A blast of high winds is bending the tops of the trees, which are performing a ballet of unnatural yet graceful moves. Their gnarly branches are twisting and turning as spring roars in like a lion. Deeply I breathe in the freshly cleaned air from the past few days of rain, which has also made the sky its purest color, purer still because so few cars have been on the road during this time of rest and resurrection.
When we’re driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour, we barely notice the rapidly changing landscape, but a traffic jam slows us down, giving us a chance to look around and notice our surroundings. This quarantine period has allowed us a chance to slow down, to breathe in our surroundings, and to appreciate where we are and what we have. Though we’re often on a high-speed treadmill, ever faster and with ever steeper hills, seeking to earn and accumulate more, this has helped us to slow, to ponder, to realize that maybe more isn’t what we need.
Feeding My Addiction
Last night I was cleaning up my studio, putting things in their place, when I noticed a stack of art books I’ve purchased but never read. Feeding my addiction, I’m always on to the next art book — some sent to me for publicity, others purchased, yet my unopened, unread pile is growing, and I realized I often buy them and then forget to read them. Just yesterday a new book arrived, yet I’ve not paid attention to the ones I have and I always want more. This addiction is for more and more, and these unread books have made me realize I’m striving but not enjoying. If I never bought another art book for the rest of my life, I’m not sure I could properly read all that I have.
Is Better Really Better?
Maybe it’s a natural instinct to always want to better our circumstances — but why? Are our circumstances not good? In some cases they are not, and we need to pull ourselves up. In other cases, it’s simply addiction-feeding. I think back to cleaning out my mom’s house and how many items she had acquired. They had meaning to her, but in most cases, not to the rest of us.
For years I collected antique radios, which I love. I could not get enough, and one time I bought a man’s entire collection and a 1955 Oldsmobile. Though I thought they would bring me joy (and they did, for a while), they became a burden. A collection of 150 radios has to be dusted and stored, and an old car has to be driven and kept clean. That car was fun when it was my only car for a year or so, but once I got a different car, it sat in the driveway and deteriorated until it had to be hauled away years later.
I eventually sold off most of the radios and realized I could feed my addiction by enjoying the few nice ones I kept. It no longer had to be about buying.
No More Wall Space
I’m also addicted to paintings. Because my job takes me to art galleries, I was always seeing things I loved and on occasion bringing one home. But it got to a point where there was no place to hang them all, and I would put them in storage, meaning to rotate. But like most things in storage, they’ve been ignored. The buying was more of an addiction than the owning.
Maybe it’s my time of life, but I’ve come to the conclusion that rather than buying a lot, it’s best to buy less, and to ask myself these questions before I buy…
What am I going to do with it? Where will it go? Will I use it? How will I feel about it in a year? If there was a fire, would I grab it as one of the few possessions I want to keep? Would I be better off keeping the money in the bank? Do I really want to get into debt over this item?
This quarantine has taught us some lessons — like we go out to shop too much. We buy too much. We don’t need so much. Sometimes the act of traveling to buy is why we buy, more so than needing the item.
I can’t say I’m cured, but as we all struggle over money lost, jobs lost, and fear of loss, maybe we will take on the mentality of our parents or grandparents who grew up in the Great Depression. Now I understand why they were so frugal. They know it could all be lost in a moment. Now we know this too.
Life isn’t about stuff. Stuff is nice to have, but I’m wishing I had a Steinway instead of a cheap knockoff. I could have had one if I hadn’t bought all the other meaningless stuff over the years. I’d rather have the best of the best paintings than a garage full of pieces in storage.
A Glance Behind
There was a time when I had nothing. I lived in a small studio apartment without even one bedroom, and I didn’t have enough stuff to fill that space. Looking back at those days, I’d rather have the money I later spent on stuff — not so I could buy more stuff, but so I could just have it at a time like this.
More More More
A friend recently told me he wants to get a new job to make more money. I asked why. He said, “So we can get a bigger house and a better car.” I get that. But I cautioned him and suggested that our tendency is to make more money and then spend more money, and still not put any more in the bank. We just go from one house payment to a bigger house payment, one car payment to a bigger car payment. I suggested that maybe before doing that, he ask himself … why? Why do I want a bigger, more expensive house? Do I need the space? (In some cases, the answer to that is yes.) But sometimes it’s just that bigger seems better. I said, “Would it be better to get the new job or a raise and keep your expenses the same? Not to buy more, just to save more?” He has a big house, two nice cars, and no money put away to survive a time like this.
What about you? What are you addicted to?
I often remind myself that rather than looking forward to all the things I hope to get, I should look back to see how far I’ve come. Do we really need more? In some cases yes, but in many cases, no.
I’m grateful for the lessons coming out of this horrible tragedy. You and I will be better off as a result, in spite of the sadness surrounding it. I for one am thankful for what I have, and ready to shed what I no longer need. I’m going to be less of a consumer and more of an enjoyer. What about you?
This time is difficult, but it’s a blessing too. Use it to learn, to grow, to finish unfinished projects, to do new projects, to reconnect with the people you love, and to make yourself a better you. Embrace this moment in time for the blessings we’ve discovered.