Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Need Verses Want

I've never kept us with the Joneses.
It's been a long time since I wanted to.
I've always hated the thought on principle. It reeks to me of being manipulated by commercialism, of being a lemming. I feel like I know myself and know what I like. I don't need society telling me what to want.

I am aware of culture, though. It's not that I block out trends. I just choose not to follow them blindly. Sometimes I like what is offered up and will adapt it to my own life, but generally I like to keep things more universal.

With the possible exception of glitter, my kryptonite. I so love a tasteful glitter. But I digress.

Not "keeping up" also does not imply a lack of material desire. For me, it means not being a slave to the desires of others.

I love to read about our human tendencies on this matter, swaying towards nonfiction works that examine these things through the lenses of history, psychology and business. When I get some time to myself, you can usually find me at the library usually pouring over the latest edition of "Inc" or flipping through a Malcolm Gladwell book.

One amazing benefit of the internet is that you can reach out to groups with who share some counter-culture views. Heck, just having the internet gives a platform to expanded media to cover these trends in the first place. One such group for me is with the "tiny house movement" and the idea of going off-grid and being more sustainable. I'm still comfortable in my 1,500 square foot house and need to seriously downsize, but it's a process. It's been great following people who are on this journey and sharing our dreams at workshops and in forums. Again, it's not a trend that I follow blindly (I spoke about this a lot at the workshop I took last year), but I want to take elements from it and make it work for my family. I am internalizing it and making it my own.

I still struggle with being incensed at the excess expressed in in flashy cars, handbags, jewelry. I love good design and a quality-made items and I can see the value of investing in something of quality, verses my old "buy it cheap" mentality. But I hate the celebrity mentality and the insipid magazines and websites that cater to it. Logo mentality disgusts me and what it can all too often represent, which is a pretentious and often unconscionable person with values counter to mine slapping a logo on an ugly piece that was made in substandard conditions in a third-world factory and then charging obscene amounts of money for the junk and having a lemming following doing anything to carry the junk. My objections are to what the object represents, which is thoughtlessness and exploitation.

But a sanctimonious tangent is not my intention here, and part of maturing into mindfulness is also accepting the paths of others. Did I mention it's a process? And for me and for authentic growth in this area, it will take time. At the same time, it's okay to have values, to stand up for what matters. It's a balance.

That is not to say that I don't see the fun of money. I loved having it to finance experiences. Standing under the Eiffel Tower at midnight. Having an amazing meal. Purchasing awesome gifts for my family, or even small, thoughtful ones for friends. Being able to help someone out. And I can certainly see the benefits of having enough money to buy your way into a safer neighborhood, a better school. I can still do good with limited resources, but yes, money makes life easier.

We are in an exceptionally tight spot financially. It's been hard to wrestle with, since I was always so proud of my responsible finances.
We are not austere, but have certainly had a long run of generic beans and rice and my dependence on credit card debt is remarkably uncomfortable for me since I used to be part of the Ramsey camp and didn't even have cards.

I remember my first apartment with my hubby. We were 20 and I was in college. It was an old building in a beat-up part of a river town, but it's what we could afford. His old car always broke down and he was working as a waiter because he couldn't afford college yet. We had sheets for curtains and ate a lot ramen. We couldn't afford a microwave and it was a big deal when we purchased a toaster oven. We were always just a few dollars away from the breaking point. I remember a friend was having a baby and her family was hosting a baby shower. I was responsible for bringing some element for it, and I carefully purchased it in advance. When I got to the party, it was sprung on me that I was also expected to pay for part of the cake. It seems like a small thing now, but I wrote that $35 check and then felt sick the rest of the party as I wondered how I was going to get the money in my account that would make sure that check didn't bounce. That was the first time that I sold some of my jewelry to make ends meet.

There is want. But I know that this time is precious and beautiful.

Our blessings are plentiful. My children have less than many here, but so, so much more than so many who suffer. They are safe, healthy, comfortable and have books, toys, and entertainment. We have to be creative sometimes, and I have to say no to a lot of extras, but in the end I believe it will help build character and help keep them from being spoiled. But they are clean, well-dressed, and well-fed most of the time (at least in public. Most of the time, lol.) Most importantly, they are loved and protected and they are our focus. They are seen and known and cherished, which is an element that has absolutely nothing to do with money.

And guess what? Having a stellar credit score is not nearly as rewarding as just living life. I'm on the cusp of working through some of these issues, but there is a definitive shift in me. I'll still trying to define it and figure out what it all means, and by the time I do, I will likely shift again. I write this with a smile on my face. For me, there is peace in accepting the flowing variable to her I am/was/always becoming.

Did I already write about the kindness of strangers a few weeks ago? Of a man in the grocery who gave me baby food coupons and a neighbor who gave me outgrown clothes from her baby? Both acts were small to the givers, but a huge emotional boost on the eve of my surgery that set us back thousands of dollars. The priceless aspects of these acts- reminding of good, reminding me of the angels acting in my life- was manna for my soul and I stop to keep nibbling on it, rolling the flavor of it over and over.

It's funny. I started this post thinking that I would compare a few recent needs and wants, but as usual, this is more my free-flow journal where I try to put a few parameters on my thoughts. For me, this blog is about the journey through my mind and there are no absolute stopping points. No points to be made, no definitive stands. Just reflections on the living while in the midst of it, typing while feeding bananas and cheerios to my baby.

And soon I'll gratefully slip on my beat up gym shoes and take a walk with my girl and be exquisitely thankful for all of it.


  1. You are having an experience that so many in past generations have had. I remember my mom clipping coupons, shopping carefully and managing to feed our entire family from one can of tuna - she was inventive and resourceful, much like you. I feel kind of sorry for the people who DON'T get to experience this necessary frugality because they never understand that they CAN do without. That knowledge is what stands between the people who make it and those who don't when times are bad. I've been there. You're there now. I hope my son goes there as well because there is nothing more precious than knowing that no matter what happens, you can take care of yourself and yours. Proud of you! And wishing you more plentiful times ahead.

  2. Yes, I think often of my grandparents- both sets, actually, who were either extremely frugal or dirt poor. There are plentiful lessons from both. And yes, I do like embracing my will to survive and thrive.