“To know you have enough is to be rich.”
– Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching
February was an interesting one for sure. Feeling the need for a change of scenery, I escaped Toronto’s frosty winter to be more productive amidst Vancouver’s dreamy mountain setting. I had arranged to sublet a place I’ve never seen before. I had also arranged with my friend Derek, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, to pick me up at the airport. To my surprise, he arrived in a Porsche – one of two he drives.
Derek had recently come into a lot of money. Two years ago, he was working as a security guard at a condominium. Now things were different. He whisked me to his palatial 10 million dollar mansion in Vancouver’s most expensive neighborhood to show me the amazing view of the bay and mountains, the fully stocked vintage wine cellar, and the $100,000 state-of-the-art karaoke system. “Neat”, I thought.
After grabbing a quick bite, Derek took me downtown to show me his empty 2-story penthouse condo that occupied the entire floor. The view was spectacular, and I never knew that a condo could have more space than a large house. The condo was rarely occupied since he and his girlfriend spent most of their time at the mansion.
After relaxing at the condo for a bit, he took me to my sublet – the one I hadn’t seen yet.
The difference was staggering.
The place I had rented was a dark, basement apartment with little heating. The carpet was heavily soiled from the several tenants who had came and went over the past few decades. The faded, flickering fluorescent tubes in the bathroom meant I had to shower in near darkness. My bed was an old mattress on the ground. My desk chair was an uncomfortable lawn chair with two should-have-been-thrown-out-a-long-time-ago, yellowish pillows stacked on it. Of course, I had the company of a mouse or two. Everywhere there were stains, stains, and more stains…
Derek politely offered me a room in his mansion instead.
Fortunately however, I saw an opportunity. I loved the contrast, and thought it would be a great lifestyle experiment to live between the two places – the palaces by day, my shanty basement by night. I declined Derek’s offer and settled into my new dungeon of sorts.
I spent most of the next morning cleaning up as best as I could – replacing the lighting, buying a desk chair from a nearby thrift store, and borrowing a 1987 Toyota Corolla to drive around town. Even if I was to live here for only a month, I wasn’t going to inconvenience myself. Derek invited me to his condo in the afternoon. I plodded my way there in the ’87 Corolla, and it was kind of amusing to see it parked beside the Porsche. We spent some time hanging out in the condo, but it really felt empty with just the two of us there. After admiring the view, there really wasn’t much for me to do there.
As the days progressed, my lifestyle experiment didn’t quite go as I had planned… or maybe it did? I didn’t spend as much time in Derek’s residences as I thought I would, and was pretty content with my current living situation. I didn’t like working in the basement apartment, so I was forced to go out. Most days, I took the bus downtown and spent my time in the library, coffee shops, and other public places. During my breaks, I would scoot around the busy downtown area and meet new people.
Other days, I enjoyed exploring my local neighborhood. I discovered many independent businesses, some great vegetarian restaurants, and many charming coffee shops to work in. Derek’s neighborhood, on the other hand, had nothing within walking vicinity. It was just a long street lined with mansion after mansion. Just walking past three properties took 10 minutes or so.
Mostly, I liked the “dungeon” simply because it was my own space. In fact, as I got comfortable, it stopped being a “dungeon” and became my home.
In short, I was really happy to discover that beyond enjoying the luxuries presented to me, I had no strong desire to immerse myself in them just because they were there. My happiness was not consumer-based. This was a really important re-affirmation to me, because many of the routes I plan on embarking on typically won’t be lined with 5-star luxury hotels, physically and metaphorically speaking.
Coming from an abundance mindset, I didn’t reject anything presented to me; I just felt happy with what I had. I could live the high life with equal satisfaction to the “low life”. In fact, having lived in 7 places in the past 7 months has really forced me to simplify, and everything Derek had actually looked like a burden (to which he agrees).
In short, I’m happy where I am and count my riches as all the things I already have that money can’t buy.
To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter. . .to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
– John Burroughs