There are two types of pursuits in life: those that can be completed and those that will never be finished.
For example, my desire to be a good parent will likely, never be completed. I will contine to grow and improve in this area over the course of my life as the seasons change. Likewise, my desire to be a faithful spouse, a good friend, and a contributing member of society around me.
On the other hand, there are some accomplishments fully completed. I graduated college. I ran a marathon. I wrote a book. I started a business. These desires represent completed goals.
This is a simple reality, but there is irreplaceable joy and opportunity for those who can accurately distinguish between the two. When we continue to pour resources into completed projects, we miss opportunity to direct those resources towards goals that continue.
Unfortunately, in a society built on constant and ever-increasing consumerism, there are countless voices arguing for us to confuse the two.
Consider this, when was the last time you looked at the clothes in your closet and thought, “Yup, that’s enough. I have accumulated enough. I’m done with this pursuit. It is complete.”
Perhaps never, right? This is because the world has told us we will never be finished buying clothes. Even if you have enough in your closet to last you the next 12 months, marketers will continue to convince you that you are not done—that the pursuit of fashionable fabric must continue.
For this reason, we rarely see the pursuit of physical possessions as a desire that can be completed or fully finished. Even if we have accumulated enough, there is still a “better” that we should continue to invest resources in pursuing.
So we look at our existing furniture and think how nice it would be to upgrade this chair or that rug. We desire a larger home, a newer car, a bigger paycheck, a stainless steel fridge, or granite countertop. No matter what we already possess, we seem to always desire more.
Buying things has become a pursuit with no finish line. (tweet that)
But take a look around. Is it possible there’s enough clothing already in your closet? Is there enough furniture already in your house? Is your home sufficient for you and your family? Do your kitchen appliances already meet your needs? Is your car sufficient to get you from Point A to Point B?
And if you already own enough clothing, furniture, or housing, maybe you can begin to see that pursuit as completed.
The next time you have a desire to buy something you don’t need, say to yourself, “Nope. I’m done buying clothes. I already have enough. I have met this desire and I am moving on to something else.”
There is a profound joy and opportunity that accompanies this realization because it allows us to redirect our finite resources towards more important pursuits—those that may never be fully completed.
If I spend less money and time and energy pursuing new clothes, expensive furniture, and more square footage, I have more money and time and energy to spend on being a good father, a faithful husband, and a contributing member of society.
And isn’t that the goal? To excel at the things in life that matter most and to remove those that don’t?
Those who buy what they do not need; steal from themselves.
There is nothing more satisfying than completion.
It’s true. Thank you for this post reminder.
Just read Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J Foster and he says something similar on page 149. Most people have no need for more clothes. They buy more not because they need clothes, but because they want to keep up with the fashions. Buy only what you need. Wear your clothes until they are worn out.
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Primal Prosperity says
Like Tyson commented, many of our goals tend to be to impress others.
I teach workshops where I talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and many times we get stuck in the bottom rungs, particularly the ‘accolades/esteem’ section. To move to self actualization, we need to let go of setting goals to impress others and just focus on what makes us truly happy.
Usually goals that can be “counted” and measured have fleeting fulfillment, but those that take a lifetime of working towards are the most rewarding.
Zig Ziglar says “Don’t count the things you do, do the things that count.”
I have my own version of goal setting that I use in my workshops, called D.U.M.B. goals:
Daring ~ Be authentic. Embrace Vulnerability.
Uncomfortable ~ We learn more from difficulty than comfort.
Magnetic ~ Leverage the Laws of Attraction and be captivated by your goals.
Balanced ~ All systems must stay balanced to be sustainable. .
Sarah Rose says
Spot on Josh! It’s incredible to read this and realise I hadn’t mentally created this categories, choosing to do so consciously is potentially powerful. You’ve written this so eloquently and clearly that I can’t believe I didn’t recognise this earlier. Thank you!
Went shopping with my sister today and to be honest quite boring, i am interested in things, doubt i will never not be, but i just find so much stuff makes me feel sick inside, pointless and useless, i am at the stage where i only buy what i need, and buy things when i have thought about them, i would rather have far less and love the few things i have,
still room for treats etc and new clothes but i just dont, let them rule me or control me no more
family and friends more important than working more to earn more to buy more, treadmill existance
excellent post thanks josh
Tyson Popplestone says
I wonder if our pursuit of the constant ‘upgrades’ and desire for ‘more’ (money, status, fame, comfort etc) is due to us being uncertain of what we’re longing for/what we’re passionate about.
In November last year I was sitting at a cafe in Kathmandu, Nepal after learning this lesson the hard way. Not necessarily with physical items, but with how I’d used my time over the last year.
I wanted to achieve something ‘big’ as it was something that I (and my culture) would be impressed with.
I had spent over a month in the Himalayas training for an attempt to climb Mt Everest in April of this year. Long story short, I was required to climb two mountains in order to qualify for the big climb this year. All was going well until the morning of the second climb where I was struck down with food poisoning. It automatically ruled me out of climbing for the day, and stopped my chances of climbing Everest with that company this year.
The problem was, I’d spent the last 18 months training, raising funds and learning all I could about Everest, all for the dream to fall short because of something I’d eaten. The hardest part for me to face was not that the dream was over but that in the process of training for the climb, I had put my true passions (family, friends, writing) on hold.
I’d spent so much time focusing on something I really wasn’t passionate about.
Around this time, I had come across Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. In this great book Covey talks about clarifying our major passions (our essential) and focusing our time and energy towards that (a lesson I’d heard, even knew, but hadn’t applied as well as I could.)
Since that point I’ve recommitted to living in line my passions (faith, family, healthy, communication, contribution and adventure) and realizing that everything else is excess.
It’s been an incredible lesson.
I had been caught up in the pursuit of ‘more’ and lost sight of what was ‘enough’.
As I read this post I kept thinking about how I’d like to use my time towards reaching goals that, whether or not they’re something that can be completed or not, is directly in line with my passions.
Thanks again for a great post.
Love this. I really enjoy reading your posts and love your frame of view. Personally, I am very good about being “completed” with most possessions except clothing! For some reason I really struggle to just be “done.” I think it’s because my needs keep changing…pregnancy, postpartum, new body after said pregnancies, running around with little kids, aging and acquiring a new modesty/style. I’m trying to focus on having enough for the current “stage” because I know it will change again!
Sarah Rose says
I’m hearing you on this Tiffany! I also love clothes & having fun with them, this post has got me thinking…
Ebah Morphy says
what an interesting read! Ever since i joined the minimalism movement, i ve learnt to question that buying desire that frequently rears its head every time the adverts and sales peope calls..soon after reading this,i realised also i have not been channeling enough of my resources on project that will never be complete.now i know better and more.realising one dont need more physical things isnt enough.putting the extra resources into pursuit of uncompletable projects is part of the whle picture..keep it up mr Josh.
The clothing-as-completed makes me laugh because as the mother of five children (I am not a minimalist in having children – ha ha), I am ALWAYS dealing with clothes. I would LOVE to have that checked off the list, but these durned kids won’t quit growing so fast! Just spent 80 bucks the other day on SOCKS!
A phrase that I’ve adopted is “at capacity.” When our neighbors were moving and wanted to give us a lot of their stuff so they wouldn’t have to pack it, I declined by saying that our home is “at capacity.” We already have a lot of stuff as a large family who homeschools, and I have no desire to shoehorn more objects into a house that is already comfortably furnished. Any more would become claustrophobic.
Oh my gosh! “At capacity” I love it! I am going to start using this. My family loves to give and give and give my kids stuff. I can now politely say that we are at capacity. We just downsized from 2500 sq feet to 1900 sq. feet. We truly can’t take in anymore stuff.
Sarah Rose says
Ha ha, wise move, I often feel we’re at capacity, particularly as my 3 yr old spreads out stuff around the house so well- so much is ‘on display’.
I think you and your (female) readers would like Kendra’s blog http://www.thelazygeniuscollective.com Your last line is so similar to her tagline: Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.
Sarah Rose says
Thanks for sharing Karissa, I love the Tagline!
In the last two years I learned that more isn’t always better. And I try to only replace the broken ‘things’ but I have never realized how buying ‘new and better’ things can spiral down to buying with no end.
This post makes me rethink what I really want and why. Like I wanted to buy a new tablet because mine is a few years old and getting pretty slow. But it’s still doing it’s job so why would I replace it?
Thank you, this way of thinking will make my life a bit easier.
This is a great post. Must share it. I’m one of those people who lives to tick things off lists, so I’m getting a real kick out of the idea of setting my consumption to ‘completed’. Tick!
It is a nice feeling to be satisfied with my wardrobe and satisfied with my home. Less stress and more money too!
Thank you minimalism.
Helen Duyvestyn says
Great post – Thank you,
Emma - a simple living journey says
In this season I feel like my life is full of incomplete goals. The washing basket is never quite empty, the house never quite clean. I have come to embrace the rhythm of these things over the years. Children always just a little raggedly. ;)
If I spent my time trying to complete these things I would never actually rest, hang out with the kids, sit and watch a movie. So I have embraced good enough.
It is a stark contrast to what the world presents and expects. The polished home, the trendy looking kids, the amazing diversity of foods set upon the table.
But it is enough, and enough is all we really need. To have enough, to be present. These are the good things in life.
Jenni Bateman says
Just went through the ‘decluttering’ workshop, and have minimized most of our home. It wasn’t until I finally landed on my art studio that I found the ‘hard work’…but what a breath of fresh air!
I did an initial purge of paper (gads!), then was faced with ‘who I REALLY am as an artist’. Honesty hurts.
The local grade school was thrilled to have the teaching materials (40 of everything it takes to be the ‘art lady’).
I’m ready to do another purge – minimizing those materials that are hanging on.
I did notice during the ‘tour of your home’ that there doesn’t seem to be art – but inspirational posters. Art is healing. Art connects us to time and space. Art is a conversation starter. But, to everything, there is a season!
Here I go……..purge!
Even though I try VERY hard, I don’t think I will ever be done with buying books. It is an obsession worse than chocolate!
I think many people focus on things that can be completed (courses for example) because they are measurable. Done. Yes or no. It’s easy.
But on the way of becoming a better parent – it’s never done. You can’t tick it of your list nor tell proudly to someone who you just met what exactly you’ve achieved.
We’re educated by tests, we’re learnt to fill forms – we love ticking of and numbers, and levels.
Abandoned Cubicle says
I just have to be more patient. I seem to always be looking ahead to when the kids are old enough for us to sell their strollers or strider bikes on Craigslist. I should instead stop to enjoy them at that stage of life, and tolerate some of the “extra stuff” that comes with a given age range. I guess I’ll feel I’ve “completed” something when the twins do cross into new stages, albeit wistfully.
Yes, this is a truth: And isn’t that the goal? To excel at the things in life that matter most and to remove those that don’t?
And, it is a never ending pursuit
Ebah Morphy says
Yes,Sherman, i cant agree more,its a never ending pursuit…
Very beautiful description of opportunity costs. You have an eloquent, yet simple way with words.
I can say “Enough!” about our home, income, toys, cars and furniture, but clothing is another matter.
There is a reason that in Spain they have a specific word for wearing an item the first time! It is fun and new – at least for some of us. I am working on it. Thanks for the encouragement!
Handcrafted Travellers says
With just three backpacks of belongings for our entire family I presume we are at the stage of having enough, the only thing missing is a more permanent home – that is next pursuit on the list to be completed… and then helping others to discover the same freedom we have found through minimalism.
Great post! I think you are responsible for most of us getting or trying to get to this point. However, I feel like doing these things is like doing my “C” list. I am there. “C” list completed…only to be faced with now doing my “A” list, which I am really struggling to create. I know that sounds funny and backwards…that we release ourselves from these burdens to give us more time and energy for what?
I know I am wired to be a top notch “C” list completer and love ticking off those items, but completing the “enough” of shopping, closet clean out, reduction of useless stuff and ridding myself of unnecessary obligations of my time is done ( I’ve been following you for a while, haha). So now I am faced with the “what do I truly value, what do I truly want to do with my time and resources and it seems overwhelmingly hard to put into an “A” list because unlike the closet, household and time issues, it isn’t something you can tell me I should do. It is personal to each of us. I am really having trouble even getting started with this part of my life. It is the “Now What” part of the equation that I just don’t know where to start. I have time, I have energy, I have limited distractions..but where should I concentrate my efforts? I am fortunate enough to be retired, financially secure and healthy.
I know it is a good problem, but now that I have enough, don’t find shopping fulfilling, have lots of time…I am stumped. I think that I have spent so long pursuing stuff or following a job path to earn money that I have never ever thought of what I would do if those things were no longer necessary. Can you perhaps blog a bit with some suggestions of how to tackle this unknown world? You seem to blog, write books, enjoy yourself, but perhaps presenting what some of your readers have pursued once they reach the “C” list completed stage could be helpful.
Thanks for getting me this far!
I am still in the process but completely understand your dilemma. I used to be a shopaholic and have spent months without going shopping besides groceries. I have more time but unlike you I am not healthy mentally or physically and my finances are nothing to be envied. This makes me depressed most of the time regardless of the extra time I don’t have the extra energy causing me to be where I am now, stagnant, unmotivated and with a lot of time spent in bed.
Congratulations on your progress with not being a shopaholic any more! I can relate! I live alone and I was thinking the other day as I was out that I think part of the reason I would go shop was to avoid going home to my cluttered house and being alone. It was very different since beginning this course to think, hmmm…there is nothing I need so I will just go home! And…as I clean up the clutter I feel better about being there!
Depression is tough though because it’s hard to get going. I’ve been there too. Have you talked to your Dr. about how you’re feeling? Maybe there is something he can recommend to give enough momentum to jump start your motivation. Even baby steps are great! Don’t give up! :) We’re all cheering for you!
My faith helps me so much so I will of course be praying for you too! :)
Virtual hugs to you,
I would look for a group to join that shares your passion for something. Maybe a cooking group or reading group. Maybe studying the stars. There’s always a group near by for something you like.
I realized that I was avoiding getting involved with people and blaming it on my illness ( PRP) or lack of money but I think once you put yourself out there, you will find you look forward to it. You will feel better. Just my solution anyway.
Maybe you could try volunteer work, or finding something that you can be passionate about?
I think the ‘now what’ feeling is a very common problem and the reason it is sooo easy to entice so many into needless shopping and all the other “C” list pursuits.
I find breathing deeply and just noticing that itchy, uncomfortable feeling helps. It doesn’t necessarily go away. It’s part of the human condition. And once we stop numbing it with “the pursuit of fashionable fabric”, we can ask the bigger questions and let the real adventures begin.
I am particularly excited for you! Well done with everything that you have accomplished to get to this point!
Your “A” list will present itself to you in time, maybe you’re just being blessed at this time with a period of rest after a lifetime of completing your “C” list. Go for walks, read some good books (or crappy books, but just enjoy some down time reading), listen to podcasts, watch TED talks, colour. Your “A” list will come to you.
We were early retiree’s after the VA deemed my husband 100% disabled, at fifty years old. We were already debt free as it had been our goal for years. Take some time to think about things you enjoyed doing in your spare time when you were still working, and go from there. We renewed our old love of gardening..gardens are a never finished hobby…and spend hours building doll houses and the tiny miniatures to adorn them…the days fly by!…
MANAS DAS says
Excellent writing – but who can read and appreciate? One has to have that kind of passion to understand it. The world will be much better if some of the ideas expressed by one tenth of world population.
I truly agree with you!
What a helpful observation!
Ms. Montana says
So good! It frees up so much mental space when we can check off the box and be done with something. I got to the place with my wardrobe where I just buy things to replace items when they wear out. I walked through Target for the first time in 7 months last week, and didn’t have to think about if I should buy a new item or not. Once I see something that has worn out in my wardrobe, I will toss it out and then remember to find a new one when I am out shopping. There are so many other things, more important things, to spend my time and money on.
Thanks. I needed this.
laura ann says
And a great motivating article for a fall purging and donating.
Lowell Hummer says
Have just returned from a weekend exploration of letting go of something. My “thing” was the obligation to keep on going with activities that no longer serve. I was thinking more in terms of not having to finish a book I am not enjoying but this post reminds me of the silliness of chasing after improvements to the already great at the expense of time and energy for living life inside that great home, wardrobe, garden, auto.
Arthur in the Garden! says
Favourite quote: “Buying things has become a pursuit with no finish line.”
Laura Blanton says
I found this to be a particularly interesting read for myself only because I have found myself comforted by the exact opposite conclusion (in the case of one of your examples.) Over the last two years I have practiced a capsule wardrobe, learned a great deal about my personal style, spending habits, consumerism triggers and what my actual wardrobe needs are. I began to feel that there was a ‘moment of arrival’ and I raced to achieve it. Thinking I needed to either buy things to complete it or else stop buying pieces all together. And then I realized that my wardrobe needs would continue to change based on lifestyle needs i.e. preganancy, nursing, postpartum, etc. I realized my pursuit of a ‘complete closet’ fell into the ‘never to be finished’ camp. And that brought a lot of peace into my life and hushed the urge to ‘finish’ it. I noticed myself becoming much more deliberate and calculative about adding things into my life all together.
I think this post is largely about one’s ability to frame (or re-frame) situations we encounter as well as seasons of life we are in to do better to not let ‘stuff’ consume us — and for that I wholeheartedly agree. But I think identifying the difference between acquiring stuff to consume and acquiring stuff (with purpose) to serve an actual purpose in our life is an important distinction to be made here.
Laura Blanton says
I personally have benefited most from a previous post of yours in which you pose the question (before acquiring) “But what if I didn’t?” — to help derive understanding as to what my motivations are for seeking out this “thing” in the first place, as well as to bring to mind my current/actual priorities.
Well said. Each choice has an outcome. When we make choices based on our needs at the time with a personal mandate to live well (my choice to live with a more minimalist approach), then there is less anxiety to “finish”. Bearing this in mind, I appreciate Joshua’s posts because he always provides me with a starting point for further evaluation of my present situation.
The Green Swan says
Nice post as always, Joshua! I’ve never thought of goals in terms of completeness in that regard before. I like how you can use that to turn materialism on its head and simply say, “no more”.
I think I follow that philosophy for the most part today, trying to only buy new things to replace broken or worn out items. But I’m sure I can always do better. I’ll have to start using this frame of thought going forward, thanks!
Karen T. says
This is profound, Joshua. Thanks.
I love this!!!
Is it silly that I only realized there are never-to-be-fulfilled goals and to-be-fulfilled goals when reading this? It changes the perspective so much and brings a sort of peace to this anxiety of feeling like things will never be completed.
Great post, great insight. Thank you!
I also had similar feelings, M.! You’re not the only one.
Such a helpful post, I’ve shared with many friends & family members!