In 2017 my husband and I turned a corner in our emotional maturity. Granted, we have always been “old souls” intellectually. But like everyone else, we have our share of emotional baggage that has, on occasion, driven our consumption decisions. This particular corner came down to not equating stuff with a life of richness.
Stuff ≠ richness
And by stuff, I mean physical, tactile items that we fill our homes, offices, cars, and lives with.
I have a confession to make: I like stuff.
I love beautiful, fun, useful, good quality stuff.
I have slowly replaced all the hand-me-downs, college-worthy “stuff” in our home to good quality, form-follows-function stuff.
And I love it.
I love that my living room decor is color-coordinated (finally), that my bathrooms have matching towels, and that we actually have bedroom furniture that somewhat goes together! (Still working on a few pieces there, though.)
It's Obvious, though, right?
This sounds really obvious, and I think on an intellectual level it is for most of us. But if we know that stuff does not equal a life of richness then why do we continue to buy into the “Consumption = Richness” messaging that fuels the holiday shopping season?
I wanted to address this because we are two weeks away from Black Friday / Cyber Monday.
For the first time in our married life I am intentionally not wanting to buy my children presents.
That’s a REALLY BIG DEAL!
In the past, I would “negotiate” with DH on how much money we could wrangle out of our budget to buy the kids Christmas presents. For the past few years the number of gifts under the tree has been borderline absurd, growing year over year as their needs became bigger and their wants more fantastic. DH will frequently quote Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter: “36!! But last year I had 37!!!” British accent and all...
What happened to Rock the Boat
Recently I read a really brilliant essay from a minimalist movement blogger named Joshua Becker who writes over at Becoming Minimalist.
In this essay he was specifically responding to Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” where her trademark question of “Does it spark Joy” becomes the measure for anything that we bring into our sphere of influence, specifically “stuff”.
When I walk into a store there are LOTS of things that “spark joy” and I can justify bringing them into my home (and I sometimes do). But then when I have to spend time to maintain, store, dust, and move that “stuff” my joy-spark gets a little tarnished.
The problem with "sparks"
The problem with the question is that it places the responsibility for our happiness upon our “things”, not upon ourselves. We are relying on “stuff”, or external validators, to make us happy. And when you follow that thought to it’s natural conclusion you can see how people fall into the trap of accumulating more and more until they are suffocated emotionally or even physically by their possessions.
Instead, Josh suggests we skip the joy sparking method and ask ourselves the following question:
“Does it help me fulfill a greater purpose with my life?"
“ As I see it, we should be thinking about not just what we own but why we want to own it. What is our goal in life, anyway? What are we hoping to accomplish? “
When I started asking myself this question, I began to calmly return items to the shelf and exit the store with a fatter bank account.
Not that I didn’t want to spend the money, but that I would rather spend the money on things that would give my family a greater, direct benefit and would be in line with my greater purpose in life as well as theirs.
What would those things be?
Date nights with my husband and children.
Family adventures a few weekends a month.
An anniversary trip every year with DH (I call it our “sanity break”.)
Truth moment: sometimes the appropriate investment will be “stuff”
I am shopping for a bigger dresser for my sons, one of whom is using the tiny one from when he was in size 0-12 month clothing, and the other whose clothes are stacked in “neat” piles on top of their toy shelf.
The best way to determine whether an item supports our greater purpose is to ask Josh’s question as you’re considering a purchase and weigh that against the list I’ve included below.
For members of the Money Organized community we know one of our purposes as moms is to build a family culture that is stronger than peer culture. In light of that, here is a list of my recommendations for how to “invest” our money into our family during the final months of the year.
(In no particular order)
Security, by investing in life insurance policies for both spouses
Survival, by having enough in our Savings accounts to carry us for a few months in case of job loss or medical crisis
(Ok I know these aren’t FUN and exciting, but this one is!) Family Culture, by investing in really juicy family experiences and trips where we have unique, shared experiences
Memories, by taking lots of pictures on those events and printing them out!! (rather than leaving them stored on a flash drive somewhere)
Comfort, by making sure we create a Home that’s free of clutter so that people have space to breathe, move, and be. (No reflexive biting, please!)
Time, by investing in consistent one-on-one time with our family members (Date nights with PAID activities.)
But what about Santa?!?
I’m NOT advising you to tell your children that they can burn their Christmas wish-list because Santa is not bringing any of it. It is always appropriate to support our children’s childhood and invest in the wonder and imagination we want to cultivate in them.
My children range in age from 14 to 4. My youngest are 4 and 6. Santa is part of the magic of Christmas. They will be getting presents under the tree (as will my other children). And a few of those presents will likely be toys (even though we have plenty).
My suggestion is that we mindfully flow into the holidays, rather than being willing victims to the altars of greed and avarice.
Growing Adults, not juveniles
I want my children to develop the same emotional maturity that we have lately grown into, where spending time together and experiencing incredible eye-opening wonder with each other is a better use of money than purchasing gadgets or doo-dads.
I guess the best place to start is with DH and I. We've already decided to get each other ONE gift this season. Both items are surprisingly practical and yet we're elated, not let-down, by our decision. We must truly feel abundant now!
We might still enjoy a few gadgets here and there, and maybe a doo-dad from time to time, but they will all be completely supportive of our family’s bigger purpose for the coming year.
What about your family? Have you mapped out how you're going to "mindfully flow" through the holiday season with your money? Share with our community in the comments.