For my recent birthday, a dear friend sent me an Amazon gift card. My teenage daughter saw it and said, “Ooh, lucky you! What do you want?”
For the first time in my life I could honestly say, “I can’t think of anything that I want.”
Ok, I know that’s a weird response, but for a large part of my life I was a “buyer.” Frugal—yes, but also very covetous. As a teenager, I saved up for months for a name-brand denim jacket because I was sure “looking right” would bring me status and approval. It didn’t.
As a young married, I scoured decorating magazines and watched HGTV for hours (back when it was still interesting) plotting how to decorate my own humble abode. Having a house that “looked right” would bring me happiness and contentment. Nope, didn’t happen.
Even now I still struggle with covetousness. Last week I passed by a gorgeous house for sale and thought, “I want that!” But I don’t need something that large, I can’t afford it, and I already know it won’t bring me additional happiness.
Because buying and owning things don’t make life better. Things just smother life.
About ten years ago, after some financial setbacks, our family of ten was renting a small place in a town I don’t care to remember. It was there that I realized something: I wasn’t any more, or less, happy there than I’d been when I had a nicer house and better stuff.
My happiness came from being focused on the people around me, not the stuff around me. I was very worried about my kids, having moved them from one place to another, and yet another in a short amount of time. We didn’t discuss what we’d lost but what we still had, and fortunately for us our kids’ wants were few and easily meet with a trip to the dollar store. (Since we’d quit watching TV a long time ago, our growing kids didn’t know what was trendy and what they “should” want.)
More recently I’ve learned about minimalist movements and have written here and here and here about my own attempts at eliminating junk. Before our move from Utah to Maine, I took countless trips to the dump and donation center, worried that all we owned wouldn’t fit in the largest rental truck. I’m happy to report that I’ve missed NONE of the stuff we threw/gave away, and that our 26-foot moving truck even had some room to spare. Not bad for a family of nine and all their possessions.
I’ve still got a long way to go in minimalism, though. Because this rental house has no closets, my bedroom has four large boxes of comforters, sheets, and pillows–more than we really need. Half of the boxes we packed for the move we haven’t touched yet, but are sitting in the garage waiting for the next move to a more permanent house. Some of those boxes may never be unpacked but tossed instead, and I’d be fine with that. I have dreams of moving into a tiny home when we retire in twenty years, but right now I’m needing the space of about eight tiny homes for what I still own.
But in my old age (sliding to 50, so I’m growing reflective in my maturity and sniffing haughtily as I do so) I’m realizing that my happiness is linked to only a few things:
- my family, healthy and progressing;
- my ability to write;
- places to walk;
- a peaceful place to live;
- time to study and worship; and
- enough clothes for a week.
(About those clothes: I’ve culled my wardrobe to have changes of clothes for one week, two batches for summer and winter. My uber-minimalist teenage son, who can fit all his possessions into two large bins, has taught me that I don’t need more than eight t-shirts and five pairs of jeans. But my sweaters . . . that’s still a work in progress. And I do still have a denim jacket, one that I inherited from a friend some years ago—it’s the one I’m wearing in my author photos.) ==>
My list above is short and peaceful. Quite the contrast to the lists of what I wanted when I was younger; those spanned 30 or 40 items. Seasonal duvet covers, dining room hutches, wall-hangings, couches, kitchen canisters, a bench for the front porch, skirts, jackets, sweaters, collectibles. (Oh, the dreaded collectibles! They’re all gone, now.)
But this year for my birthday, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted, because I already have all I want!
(My husband and kids did buy me a boxed book set—the second Percy Jackson series—which I’m sharing with my 10-year-old because she shared with me her boxed set of the first Percy Jackson series. Yes, I’m very mature for sliding toward 50 and I’m still sniffing haughtily about it.)
I have to admit there was something I wanted this year: a family portrait. For one weekend, the first time in over four years, our entire family was together, and I paid money (and I hate spending money) for a photographer to prove that. Here’s the wonderful result:
This is all I need: my family, healthy and happy. (With adequate clothes–note the prevalence of t-shirts and jeans.) But since I can’t live with all of them anymore, this reminder that they are still around, and still mine, has to be enough.
All I need for this portrait a frame. And maybe if I had a gift card to buy one . . .
Hey, Paula–guess what you bought me for my birthday!
“The world is all about getting more, building higher, and looking better. The world believes ‘enough’ is defined by what they have, plus a little more. So they’re never satisfied. Their hearts are small and weak.” Gleace sat back and looked at his guests sadly. “And that’s why the world is dying.”
Perrin sighed. “I once told Shem I thought the most dangerous sentences began with the words, ‘I deserve . . .’”
“Precisely right. The world will always believe it deserves more.”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Forest at the Edge series