Ain’t Nothin’ But a Thing

Stuff…stuff and nonsense!  There sure is a lot of it in the world, and seemingly more everyday.  For every person on this planet, there is a list of things they own/want/need/love/wish for/dream of.   Some people have so much, there is no room to walk in their homes.  They even have their own television show: “Hoarders”.  Yet, some people have so very very little.  What is interesting is that people who have lots are not always happy, and people who have less can be perfectly satisfied with their lives.  This must mean something.

When my children were in high school, they participated in a program called Bridges to Community.  They traveled to Nicaragua to live among the people and help them build simple block homes.  For these residents, it was to be the first roof over their heads.  My kids worked alongside them for a week, building, cooking, playing, eating, sleeping, and generally living their lives. What touched my children deeply was the evidence that these people had happy and contented lives, in spite of the fact that the crayons and soccer balls brought by the program were the first material items they had really seen or had access to.  There was little if any electricity, and therefore little if any news of the outside world. Maybe this made it easier for them to feel fine about their lives- they weren’t constantly pounded with information about the wealth out there that others had.

Certain world cultures and certain regions of the United States pride themselves on their simple lives.  Their homes are just the right size for their families, and kids share bedrooms; they use limited motorized transportation, relying on public means or bicycles or feet; they purchase their clothing second-hand or at low-budget box stores; they camp out or visit family for vacations; they eat at home three meals a day, seven days a week;  they may or may not own a television.  These people know how to budget and stretch a dollar.  They get their money’s worth.   And it’s not even always because they have to; they may have the money.  It’s their values, it’s what is important to them.  A home-cooked meal around the family table beats a $12 hamburger every time.  Some of these people even think the best gift you can give someone is your time and attention.  Amazing.

On the other hand, there are people who live beyond their means. They are making interesting choices, in my opinion.  They purchase items for which they have no way to pay.  I’m not sure how this mindset works…”I’ll pay it off a little at a time with an interest rate that will lead to a 100% increase in the actual price.”  “I’ll enjoy it now and figure it out later.”  “I really really really want it, and I don’t care.”  “I could always file for bankruptcy protection if I overdo it.”  Now there’s a values set.  I truly just don’t get it. Someone please ‘splain it to me.  If it’s a luxury that you can’t afford, then wait, work towards it and pay for it in cash.  Is it instant gratification or impulsivity or lack of foresight?  I’m still trying to figure this one out.  I have no sympathy for this group whatsoever, unless someone proves to me that this is a sickness and therefore uncontrollable.  In that case, get therapy, for crying out loud.

It’s truly entertaining to think about the rationale behind our choices when we make them.  In Westchester County, New York, a region with a wide range of economic levels, one of the most common in-your-face items is your car.  Petite women with manicures and make-up and one child driving oversized SUV’s; enormously overweight older men stuffed into sporty convertibles; sixteen-year-olds in Porsches and BMW’s;  working Joes in old beaters;  large families in small cars; the daily auto-parade is pretty amazing. Sometimes it’s based on necessity, but sometimes it’s obviously just for show.  We also have “mc-mansions” in our area that sprang up like weeds before the recent recession hit- giant houses with more restrooms than residents.  Around here, people are really big on toys.  I’m talking about big boy and girl toys:  large screen televisions, motorcycles, boats, skis and snowboards, gaming systems, tablets and e-book readers.  Many children in elementary school sport the latest trends- baby Uggs or Merrells or North Face jackets are commonplace.  Our lost-and-found boxes house thousands of dollars’ worth of brand name, high-end jackets.  Let me let you in on a little secret: kids don’t take care of their stuff, no matter how much it cost.  Families who struggle to make ends meet may have the latest electronics.  Around here, things matter.

You can’t take it with you when you go.  That’s one popular bumper sticker, and it refutes another: “The one with the most toys wins.”  I’m going the middle ground.  I like toys a lot.  As long as our basic needs are met, and the money is come by through honest hard work, then I feel fine being a bit frivolous with it.  After all, life is for living.  You get where you are by birth luck, fortune, and hard work.  It’s yours, so make your choices where you can as intelligently as you can, and then enjoy them.

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