Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Buying the Best

There are two strategies for buying that I recommend. First, meet your needs. You need shoes, you can get them for under five bucks at the Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store. A second hand jacket, a junker car, any warm blanket, cheapest camping equipment, anything that will do in a pinch is great, but then what? You can gather so much trash into your life that instead of sustaining you, it simply adds to your burdens. When living in a car it isn't terribly easy to get at your stuff if there is too much of it. It all just gets jumbled, one thing on top of another. At some point, when your minimum needs are satisfied, you need to change your buying strategy. You need to shop for highest quality.

If you can buy two or three of something that will do, or one of something that is perfect, get the thing that is perfect. The advantages are many. The first I've mentioned, it's less to carry. Psychologically the benefits are huge, because you are sending a message to yourself that you are worth the best. It makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel good about yourself, that confidence is visible to others, and they will view you as strong, wealthy, and powerful. Your confident bearing is then reinforced by the stuff you are wearing. That public perception is golden. People only help people who do not need help. If you want good service, make an impression that says you can go somewhere else. Cops won't look at you as a potential problem. Thieves won't target you. Business owners will woo you. Feeling good is looking good, and you never feel better than when you have luxury in your life.

Payless shoes for ten bucks, or Pumas that literally love your feet for a hundred and nineteen? No contest. Buy the Pumas. You need them. They make you walk taller, happier, healthier. Sure, if you can't afford the Pumas this month, get by on the cheap stuff, but set some money aside, and when you can afford it, go large, go luxury, have fun.

I really can't overemphasize how important a survival element this is. I had a great business suit while I was homeless, and one day I was about to shower in a college locker room. I'd had a job interview that day, so I was dressed to impress, and I was taking my time, getting ready to undress for the shower, when an athlete, filled with exuberance jumped into the aisle I was in and gave a shout. Then he saw me. I am so sorry. Please, I'm so so sorry, he said. I explained he didn't need to worry, I was just another student, but my protest could not convince him. I am so so sorry.

He couldn't see past the suit.

When I was in school, people believed I was rich, though my income averaged about $600 per month. No one saw me as poor, not ever, and the thing is I didn't feel poor. I was rich in spirit, rich in time, and rich in luxuries. It really didn't matter that I didn't have a room to rent.


At 9:44 PM, Blogger Marke said...

He couldn't see past the suit? I love that story!

At 1:37 PM, Blogger megan said...

Dude - like many of your other posts, this is not only an essential attitude for someone who is trying to live well homeless. This is an attitude that can improve the lives of an impossible number of people.

This book you are writing is NOT just for the homeless. It's for everyone. I'm sure you already knew that, but I wanted to drop in my two cents of encouragement. What you're doing is WONDERFUL.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Gudlyf said...

I thought the people here would find this story interesting to say the least:

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

That's a sad story. Betrayal led to the discovery of the home, and the city is evicting him on general principles. He harmed no one being there, except the small drain of electricity, but these lives that slip into the niches must, it seems, never be allowed. Still, it was a good job while it lasted. A nice hack of civilization.

At 1:05 AM, Blogger Shyam said...

Y'know, although your advice is aimed at the homeless, I actually think it's good for everybody. This post, especially - well, it so agrees with my philosophy! :) Only buy the best you can afford, even if you have to wait for it. Could there be better advice for any customer?

PS. I gather from the other comments that your blog has been recommended for "Blog of the year", and I think it's SO deserving. This is the best blog I've ever read!

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to say, I'm enjoying your blog. And, to chime in with my experience of giving away all my possessions and hitchhiking from the Atlantic to the Pacific with only a backpack, a sleeping bag, a pillow, a set of ratty jeans, a pair of expensive jeans, a set of flattering t shirts, and a sharp looking pinstriped three piece suit.

There's something deliciously rebellious about walking down the nicest street in town, being the best dressed guy around, smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking Turkish coffee, eating sirloin and drinking Scotch and flirting with the ladies, then changing into my ratty clothes and going to sleep under the stars in the nearest forest.

Homeless means richer than the next guy if you do it right. I'm living on my severance pay, and can't do it forever, but it's an experience worth having. Image is all people see, and once they've formed that initial impression, you can even get away with telling stories about your homelessness and entertaining people who have never been there and could never conceive of doing it intentionally.

And if you meet someone nice, convince them to bring you to their place ;)


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