December 09, 2013

The "What if"

For a recent speaking engagement, I had to spend the night in a hotel. I had work to finish up and I thought about ordering room service for dinner, but the disposables that are now used (e.g., plastic wrap on the dish, individual condiments, glass cap, etc.) dissuaded me to eat in. I went down to the restaurant, computer in hand, and set myself up in a dining booth. I was planning on having  a productive dinner...

A few minutes later, a woman sat down three tables away, and in a shrill voice, shared her cell phone conversation with the rest of us: "Yeah, I suck at emails", "Just make sure you bring enough booze", "This is going to be so much fun". It was simply impossible to ignore her conversation. At the end of her meal, she called the waiter: "I would like to take that glass of wine to my room. Do you have a cap for it? I would not want to spill on my pants!". So much for not to ordering room service to save a cap, I thought to myself. But beyond my innate sarcastic thinking, her request struck me. On my way back to the room, I reflected on the need for that cap, along with the piles of paper napkins that get handed out at the fast food joints (in case we spill), the cone holder at the ice cream parlour (in case the bottom leaks out), the plastic sleeves at the dry cleaner's (in case we dirty our shirts on our way home), and the long list of unneeded service items enumerated in my book.

I asked myself:  Has our society become so fearful of the "What if" that it has to apprehend any eventuality "Just in case"?

If that lady could have transported her wine back - sans cap - to her room without spilling on her pants, wouldn't it mean that the cap that she ordered "just in case" is a waste? A waste of the natural resources required to make the cap?

Our fear of the "What if" extends beyond the service industry: Our society hoards countless items justified by the "Just in Case" at home too. We're so afraid of being in need that we hold onto items that we rarely use, and often never will. "What if" is the number one pretext that I hear on the job.

Here are some examples:
  • A common wardrobe carries clothing reminiscent of earlier days - What if ponchos come back in style?, slimmer days - What if I loose weight?, and hopes of being invited to a fancy affair - What if I am invited to a wedding?
  • A kitchen shelf, full of sleek martini glasses - What if I want to throw a soiree?
  • A medicine cabinet, a plethora of remedies for potential conditions - What if my rash comes back?
  • In the garage, we find a knee brace - What if I tear a ligament again? and golf clubs - What if I am invited to play golf? 
  • A woman's purse, hand sanitizer - What if I needed to wash my hands?
  • Under the bed, sometimes a gun - What if a burglar broke into my home? (in Europe, while it is uncommon for Europeans to own guns, it is not uncommon for them to want to keep things "just in case there is a war again")

People like to share with me that they recently started using something that they had kept for 20 years. "See, Bea, it was worth keeping all these years!" Was it? Overtime the bulk of such belongings required the purchase of a bigger house, a bigger closet, a bigger garage, a bigger attic; it had to be moved from house to house; it required storing and organizing... sometimes it even requires the rental of a storage unit! Storage facilities thrive on ours fears of letting go -and our forgetting the automatic monthly fee.

Of course, one has to practice common sense and  preparedness when living in a disaster prone region. We have an earthquake kit on hand, for example. But beyond that, the true need for everything that we own, down to measuring spoons has been questioned. I mention measuring spoons because they're the last items that I was holding on to "just in case", and I recently let go... My reason being: If my mom does not need them, why would I? Throughout my years of simple living, I have learned that none of the things I have given up are missed and I have come to trust that for each object that I let go, an alternative solution lies within the few necessities that I own (our existing flatware has replaced measuring spoons, for example).

Next time you're stuck on the "What if I need it?", allow yourself to question the other "What if":

"What if I did not need it?" Because, chances are, you won't! Free yourself of that fear, free yourself from the stuff that you do not truly need: The simple life is not scary, it's liberating. Trust that a minimum is enough, trust that you can transport a glass of wine back to your room without spilling on your pants ;)

Now is an ideal time to give back to the community, to boost the secondhand market by letting others have access to those resources, by making them available to holiday shoppers. Is any one out there ready to let go of black raingear, size 14 boys ;)?

What are you hanging onto by fear of needing it?