My wife Kathryn and I have very different concepts of comfort and wealth. We both enjoy eating out and traveling. Kathryn, Taurus that she is, is a little more fond of material goods than I am and is not ashamed to admit it. I, on the other hand, will gladly spend my cash on experiences–good books, music, theater, etc. Neither of us is going to spend $13K on a dog, like a certain peroxide hotel heiress recently did, but we both have our moments of self-indulgence.
I bring this up because we’ve been reading a book together called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. One quote really stuck with me from the introduction:
More is better; this is the motto that drives us. It’s the motto that leads us to trade in our car every three years, buy new clothes for every event and every season, get a bigger and better house every time we can afford it and upgrade everything from our stereo systems to our lawn mowers simply because some new automatic widget has been introduced.
I remember reading that and looking up at Kathryn. “Are we like that?” I asked. No, of course we’re not. Even if we had that kind of money, we would not be like that. it made me wonder why people do such things. Why do people have to fill their lives with things, and do those things make them happy?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an ascetic. I have a laptop ($200), a Kindle (a gift from a friend), and a nifty little MP3 ($40) player that has my music on it. I have high-speed Internet and a subscription to Netflix (streaming-only) that I enjoy the heck out of. I eat in nice restaurants as often as I possibly can.
What I don’t understand is, if I already have a television that works perfectly fine, why would I need a new one that only works slightly better? If I already have a car that gets me where I want to go, why should i go into debt to buy a newer one that…well, still gets me where I have to go?
When we obsess with filling each and every cranny of our lives with more and more stuff, what exactly are we trying to stuff? Time? Space? A feeling of emptiness?
I only binge eat when I’m miserable. Is that why people binge shop?
I find that the older I get, the less I need to be happy. Good company, good ideas, good food, good music, and the time and health to enjoy them all are pretty much what I crave after the basic physical needs are met.
Maybe if we stopped trying to fill up every empty space with stuff, and got around to the business of creating happiness for ourselves, we would find that we didn’t need all that crap to begin with.
(Oh, and just in case you wanted to know? Kathryn’s version of materialism includes a well-stocked kitchen to cook in (or the resources to eat out if we don’t feel like cooking), nice clothes to choose from, enough money to vacation at least once a year, a car that she doesn’t have to worry over, and a clean, safe neighborhood to live in.)
Yup, we’re practically channeling Paris Hilton, aren’t we?
Background music: Elysium, Honor Him, Now We Are Free by Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer