You ever heard the saying, “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without?” This was a mindset that was common in people who lived through events like the Great Depression, but it often gets lost in our modern consumerist culture. Our desire to be good providers, to be successful, to make an impact, can become tied to the idea of having “things.” This can lead to unhappiness because with that frame of mind, it’s impossible to keep up with the sheer amount of things the world tells us we need to be happy.
When I was remodeling my basement a year ago, I had to have the latest and greatest Smart TV. And it had to be large. I wanted to transform part of the basement into an entertainment room so without this new Smart TV, it just wouldn’t be right. It’s funny though: a year after I completed the basement entertainment room (equipped with my large Smart TV, of course) I’ve found I’m rarely there. After all that time and money I spent to get the perfect TV for my perfect entertainment room, I hardly ever use it. As I get older and wiser, I am finding that it is very freeing to keep things simple. And you know what? Less can actually be better. Keeping things simple can be a real positive boost for your relationships. Here’s why…
Need vs. Want
It is important when considering the things you think you have to have, to first take a step back (literally if this would help) and ask yourself why you want them. Many of us want to renovate our homes, for example, “so we can entertain.” (that was me.) But as long as our house is clean and our hearts are welcoming, shouldn’t we be able to have a good time with our friends and family without going to all that trouble and expense? (My wife is elbowing me as I write this sentence – she is much better at this than I am.) So many of the things we’re chasing are wants more than needs. What most of us really need to do is change our frame of mind.
Think of the Kids
I can hear you already. “But I’m doing it for the kids!” you say. “We don’t want our kids to be at a disadvantage because they don’t have as nice of clothes as the other kids. We want them to have every advantage so they can realize their physical and academic potential.” But the truth of the matter is, American kids are typically overscheduled, and they have more stuff than they need. When we model a life spent chasing things instead of prioritizing time with people, we may be consigning them to a life of unhappiness– of feeling inadequate, and pursuing goals that ultimately leave them empty. We can do better than that for them, can’t we?
Have you ever taken a good look at one of those TV shows that are supposed to represent an “average” American home? Even when they’re cluttered and homey, they’re still extremely upscale houses, with beautiful woodwork, hardwood floors, and freshly renovated kitchens. We don’t always consciously think about these things when we’re looking at them, but over time they make an impression on us. This is important to realize, because when I say to unplug, you may be thinking about commercials that directly advertise products. But TV shows are advertising products all the time. It’s just that they do it much more subtly. It’s easier to resist once you know, but it’s also a good idea to simply turn off the TV now and then. Try playing more games with your family. Much more fun! My family is doing a grilled cheese sandwich cook-off this week and I am committed to winning. My wife Ally says otherwise, but how much more fun this will be then everyone sitting around glued to the TV!
If you think about it for a minute, you’ll probably find that the things we remember most are not actually things. We remember experiences and the people we had them with. That’s why so many of the posts on this blog involve things you can do with your loved one that are inexpensive or free. We’ve never yet posted a blog about how to afford a new boat. If you think about your childhood Christmas gifts, how many of the gifts do you really remember getting? I can tell you about almost all of the Christmas vacations I took with my family. That was much more important than anything I received in a wrapped box.
A culture of sharing is much more rewarding than a culture of “keeping up with the Joneses.” When we shift our priorities away from having things, and toward helping our community, we tend to give back more. When we do, we’re not just filling our own cups, or modeling good behavior for our children, we are benefitting everyone around us, and that’s really what’s most important.
There are a lot of ways to keep things simple, and a lot of reasons to do it. My prediction is that if you will shift your frame of mind from pursuing “things,” you’ll be less stressed, and better able to enjoy the things and people around you.