typical French family car, 13 years old, with 145,000 miles on the clock. I have scratched 3 panels and broken the wing mirror, which was replaced with one the wrong colour for the car for the sake of saving money. The thing is, for all that, she still runs- very well actually, and she fits my life perfectly and I LIKE this car. The value of the car is about £300 (GBP) and it’d cost over £300 to replace the panels and make it shine again. Or I can just send it to the scrap yard and buy another one. that seems an awful waste though as this car has a lot going for it- pristine interior, solid frame etc. Would I be right in understanding that to repair my current car would be preferable from a minimalist point of view to replacing it? Just ignoring the damage is not possible- it will soon be carrying an advert from my business.

  16. ric zapanta says

    Cars, like anything we else we acquire should be serving us and not us serving them in terms of maintaining them or paying for them. I have friends who spend more time tinkering or cleaning their cars to keep them in showroom shine than riding them for important trips. Another guy who thought he needed a van, bought one and had to expand his garage for space. Why he needs a van? He goes on long summer trips with his kids. ONCE A YEAR!
    My car is 7 years old now, if it can serve me well for another 10 years, she will stay and I won’t be looking at another one till then!

  17. Sarah M says

    Thanks for that Ric, You have given me other angles to explore. By restoring the outward appearance of the car am I serving it? Or am I making it serve me? And does it make a difference that my employment requires my can and I to be “presentable”? I am going to think this over until I am sure.

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