Recently I read a book I found in the public library titled, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too. I have my favourite sections in libraries and I find that when I stand in front of the shelves and scan, a certain book will almost jump off the shelf and into my hands. I always find the right title for the questions or issues I am wrestling with at the time. This book was no exception and I found great wisdom and pleasure as I devoured the chapters written by Tammy Strobel.
At this time of year I find it easy to start worrying and wondering whether or not my ‘gift giving performance’ will be adequate for those who receive. This book helped me to return to my ‘simplification’ roots and remember what is important to me and how I want to live, despite the contradictions I exhibit from time to time. So before I head off to my loom, sewing machine and knitting needles I felt it necessary to review just how it is I want to live and what message I want to send out to my family and friends about who I am.
Firstly, this book caused me to rethink what ‘normal’ is for me. I have rented several houses in the last five years and so first off, my idea of normal housing has changed drastically since leaving our large 2 story, 4 bedroom family home. I have been forced to ask myself several times, what do I need in a house and just how much am I willing to work to pay for it? It turns out that although I am not ready to simply to the level that the author of the book did, I am able to live in a house that is not brand new, that does not have several rooms and is not turned out with the latest in everything from trash compactors, temperature controlled multi-head showers and heated floors. I have discovered that a functional kitchen is a must, a clean bathroom with a shower(no tub necessary), a large open space to relax, create and socialize and a cozy bedroom with my comfy bed and my favourite pillow and duvet will suffice. Those are my needs but of course I still have wants. Just how much I am willing to work to pay for those wants is not clear to me yet. All I know is that for the most part the luxury of time is outweighing the drive for me to jump on the full-time, 40+ hour work week in order to service unnecessary debt at this time.
Having said that, the next thing that I I need to address is debt. It is so easy and tempting in today’s instant gratification society to join in with purchasing on credit. I don’t just mean purchasing the latest fashions, housewares and furniture either. I used credit to purchase a Master degree. The time seemed right for me to pursue another level of education, to further my career and satisfy my need to achieve. Although I do not regret earning the degree I can say I really am not enjoying servicing and trying to pay off the debt accrued in order to achieve my goal. Perhaps if I had planned and saved for this I would feel less pressure and more satisfaction?
I also need to decide what kind of debt I am willing to take on in order to purchase a home soon. We have come to a point where we feel we are wasting our money paying rent for someone else to pay off their home but at the same time, all the other costs that go with owning a house will surely add to the pressure and stress I feel to work more and play less. A possible solution might be to take the time to focus and change my attitude about going to work. I enjoy my work and so perhaps when I leave the house everyday to go to work I could take the time to be grateful for the fact that I have had the privilege of higher education and the opportunity to find satisfying work because of that.
As I enjoy my time at home right now as opposed to going out to work, another thing this book caused me to think about is the many purchases made in order to go to work. Purchases such as a car, gas, insurance, a varied wardrobe for each season, convenience items purchased on impulse because I was tired, and all the little trinkets and bells and whistles I buy because I see that someone else has them at work and thinkI need them too. Add to that the purchases made to cover up my feelings of loneliness, inadequacy or exhaustion and I soon notice that going to work has many costs.
Another concept this book discussed was the conflict we struggle with concerning money and experience. I have asked myself several times what I would choose if I were given the opportunity to earn more money verses time to nurture relationships and experience new things. There is no doubt in my mind that I would choose experience and relationships every time, so why is it that I still fall into the trap of fretting about not having enough money to buy things that I don’t need but might want? Perhaps my resolve is not that strong yet and the stress of debt and lack of time have to get even more real. I hope not.
This brings me back to my gift giving at Christmas. I can honestly say that I have not been in one store Christmas shopping and have not purchased any ‘Christmas items’ except for two rolls of wrapping paper,which turned out to be cellophane and left me wondering why I didn’t use the roll of craft paper I have and dress it up with yarn, stamps and ribbons I have as well? My only explanation is ‘the consumerism bug’ must have caught me. I still must have a little of the Christmas flu, because today, as I am wanting to fret that my homemade gifts will not satisfy the wants of those I am giving to, I need to ask myself a few questions.
Do I want to go in debt to have the temporary rush of joining the hustle and bustle in the stores in order to purchase things people do not really need, or do I want to spend my time making things and enjoying the creative experience and looking forward to the satisfaction and joy I and others may experience because I chose not to fall into the consumerist mentality of the holiday? Clearly, the latter.
Do I want to worry that my friends and family will think less of me because I chose not to spend money I didn’t have, in order to measure up to the societal norms or, do I want to model for them an example of a person who has the courage of their convictions and is able to live them out and feel secure about that? Again, I would want the latter to be true of me.
When I ask myself, what experience or relationship or community building experience could be worth more than the thrill of a purchase and the opportunity to give a gift I don’t have the money for, here is what I think. Spending the evenings knitting by the fire and chatting with my partner about where we want to hike and how we want to live or what we want to make for dinner the next night is worth far more than the expensive sweater I would like to buy for him for Christmas. Or when I imagine how much fun it will be to bake up my children’s favourite treats and wrap them up for them to have all to themselves I forget about going online and purchasing a great coat or pair of boots they might have said they would like. When I think of all the stress I feel to buy gifts that people want that cost far too much money it causes me to pause and filter out all the noise in order to hear what I really want to do at Christmas.
I want to spend time building up the relationships in my family. I want to accept others for who they are and help them complete their journey. I want to choose to spend time with my Mom and Dad, my partner, my children, my extended family and friends and get to know them and understand them better. Most of all, I want to be true to myself and feel good about the way I choose to live, whether it is ‘normal’ or not. I want to rest in the knowledge that I am constantly growing to be the person I am meant to be and honouring others to do the same. Finally, I want to always put time and experience before material wealth and know that those around me understand just how special and precious they are to me.