Bare Necessities

Originally published in Idler 58.

I’m utterly dependent on a certain popular brand of razor blade. I can’t shave satisfactorily with anything else. This troubles me because I dislike being reliant on any one thing and they also happen to be stupidly expensive. What’s more, the only reason I started using them in the first place is because the manufacturer cravenly sent a freebie when I turned 16. I’m nothing but a victim of drug dealer-style marketing.

We idlers want to be free; free to live pleasantly, creatively and with little fuss. The best way to be free, I’ve found, is to have as few dependencies as possible. You’re not really free when you have dependencies. Sometimes we freewheelers have be tough and fall back on our resourcefulness instead of indulging expensive, work-generating habits.

I suspect, alas, that being in thrall to multiple dependencies is the default state for most worker-consumers. Wage slavery itself is a kind of dependence — dependence on a pay cheque — or we wouldn’t bloody well do it; caffeine and alcohol are the standard substance dependencies for those trying to survive wage slavery without going insane; and of course mobile phones, cars, convenience food, trips to the mall and all the rest of it are learned (or remotely-cultivated) dependencies that make us work ever harder.

Best, I reckon, to wean ourselves off each and every dependency so we can be free and properly idle. This is not to say we should be Puritanical — I for one continue to drink, fornicate, swear, lie, occasionally steal, pick my nose, and frighten flocks of pigeons — but that we cultivate lives where pleasures are mindful ones and not dependencies. I suppose the defining difference is that a pleasure is indulged in occasionally and deliberately, while dependencies are constant, dictate our actions, and contribute to the “fixed costs” of living. When we can’t engage in our dependencies — can’t get coffee or look at our phones — we feel uncomfortable and removed from the moment. In my case, I have to fork out fifteen quid for razor blades each month.

Aside from the razor blade fiasco, I’m quite good at quitting things. Here are the little tricks I use for beating addictions to worker-consumer shite:

Don’t be a Muggle. Because of my little round eye-glasses, a lot of rather dim-witted people like to tell me that I look like Harry Potter. I don’t. I look like Harold Lloyd and, in the right light, Sue Perkins. I accept the charge of being magic though. Such imaginary superiority gives one the strength to do magical things; things like have the sheer arrogance to not to watch television or drink fizzy pop or drive a car. Those things are Muggle technologies and not for promising young wizards. Try it. Pretend to be magic. Just don’t hurt anyone by waving that stick about.

Identify. On what are you unnecessarily dependent? Make a little list. Or a big list. Soon we can have fun eliminating them.

Eliminate the easy ones with hard-and-fast rules. Choose a couple of the listed dependencies — easy ones — and resolve never to indulge in them again. How hard would life be without, say, chewing gum? It wouldn’t be hard at all. It would be easy. Be the person who doesn’t do that, starting now.

Replace. Bigger dependencies need replacing. Dependency upon a pay cheque needs to be replaced by some other sort of income, but it can be a smaller amount and more creatively arrived at. Dependency upon television, if we really need two hours of vegetation in the evening, might be replaced by reading aloud to a partner. Dependency upon coffee might be replaced by green tea, another comforting hot drink but cheaper and less caffeinated.

Swish. According to a friend who knows about neurolinguistic programming, there’s an exercise called “the swish” that can help eliminate a dependency. To swish: identify the negative behaviour (e.g. drinking coffee); imagine how you want to feel instead (e.g. a clear-headed, super-focused Buddha-like figure); find the trigger for the negative behaviour (e.g. the coffee flowing, strong and black from the pot to your favourite mug); swish between the two images (e.g. visualise the coffee pot image being pushed into the background while bringing the Zen-master image to the foreground). The effect is to make the alternative to the dependency appealing by bringing it to the forefront of the mind, replacing the thing we’re trying to avoid.

Cold showers. Short of self-flagellation, cold showers are perhaps the go-to image when thinking of Puritanical self-mastery, but the smashing David Hunt who films the Idler online courses strongly recommended them when I was whinging about my various allergies because, he says, a cold shower acts like a reset button for the immune system. Dave is right. I’ve been doing it for a month now and I can finally breath through my nose again. A noteworthy side effect is an astonishing boost of willpower. When you don’t need a hot shower, you don’t need anything. Roar!.

Indulge. In Jim Jarmusch’s film Coffee and Cigarettes, Tom Waits enjoys a cigarette with Iggy Pop to celebrate that they no longer smoke. “The beauty of quitting,” he says, “is that now that I’ve quit, I can have one”. It’s funny and true. If you’re not dependent, you can enjoy any pleasure properly. Hence roller coasters: fun as a treat, a nightmare to live on.

The key is not to abstain from pleasures, but to be independent of them. Freedom is being able to do what we like when we see fit: not because it is habitual or a need.

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