Everyday the news seems grimmer. Ireland is still slipping precariously toward a precipice, but now Portugal, Italy, and Spain have also lost their footing. The rescue will require some heavy hauling and no one is pretending that America holds the economic answers anymore. The dollar is predicted to become the weakest it’s ever been and the economic outlook for next year has been downgraded. China holds us hostage to not only the debt we owe them (they also just threatened to raise their interest rates), but also the fact that we still need them to buy our bonds.
Our whole world seems preoccupied with materialism: what we have, what we don’t have, what we owe, to whom we owe it, and what we’re going to have to do without. There is an old saying founded in the Great Depression that is being renewed: “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”
I used to recite the mantra to my children as a sign that I was a woman with a noble, pioneer spirit. But today, I resist the message behind it: that life’s choices revolve around our stuff. Yes, I agree with the sentiment of each principle, but I disagree with focusing on making do or doing without.
Happiness does not come from gritting our teeth and getting through. Happiness comes from enjoying what we have.
When I dressed my children in sweaters in the winter, they had no idea that it was saving on fuel costs. I believe it’s ok to have a home that is a bit cool in the winter and a bit warm in the summer. Sweaters are snuggly and warm and hot cereal fills us with warmth before we go out into the cold. It doesn’t have to be about cutting back. It’s just part of the uniqueness of a seasonal change. Even in prosperous times I enjoy sweaters and hot cereal.
But I also like to sing in the morning. I used to shovel snow mazes in the backyard for my children that we’d play tag in. We loved storms that took out the power because I insisted on lighting candles rather than resorting to flashlights and battery powered lanterns. Candles have a warm light; they flicker and create dancing shadows; and they set the mood for reading stories under a shared blanket.
I introduced my children to some of the treats of my childhood that cost little, but tasted yummy on winter evenings. A favorite was saltines topped with a slice of cheddar cheese and a marshmallow. Then we broiled them just until the marshmallows were golden. Everyone screws up their nose until they actually taste it. Then they want more. My daughter recently made them for her boyfriend. He was a skeptic until the first bite. After that he ate the whole tray.
Living abundantly is not about stuff. It’s about our outlook. A dozen years or so ago we sold a house and moved into an apartment in a different town on a temporary basis. We packed everything away into storage for the day we’d get into a new house. One day while at an outlet store I found some china dishes that I LOVED. They were bright and cheerful. Because they were on sale, and because my DH adores me, we purchased a couple sets and added them to the storage boxes set aside for the future.
That was when I heard (for the first time) the thought: Life is what happens while we wait for our dreams to come true. I realized my family was more important to me than a house I looked forward to ‘someday.’ (It was actually over four years before we moved back into a house.) But after hearing that advice, the very next day I unpacked those dishes and we used them every meal after.
It’s not about the stuff. It’s about the moments.