« Let the squashification begin! | Main | Little happy thing »

May 27, 2009

One day, one day ... one day

Right around this time last year I made my big declaration to buy nothing nonessential for the rest of 2008. I had all different reasons for this ... I wanted to get a hold on my consumeritis, which had crept back in since paying off my gargantuan debt, and I wanted to have less stuff to worry about and clean and I wanted to have more free time and more money. (You can read all about that here and here.)

A lot of folks were freaked out by my declaration ("What exactly counts as a non-essential?" "What about going to the movies?" "Why would you do something like that?") and some people were intrigued, and some folks placed bets on how long I'd last. But I didn't do it for other people (who lost those bets by the way!) I did it for myself and my own gratification. I revised my goal a few times, deciding books counted as essentials since I prefer to buy books and support the author, and gifts for others were definitely essentials. As for the real non-essential stuff, I had a few detours. I bought a bathing suit in December for my vacation, and I bought three sweaters and two pair of boots. That was the sum total of my non-essential spending from May to January, which isn't too bad in my opinion.

Of course somewhere around late September 2008, the markets went ass over teakettle and by the end of last fall a lot of folks started their own version of no-spend, either out of fear or necessity or dire circumstances. I felt really bad for the people who were thrust into budgeting that way, Lord knows I have been there and it's one thing to make a voluntary decision to dial down the spending -- it's another matter altogether to do it because there won't be food on the table if you don't. There's a stress that goes along with it, knowing you're rubbing two pennies together hoping to get a nickel. Having been at the bottom of that very dark hole myself, I felt it for others.

The one good thing I hope comes from all this is that people get the chance to see how truly little of their self-worth is wrapped up in purses or shoes or cars or even houses. At least that's what slowly changed for me the past four or five years. It's the reason I didn't care about not buying new, shiny stuff during my recent no-shop. For so long in my late 20s and early 30s I tried hard to keep up this appearance of someone who was "doing well" (whatever that means!) and all of it was a lie: the perfect condo, the perfect marriage, the perfect life. It was a sham. It wasn't delightful to move out alone and look at all my stuff, which I could no longer afford to house, and look at my bills that I had accumulated from all that junk. I was scared, and worried, and alone, and broke. But eventually (and out of necessity) it became very clear how little I needed to be happy. Healthy cats, a little yarn, a roof over my head, some Kettle Bakes, a bottle of two-buck-chuck.

Sure I like nice things, pretty things, tasty things. I love books and cute T-shirts and shoes, oh the shoes. And I'll forgo all that for a plane ticket to anywhere. But I think it's a balance, liking things just because, and not pretending they give you superpowers, or make you better, or nicer or funnier. Or happier. There's this story about a family who gets so excited buying a TV, and they think it's the greatest thing ever. Once they have a TV they'll be happy! And they are for a while, they watch the TV and dust it, and put it in a prime spot in the living room. But before long they're not happy with their TV because it's just a small television set and they want a bigger set, so they decide to buy one and think, "This is what will make us happy. We just needed a bigger TV set." And it does make them happy! Until they see how great those flat-screen plasma TVs look, and before long they are unhappy with their current big old TV set and need the newer, better, bigger flat-screen model. And then, then, they're really be happy this time.

I think about that story constantly. Even though I've found some peace and balance in my relationship with buying stuff, I'm still partially living my life on layaway. Dreams in storage. It's the idea that when I weigh X amount, or when I have X amount of money in the bank, or when I have a bestseller, or I figure out where I want to move, when I can buy a house, when I know more... then, then I'll really start living. Then I'll be happy.

It's all wrapped up, isn't it? I used to buy things because shopping was an activity and an idea that maybe this thing, this object, these jeans will make me happy, satisfied, confident, complete. And even though I finally figured out I couldn't purchase my happiness and contentment in a store I still even to this day put my happiness on a pinpoint -- sometime in the future, when I do this or know that or achieve this, I will be happy.

That's the real work for me. Finding contentment today, in the place where I am right now. Putting away the credit cards and budgeting and living within my means was a good step, no doubt about it, but I'm still walking through each day with one foot in the future, always waiting to live until I get there. And there never comes. I don't even know where there is! I think I've been hoping I'd recognize it when I find it.

It's in my nature to be restless and dreamy, always thinking of the future, imagining myself in a different life down to the shoes I'm wearing in that imaginary future. I think it's why I used to move around so much, always looking for something new. These days I have to resist the urge to make things happen just so I feel I'm closer to there. What I really need to do is be here, really BE here. That's where I am after all.

It sure is hard to break that life-on-layaway habit.

Posted by laurie at May 27, 2009 9:01 AM