The Underlining Assumption

Perhaps one of the most dangerous things we do in our lives is we don’t even look at our underlining assumptions. For example, we drink coffee every morning, but why?  Perhaps the answer is we like the taste of it? Really, it is sort of bitter tasting and it tastes awful when it gets even slightly cold.  How about the answer is we like that bit of caffeine in the morning. Yet the reality is we can get that elsewhere.  So what are we missing, why do you drink coffee in the morning?

In the end, it is a habit and we assume that we want it.  Our lives are considered normal to ourselves.  So everything you do from your point of view is just the way things have always been.   Until you are exposed to another source of ideas you may never change a behaviour or habit because you literally can’t see past your own life yet.  As an example, growing up I recall someone telling me they knew what they were having for supper since it was Friday.   I was amazed that he knew this early in the day.  He then told me they always eat the same thing every Friday.  I was stunned since in my house I didn’t see the same meal again typically for months at a time.

So what the hell does that have to do with anything?  My spending patterns are basically a shock to some people because they can’t see past their own lives yet.  If you grow up in a city with similar people around you and you rarely meet others that have significantly different spending habits it becomes hard to see past them.  Your spending habits are mostly just an underlining assumption that you have made that everyone lives this way.  So to meet someone significantly different is a bit of shock.

Yet once the shock has hit, how do you use that to see past your normal life and make change?  Well that is going to be partly a personal journey to find you own motivation to look at changing your life, but one quick method to generate some ideas is the following exercise.  Assume for a moment that every decision you have ever made in your life with regards to your purchases are wrong.  Yes you bought the wrong house, car, shoes, socks, dishwasher, teapot and the wrong brand of tea.  Now try to justify to yourself what you really should have bought instead based on what you really need.  Take some time with this and don’t let yourself give bullshit answers.

This might lead you to consider you have a 1500 square feet house with approximately 250 square feet of junk you don’t use.  So the reality is you bought a bigger house than you needed because of the junk, not because you personally actually use that extra space.  Or perhaps you look at your wardrobe and realize you only like to wear half of it.  The rest was mainly impulse buys of things you have never used.

By freeing yourself from you underlining assumption that your life is normal, you can finally start looking objectively at your own life.  When that occurs you can finally start to really look at your spending and find easy ways to save a little bit more.  By repeating this behaviour over a number of years you can actually manage to have the majority of what you enjoy now in your life at a fraction of the cost.  It is a little scary to realize how much money you have been wasting for months, years or even decades but the pay off is more saving, less crap in you life and potentially an earlier retirement date.

I know this concept can be a little hard to grasp for some people, so let’s play a little game.  In a comment write down the first five things you touched with your hand this morning.  I’ll go first: alarm clock, water glass, eyeglasses, bathrobe and door.  I will bet the majority of people will have a common item or two in their list, but not everything.  That is because your normal life is just a little different than everyone around you.

7 thoughts on “The Underlining Assumption”

  1. Very thought provoking – I actually cut out coffee 6 months ago because i DIDNT actually like it and had just been drinking it out of habit. Now I drink green tea every morning instead – why? Because i actually enjoy the taste (and it conveniently has caffeine too!)
    Five things:
    snooze button, off button, glasses, tv remote, water glass

  2. Awesome post and totally hit home with my personal journey right now.
    My amazing husband died 5 months ago after a sudden & brief battle with cancer. My ‘normal’ immediately disappeared and forced me to look at every aspect of my life from a new view.
    I too recently started thinking about why did we choose this too big house? Why did we buy these cars? Why do we have so much junk that I now have to sort through?
    The bottom line is that I’m now scrutinizing all spending.
    I found this blog a month ago after seriously considering the notion that I don’t want to work until I’m 65. Life is too short and there’s no guarantee we’ll get there. In addition to retiring early, I am also considering a career change. I currently have a well paying job, but I now want a job that I love or at least is more socially responsible, rather than staying where I am because it’s ‘a good job’. (Again – life is too short. What am I going to do with mine?)
    This creates a conflict. (In order to retire early, one usually doesn’t switch to a possibly lower paying job.)

    Anyway, I no longer know what normal is and so am creating a new normal for myself based on a new appreciation of what really is important in life.

    My five:
    Alarm, slippers, dog, lightswitch, faucet.

  3. Oh yeah.
    And I stopped my 3+ a day coffee (with cream & sugar) habit 9 months ago too. Green tea & honey now.

  4. My morning coffee is probably the only few remaining luxury things that I have right now (it’s not the Tim Horton kind). It keep me going…for just a few more years.

  5. I’m a bit older (54) so I already understand the junk thing. I really believe people are tired of all the shopping. We seem to have had a 25 year run of “consumerism” and its worn itself out.
    You buy something now and bring it home, where do you put it? After awhile, it really becomes obvious we have too much junk.
    I grew up in a house with 8 kids, a grandmother and 2 parents. We had a 1000 sq ft house, no garage, no shed, and no room for junk.
    My five items, my dog, the toilet, the paper, coffee stuff and then the light switch as I settled into a chair to read the paper.

  6. Good post. I tend to be fairly thoughtful with most purchases… But there are still some that I might not have made. Very thought provoking!

    My 5 things – iPhone, blankets, door, dog, coffee cup

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