The Case for Chucking It All

A thought experiment about a radical alternative to the conventional life.

Posted Nov 30, 2019

NeedPix, Public Domain
Source: NeedPix, Public Domain

A client of mine, I’ll call her Megan, grew up in a middle-class home, and saw all the unhappiness in the middle class, people feeling ever burdened with and stressed by the responsibilities that can lead to ethical slip-ups and relationship strain.

So, after graduating from high school, Megan left home and became a hobo, hopping on and living on and around long-distance trains. Her life is filled with drugs, sex, and scrounging for food. She bathes just a couple times a month. Yet she insists she’s happier than if she played life’s standard game. And she's walking the talk—She’s been living the hobo life for eight years.

I shop at Trader Joe’s, and a woman, I'll call her Willow, wanders in and outside the store simply being nice — talking to customers she remembers, asking about them, smiling, all manner of kindnesses. For example, she hangs out with my doggie while I’m in the store.

One day, I asked her about her life. She said she had a hard life when she was dependent on others. But now, she’s off the grid and lives on the kindness of strangers repaying her with a buck or two for her kindnesses, and she says she’s happier. She’s been doing it for three years.  

In contrast, I have a client who is the Director of Economic Development for a major county, and when she spoke of how overwhelming her job and life is, I mentioned the aforementioned two women. She said, in all seriousness, that the idea is tempting, very tempting.

While I look askance at hobos’ lack of contribution to society, a case can be made for it, especially if the person’s work capabilities are fungible; that is, if other people could do the job pretty much as well. I think that’s the case with both Megan and Willow.

Sure, having no work history nor having saved much, if and when they tire of the hobo lifestyle, they’ll probably be dependent on the taxpayer for housing, health care, drug treatment, and so on. But criticism of that should be weighed against the pleasure they get from getting to live as they wish, with, to date, a minimal imposition on others and, in Willow’s case, bringing a bit of pleasure to everyone she meets. I can't say that for all the high-level professionals I know.

As a thought experiment, ask yourself, “How would my life be better and worse if I chucked it all—the mainstream job, the house, the trappings, the marriage—in favor of an ultra-simple existence?" For you, what would that existence look like? Mine would be finding a room to stay in, eating off a hot plate (eating healthy, easy, cheap stuff, like oatmeal, tuna sandwiches, fruit, and veggies, in a food desert or not), and covering my minimal expenses by selling xeroxed copies of my writings on the street and on the Net and by playing my portable keyboard for donations in front of a mass transit terminal.

Compare your chuck-it-all vision against your current life. What do you see as its benefits and liabilities? Net, in which would you likely be happier? More contributory? That probably won’t make you want to chuck it all, but is there at least a wisp of something from the chuck-it-all lifestyle that you’d like to incorporate into your life—for example, an odd vacation?

I read this aloud on YouTube.