Essay #001

The "Method"

This is a free exercise in knowing one's self. It is not hard math, and the rules are not laid out in stone. 

The goal is to find out what really matters to you, in a more structured way.

First, free yourself from the expectations of others, and set aside a solid afternoon. Put a nice soundtrack too, just because so. 

Open a plain Excel spreadsheet. You are going to write two lists in this file, on two separate columns with items numbered. 

Number the item lines 1 to 15.

Write on top a title for the list on the left: "Tangible Things". On the right, write "Intangible Things".

Now, list the top fifteen things that come to your mind, that you cannot possibly live without

These things can be tangible [ = cost money] or not, fifteen for each column. Tangible goes on the left, intangible on the right list.

Start with basic stuff; we all think of air and water, but we might forget about electricity.

Examples of intangible things can include: "Respect of others", "Positive self-esteem", "Recognition at work", "Personal enlightement", "Positive relationship with God", "Friendship", Familiar Love", "Romantic Love". 

Sometimes we run into trouble determining if we can't really live without something. 

A rule of thumb is to ask yourself if the burden of not having that thing makes life too unpleasant, or even unbearable. 

If that is the case, write it down. 

If not, write it only if you've got space left on those fifteen items.

Should you be specific on the items? 

I mean you can write "Safety" or you can write three separate things that includes "Living in a safe neighborhood", "Bodyguards", "House Alarms". Well, don't go specific just yet.

Now start searching for the price of those things, how much they cost to you. Agree that the costs will be say, per month, and make the appropriate math.

It takes time to get accurate values. Give yourself a break and write round values and best guesses. You can refine it in the end.

Write down the prices next to each item, in a "Cost per Month" column next to "Tangible Items".

If you find that you wrote something that lumps a lot of things, such as the Safety example above, skip it in the price search. 

From the (few) things you found out that cost absolutely nothing, do note them on the right.

Be cautious here, can you honestly say that this thing costs you absolutely nothing? "Respect of others" may cost you an iPHONE 13, after all. It really depends on the person and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

[OFF-COMMENT] Have you ever wondered why this list turns out to be so short?

You can delete an item on either list at any time, and make editions. No pressure here, you are not filling a work report. It is just you and the Excel, pal. 

Some people may find it distracting to be adding items all the time rather than following a circular pipeline, however.   

Now, break down the lumped items. You can go up to 30 items on the Tangible List and 20 on the Intangible List now.

Don't start splitting hairs here. 

This is actually an open issue in any list-making process, and the reason why vendors don't all speak the same language, so don't give yourself a hard time if you find it difficult. Try to be consistent in the way that either all your items are very specific, or neither of them are.

If you can't seem to fill all the 30 items, don't force them out of your head. Browse the web for a while, ask Google what people do with the their money, make some ground coffee. And if you really don't want to add it anymore, call it done. 

Price search again, update prices for the individual items that were lumped before. Much easier now. 

Now you are going to re-order the list for as long as you feel necessary. Maybe now you are certain that some things are more important to you then others.

It is much clearer with the values right in front of you.

When you are done, sum all the values in the Tangible list. This is where Excel comes in handy.

Well, what did you find out? 

Set aside the issues of whether it fits your budget for a later time. Focus now on filling the two lists.

Still not satisfied, need more space? Write another ten in Tangible List and five on Intangible List. Your list should be now at a maximum of 40/25. 

Same price search, same noting prices, same re-ordering and summing up in the end. 

Now, copy the Tangible List somewhere and scratch the bottom five things in the copied list, without thinking much about it.

Do you feel as if you didn't lose much? Care to shrink the list of the things you really can't live without?

You need to know now, as you gain experience with the exercise is if 35/25 items really represent all the things you need.

Some people may need lots of stuff, others focus more on the essentials. I cannot guess these numbers for you, nor would I claim to know them.

You need to search your soul and fell that too much is being left out. 

What this list says, is it a decent life? That sailboat there, is that really you?

Keep this process for a while, always weighting if the things on the list are really important to you and worth the money they ask for. 

Add, search, reorder, scratch, sum. 


To get it pro, save it for a couple days later. Continue this on another afternoon, and another, until you feel pleased with the work. 

Untill you hear youself say "I'm not touching that again."

Every year or so, re-do this Method

Don't throw the files away, they are much too valuable for that. Mark the date when you concluded a list, it will provide you an insight to to the person you were back then. 

As an advice:

If your final sum did not fit your current budget, do not despair. It probably happens with most people that try this. It happened to me as well.  

You cannot work towards a financial goal, without knowing exactly where you want to go. 

It is like starting a car trip without knowing your final destination. Though fun at times, it is hardly something you would do every day.

But knowing where you want to be in the next 10 or 20 years enables you to come up with a plan that might, might get you there.

The Intangible Things list is far more important, in my opinion, than the Tangible one. 

Because if you know what guides you, and what drives you, you are better off than 99,99% of the people who roam life aimlessly without any sort of Personal Enlightenment. You will start to wonder if you can bend your all-mighty principles on occasion, and what are those you will never yield. These decisions have far greater implications to someone's life than if you will buy a Volvo or a Toyota car. They will stick to you, and they define, in essence, who you are.  

An that is it, I hope you had a good time. Cheers, 

Diego Alves.


[1] Can I write "Money" as a Tangible item on my list?

This one is tricky. For most people money is used as a means to an end. You save money to pay rent, to buy a car, to buy a house. What is important to you in these cases are the things and services your purchase with money, and these should be your Tangible items. But there are people who derive such satisfaction from saving money that what is important to them is actually having money, not spending it. In these case you should put money as a Tangible Thing, since it is important to you, Scrooge McDuck [pardon me the joke]. You should know reasonably well how much money willl make you absolutely happy to fill the Cost column. 

BANNER IMAGE CREDITS: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) 

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