Showing posts with label clutter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label clutter. Show all posts

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reflections (2): The FUCK post

After leaving a highly-paid job, giving away money I don't really need, and selling/donating most of my worldly possessions, I have come to a place in my life where meaningful clarity is attainable. I still have a long way to go but as of now there are certain things that are crystal clear:

FUCK people who claim to garner even an ounce of happiness from purchasing yet another “thing” they don't really need, EVEN AS they head out to a job they actively despise JUST SO that they can have the cash (or credit?) to purchase that very “thing” in the first place.

FUCK business suits, conference calls, billable hours, and making partner.

FUCK people who measure their self-worth by the size of their house, the make of their car, how far they have climbed the corporate ladder, the schools they attended, the restaurants they frequent and/or the people “they know.” These poor, insecure assholes are living in a dreamworld with shaky foundations, their lives ever-dependent on how they measure up against every other poor, insecure asshole in their sad little world of pretentious make-believe.

FUCK having 2 weeks of vacation a year.

FUCK the adrenaline rush you get when you answer a partner's question at 11:00 pm via Blackberry.

FUCK people who can't wait to tell you how late they worked the night before.

FUCK money. Seriously.

FUCK chicks that are suddenly more open to banging you once they realize you have money.

FUCK dudes who are suddenly more respectful when they realize that you attended Harvard Law School.

FUCK office politics, gossipy associates and awkward conversations with senior partners at firm functions.

FUCK having a house so large that you are forced to hire a cleaning person. If you think about it, you are pretty much FUCKED because you don't have the time to clean the place yourself BECAUSE you are working 80 hours a week in order to afford that large house in the first place.

FUCK that horrible feeling you get on Sunday when you know that you have to start all that office bullshit again on Monday.

FUCK that horrible feeling you get on Saturday when you know you have to work on Sunday.

FUCK me for having taken so long to figure it all out.

[Reflections introductory post]

Monday, April 20, 2009

All I Have in the World

After all the pondering, all the planning, all the craigslist sales, and all the Salvation Army donations it came down to one single photo. Aside from (1) the stuff itemized in my bike trip post and (2) some coats and jackets I have to pick up from the local dry cleaners on Friday, this picture captures EVERY SINGLE THING I OWN IN THE WORLD:

Cool huh? :) What really gets me is that about half of what you are seeing consists of books and mementos (photos, letters, etc…).
For those of you who have followed this de-cluttering process, here’s where I came out on certain issues:

Furniture: sold most of everything I had and donated the rest. I kept certain things that I will be giving to family members later on this year (they can’t quite make it to DC just yet).

Clothing/linens: gave away 12 (that’s right, 12!) bags of clothing, linens, towels, etc…I still have a couple of bags to drop off this weekend.

Books: gave away approximately 80% of all the books I had. The criteria was simple: keep only those books that you consider to be small treasures. The rest can be shared with the world.

What about you, my dear reader? Are you thinking about doing something similar? If you have already started, what stage are you in the process? If you have completed the process, any advice on what to expect going forward?

Monday, November 17, 2008



How about it, my dear reader? Do you feel like starting a little revolution? I’ve got nothing better to do and I figured it might be fun. :)


So, what are we rebelling against, you ask? Materialism. Consumerism. Apathy. Injustice. The feeling that all the problems we face are impossible to solve. And, above all, our irrational reluctance to love our fellow man.


If you are on board, then I think the operative question becomes: what can we offer to this revolution? More to the point, what do we possess that might prove useful to changing our world? Some people bring their own particular strengths to bear when it comes to overthrowing the old order. Lenin had an overpowering intellect and a ruthless purpose of mind. Margaret Thatcher had experience, intelligence and a charm all her own. Clinton was the consummate technocrat. As for myself, at this point in my life, I just don’t have a fully-defined world view and/or the real-life experience that could prove useful in a revolution. Give me some time and maybe I will get there. For now, all I can contribute is this:


I always wanted to be in the Sopranos:

I am leaving my law firm. Maybe I should consider a career at Chip ‘n Dales:


Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself:

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s start plotting our revolution!


The plot is actually fairly straightforward: give away a sizable amount of money I don’t really need to random people. Here are the basics:

*Stuff blank envelopes with bills of random denominations.

*Include a note with the following narrative:

“To the person who finds this envelope,

I am a person who has enough. Take this money and use it as you wish. In return, I hope you can search within yourself and realize that all that matters in life is love. So, call your family. Help a friend. Lend a stranger a hand. In the end, all we have is each other.”

*Drop off the envelopes at random and not so random locations throughout the East Coast.

*Separately, send anonymous donations to (1) a variety of organizations and non-profits I support; as well as (2) certain bloggers chosen at random.

* Hope that in some small measure, these hundreds of random, anonymous, convention-upending acts of social rebellion spark something meaningful and essential in the collective unconscious of our world.

Unrealistic? Probably. Idealistic? Absolutely.


Why don’t YOU get in on the fun? I challenge you, my dear reader, to take the time this very day to express your love and kindness to (1) someone you care about, as well as (2) a total stranger. There are sooo many things you can choose from:

*Hug your kids and tell them you love them

*Call your grandparents

*Help a friend move

*Sign up to volunteer

*Donate to a local charity

The list is endless. If you take up this challenge do let me know what awesome, SIMPLE, things you decided to do.

Spread the word. Remember: a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.


After the whole diploma burning thing, I came to the conclusion that it is a good idea to provide added context when it comes to some of my posts. I am still amazed how normal, rational people can have such intense, knee-jerk reactions to anything that appears out of the ordinary (have you seen some of the comments left on YouTube? Woa…). This time, I figured I would anticipate some of the questions/comments people might have. Here you go:

Come on, Jack, you must be insane!

Maybe a little. :)

If one of the prerequisites for insanity is the inability to reason then I think I’m in the clear. This didn’t happen out of the blue. I thought long and hard about how to do this the right way. I searched within myself to figure out what I want out of life, the kind of life I want to live and the kind of world I want to leave our children. I made a detailed budget that was realistic and incorporated contingencies, changing needs, and everything else that I felt I would need to live a simple, yet meaningful life for ME. After I finalized the budget I realized there was some money left over. This posed a quandary. Extra money meant that I had the following options: (1) leave the money in the bank to collect interest; (2) upgrade my lifestyle; or (3) give the money away. Leaving the money in the bank is certainly an attractive option, but I fail to see the point of keeping money stashed away for no reason. As for upgrading my lifestyle, that makes absolutely no sense to me. The budget I came up with, by definition, represents an opportunity to live the life I want to live without the need for anything but a steady, meaningful, super-low-paying job.

What’s crazier? Giving away money you don’t need OR voluntarily upgrading your lifestyle so that you are forced to spend MORE money, in order to have MORE stuff that would actually mean MORE headaches for myself and my family and putting MORE strain on our natural resources? I’ll let you, my dear reader, be the judge.

If people will find the money randomly, how can you be sure that people who need the money will actually get it?

I am, in fact, leaving some envelopes at certain targeted locations (missions, churches, shelters, etc…). Beyond that, I want to make something very clear: the focus of the Giveaway is NOT about giving people charity. My hope is that hundreds of small but meaningful surprises can lead to hundreds or even thousands of selfless, loving acts of kindness. The person who has nothing and finds an envelope with $50 dollars will, indeed, be ecstatic. The person who actually has something and finds an envelope with $20 dollars may be moved to give away $100 to several people who have nothing.

Why can’t you just give the money to family?

I’ve already made certain arrangements, particularly with respect to my mom. The budget I came up with takes this into account.

But, wait, if you are just giving cash away anonymously aren’t you missing out on 501.(c)(3)-type tax deductions?

Yeah. On the other hand, I’ve reviewed my tax situation for this year and as it turns out it will probably be a wash: I won’t owe anything AND will not be getting much of a refund. Ergo, declaring a charitable contribution won’t help me much. Besides, there is something about giving stuff away anonymously that may be lost if I had to declare it on my taxes.

Jack, you are nothing but a crazy lefty-hippie!

Far from it. I think most people would be surprised if they knew my political leanings. On the other hand, for any of you bona fide hippies out there keep in mind that I’m partial to free love and rock and roll. Specially the free love part…[Hint, Hint!].



As of today, the plot has essentially come to fruition. Only a couple of dozen more envelopes left to drop off. Expect additional pics and video later this week.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pyro Follow Up

It’s been one of those weeks when the reality of the worst economic downturn in generations is nothing but a faint echo outside my office window. Things are actually PICKING up here at the office and I’m just trying to keep my head above water.

But hey, why worry? I have my Halloween costume ready to go and the promise of copious libations and assorted mischief is definitely in the air. :)


For now, I wanted to share the following narrative. It’s something I put together in response to some questions I got this week. I hope this adds some context to my previous post. As always, constructive comments, complaints, and annoyances are always welcome. Have a great weekend everyone.

Why did you burn your law diploma?

At some point, I realized that a great deal of my self-worth was tied to being a Harvard law grad. Burning my degree was just a way to continue this process of simplification. I still have fond memories of Harvard. My three years there were the most intellectually stimulating, most meaningful of my entire life. But, ultimately, I want to live my life on my own terms without needing a piece of paper to justify my own worth.

Was there a trigger to your move to shun excess and pursue a simpler life?

After years of working 12-hour days, giving up countless weekends and canceling vacations at the last minute, I just had enough. I eventually realized that I was slowly losing my life, one billable hour at a time. In the end, it makes no sense to trade 90 percent of your waking hours for a chance to buy expensive clothes, be seen at fancy restaurants, and indulge in all sorts of excess. More recently, a friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There is nothing like being made aware of your own mortality to help you focus on what truly matters: family, love and friendship.

How far have you come? Are you downsizing, or is this more of an attitude shift?

I've been taking small, deliberate steps since last year to simplify all aspects of my life. Thus far, I have decluttered my house and have arranged for the sale of most of my furniture. Up next, leaving my job, selling my house and taking some time off to figure out next steps.

If you've already begun shedding material gains, is there anything you miss?

Not so far. Embracing voluntary simplicity does not imply that you have to accept abject poverty or that you need to reject all material comforts. Voluntary simplicity encourages you to shed anything that does not have genuine value to you. In my case, I no longer find a need to patronize Citronelle on a weekly basis, or head out to Vegas to spend a couple of thousand dollars every chance I get. I now spend money on things that bring me meaningful joy. And it just so happens that most of these things are so cheap, they are practically free.

Why did you want to become a lawyer in the first place? What were your expectations coming out of law school?

The honest answer is that I went to law school because I didn't know what else to do with my life. I had a vague sense that I wanted to work in the public interest field, but I did not know in what capacity. In the end, I was seduced by the prestige of all the law schools that accepted my application and by the opportunity to make a difference. And then the reality of incurring $120,000 of law school debt plus the allure of making a six-figure salary changed everything. By the time I left Harvard, I had already bought my first $1,000 suit.

Is there a way for you to continue on a legal career path that will satisfy your desire for simplicity?

I am definitely interested in transitioning into the public interest field. Finding a legal job that satisfies my intellectual curiosity, assuages my moral convictions, and allows me the opportunity to explore my other interests is a priority.

Why chronicle your transition so publicly in a blog? Is there something cathartic about blogging openly, or does committing yourself in public force you to stay on course?

I started the blog as a way to keep track of my progress. At first, it was just a matter of outlining all of the things that were not working in my life and figuring out practical ways to resolve them on my own. Early on, I found that interacting with other people who were confronting similar issues was another way to brainstorm and encourage simplification. There is something about anonymity that allows people to drop their guard and be open about the things they want out of life. I have learned that there is great value in sharing yourself with others, even in the shadows of anonymity.

What have you learned about yourself and what other lawyers are going through in regards to work/life balance issues?

I have learned that there are other ways to live my life and that I should follow my heart, no matter where it leads me.

I've also learned that there is something seriously wrong with law firm life. I've been blogging for five months now, and I am still surprised by the sheer number of e-mails I receive from other lawyers who are dealing with some of the very same issues I struggle with. I think there is a yearning out there for a way to reconcile the demands of a legal career with other life goals. Many lawyers feel that they have rejected important aspects of themselves in exchange for a life they no longer feel they want to live. They feel trapped because they have to pay a mortgage, student loans, private school tuition, etc. ... but have no idea how to get out.

I think it is important to emphasize that not every lawyer working at a law firm is unhappy. Some of my very best friends have thrived in that environment and are genuinely happy. If you derive genuine, meaningful pleasure from the profession and can overcome all the obstacles that this lifestyle places on your personal life, then you have it made.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Harold Loves Maude


It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, from one of my favorite movies of all time, Harold and Maude. The scene is rather simple, yet incredibly evocative. Harold and Maude have spent all afternoon at an arcade playing games together and Harold is smitten. They are now sitting on the banks of a river.

Harold: Maude?
Maude: Yeah?
Harold: [pulling a stamped coin from the arcade out of his pocket] Here.
Maude: A gift! [she reads the engraving]
Maude: "Harold loves Maude."... and Maude loves Harold. This is the nicest gift I've received in years.
[she tosses the stamped coin into the water]
Harold: [gasps]
Maude: [looks at Harold with a great deal of love] So I'll always know where it is.


I’ve been talking with some friends about just skipping the whole ebay/craigslist/freecycle thing and giving them all of my furniture for long-term storage. The idea is that I would be providing people I care about with things that they actually need. In exchange, they would hold on to my furniture until I figure out what to do with it. This would be a long-term loan of sorts. And I will always know where my furniture is.

I’m a bit conflicted about this. For one thing, I’m sure there is a part of me that looks to this as a way to ‘keep’ my stuff and not have to go through the trauma of actually selling it. To use ebay or craigslist would, in essence, put a dollar figure on the money I wasted trying to live a ‘material’ life. This would force me to come face to face with the consequences of unmitigated consumerism.

I’ve also been thinking about the idea of freecycling. There is definitely value in giving for the sake of giving. Of recognizing one’s past vulnerabilities and attempting to make amends. I can’t go back in time and save the trees that were destroyed in order for me to enjoy an 18th century Chinese bookshelf. I can’t recapture all the fossil fuels that were wasted when my handcrafted king-size sleigh bed was delivered.

But I can let go completely. I can just give it ALL away. Why do I need to charge someone for something that really shouldn’t have been mine in the first place?

I have through the middle of next year to figure this out. But I would certainly appreciate your advice, my dear reader. What would you do?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


So I just completed the first step of the decluttering process:

-Trash bags filled: 9

-Bags filled for distribution to Salvation Army: 1.5

-Simplicity attained: priceless

I wanted to share a couple of thoughts:

*Getting rid of books has been, by far, the hardest part of this process. I had a box and a half of books when I started. I was able to give away a good chunk and had to recycle a bunch more. I now have less than a full box which I will be taking to my folks for storage. The books I chose to keep are just way too important to me. They have sustained me during hard times. They have fed my curiosity. They have spoken of love, intellect, history, and art. They have made me who I am today. I just CAN’T get rid of more.

*Going through my place in such a methodical way made me realize that, besides all the furniture left to dispose of, I actually don’t/didn’t have a ton of stuff to begin with. Given the size of this place, I’m actually surprised I didn’t have to throw out a lot more things.

*At this point, I think I can pack and leave my place with all my “essential stuff” within an hour. How awesome is that?! :)

*And for the Excel nuts out there, here is the initial draft of the spreadsheet I put together:

Ok, now I will move to the second step of the decluttering process: sell, sell, sell! I just love Craigslist!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And So It Begins

Decided to leave work a little early today and get myself a little voluntary simplicity fix. I’m in the decluttering phase of The Plan so I’ve adopted the following strategy: start on the first floor, go from room to room categorizing everything in my path into (I) stuff that I can get rid of NOW; (II) stuff that I can get rid of once my tenant leaves; (iii) stuff that I will need to get rid of before vacating the premises. I will be putting up the excel spreadsheet (yeah, I'm using a spreadsheet, so what of it?) once I'm done. Along the way I trashed everything that I could.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Putting It All Together

So, let’s review. To meet my goals I’m going to need to focus on the following:

Getting Rid of Consumer Debt/Student Loans
Start: Ongoing
End: September 1, 2009

I will continue setting aside a certain amount a month to pay down my consumer debt. At the same time, I’m going to investigate the practicalities of having my law school pay for my student debt.

Sale of Stuff
Start: July 2008
End: December 2009

I will start by cataloging all my possessions, taking pictures, putting up ads on craigslist/ebay and seeing what I can sell. I’m also going to talk to friends and family to see who needs specific stuff so that they can have first dibs. I have a feeling that as crazy as some of these people think I am for doing this, in the end they are going to appreciate Santa Jack.

Selling the Townhouse
Start: October 1, 2008
End: September 1, 2009

By October of this year I will start contacting lawyers and real estate professionals to figure out best options. Given the change in administration and the various mortgage-related pieces of legislation floating around congress at the moment, it might actually be prudent to wait to get the ball rolling on this. Who knows…maybe the market will improve enough for me to sell at no loss. Or maybe legislation will clarify what will happen to people in my situation. Regardless, I want to be in a position to put the place up for sale by March 2009 and finally dispose of it by September of next year.

Leaving My Job
Start: December 17, 2009
End: December 31, 2009

Woa, that was sweet; actually had to look at a calendar to figure out when I would need to give two weeks notice so that I could leave my job by the December 31, 2009. That felt good…

So, there is it! I now have a semblance of a plan. All I need to do at this point is put one foot in front of the other and get started. And in between I’m hoping to recruit friends, family and you, my dear reader, to keep me honest and on track.

Up until now, my posts were intended to flush out the practicalities of my journey with a touch of the universal in between the couch cushions. But personal growth does not come about through to-do lists. Having already surrendered myself to this process I have a very strong suspicion that it is the struggle itself that brings us closer to the universal. That’s why I suspect that from here on out this blog will shift focus a bit; practicality will be supplanted by a furious focus on the every day struggle to make that next step on a journey towards the unknown. And it is the unknown that beckons.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


What can I say? When you buy a 3000 square foot place you just HAVE to buy a bunch of furniture. Not only do you buy run-of-the-mill stuff like a king-sized $4.5k hand-crafted wooden sleigh bed but you also take a couple of trips to antique shows so you can show the world that you can buy several expensive 400-year old Chinese pieces (for fucks sake, they actually refer to this stuff as “pieces”, not furniture). And, of course, you definitely need rice cookers, tea kettles, hampers, lamps, home office supplies, HD plasma TVs, etc…

If I could just go back in time and grab a hold of that me two years ago I would shake me firmly and scream: “What the hell are you doing!? Why do you even need all this stuff? Are you buying it because you need it or because society thinks you should own it? Do you have any idea how many natural resources were wasted just so that you, one single fucking person, can pretend to own the entire universe?

Simplicity Meets the Enemy
As they say, “everything must go!” The way to handle all this stuff is pretty simple: get rid of it by selling it, giving it away and/or giving it to friends. Going forward I will be cataloguing all the stuff I have, selling stuff on craigslist, and contacting people I trust to given them the heads up.

It looks like the disposal process is going to have to be staggered. I can start on some of the craigslist stuff right away. However, I’ve been renting a room in the house to a friend and he will still need to have access to most of the furniture until the status of the townhouse is finalized. When the house is sold next year he will move out and I can get rid of the rest of the furniture. If all goes well, I could have all the furniture out of the house by July 2009.