There’s a scene in the first Jack Reacher movie (2012) where Reacher takes off his shirt and begins to wash it by hand in the sink of a motel room. The lawyer he works with (played by Rosamund Pike) is sitting on the bed while he does this, and asks him, “I'm sorry, could you please put a shirt on?”
To which he responds, with one of my favorite lines ever,
“This is my shirt.”
Jack Reacher—the fictional creation of Lee Child portrayed in two movies by Tom Cruise—has one shirt. Not two. Not ten. Just one. He’s a true minimalist, owning no more than what he needs to.
In another scene of the first Reacher film, he walks into Goodwill to buy a new outfit. As he exits the store, he has his old clothes in a grocery bag and throws them into the Goodwill donation container. One thing in, one thing out. He has no backpack, no other bag, and nothing to his name.
Jack Reacher embodies the idea of having less and living more. He doesn’t care about wearing expensive clothing or living a luxurious life, but he also lives way more than you and I do. That's because he's not just a minimalist, he’s free. Free from debt, stress, indignity, subordination, time constraints...all of the above.
For example, throughout all of the heroic scenes in the movie, I don’t remember Reacher running a single step. He goes at his pace because being in a hurry comes from a lack of control. Pay attention to turbulent, stressed out people in your life, and you'll discover how "in a rush" they always seem to be. Nothing seems to be in their control.
Jack Reacher is the epitome of freedom earned through minimalism. He doesn’t owe anybody anything because he doesn’t have anything to owe. He's homeless, so an overnight stint in jail is a hotel room. He has one shirt and I don't remember seeing a backpack anywhere, so he travels as he wishes. As Bob Dylan says, "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose."
None of this is to say you should give up everything to go live the Jack Reacher lifestyle. In fact, please don’t. One, I'm not sure how you'd earn the money to do it, but two that would probably cause problems for the rest of us, considering he's a bit violent and is known to slam people's heads into desks, among other violent tendencies.
Reacher does teach us a lesson, though: Minimalism is more than having less. A new car will change how you get to work every morning, but it won't give you more freedom. (Unless you didn't have a car in the first place.) A new outfit will change the way you look, but when you're two hours into the day and forgot what you wore, what difference does it make? None of these material endeavors change who you are. Minimalism isn't getting rid of all your belongings, it's understanding how insignificant your belongings are. Usually, it follows that you get rid of things because you realize they don't matter.
Everything comes with a cost.
We want plenty of things, but often we don’t spend enough time thinking about what that means for our freedom and by extension, our happiness. I’m always searching for new clients to pay me for my work, but what good is that if I get a client who pays me little and tries to overwork me? I want (and love) my dog, but owning a pet means I have to feed her, walk her, and take care of her. If I went overboard and got four dogs, it might not be so fun anymore.
The second we stop thinking about what pleasure costs is the moment we start to lose our freedom. With many new clients come many new responsibilities. I might have to be on call nearly 24/7 to maintain a massive client roster. I’d be pulled in a million different directions, and my overall life direction will start to suffer because of it.
The reason Jack Reacher is able to do all of the questionable things he does is that he doesn’t work for anyone. Nobody has any power over him other than the driving force that tells him to solve crimes and bring justice.
As Reacher asks the lawyer later on in the movie,
“Look at the people. Now tell me which ones are free... Ask yourself, how many would do things the same way over again? And how many would live their lives like me?”
How much of your life do you own?