I realize March isn’t the typical time to usher in a New Year’s resolution, but I’m always running late, so this is par for my course. Truth is, my annual resolves tend to dissolve faster than the sugar in my coffee. So with that in mind, I’m changing my tactics.
This year, as 2016 continues to roll in with all its possibilities, I’ve realized that there’s one thing I want most: to want less.
It’s not a resolution, per se, but more of an awareness. An awareness that want will always want more. And at the end of the day, the only thing it breeds is discontent.
I’m seeing the seeds of this insatiable desire in my teenage boys who “need” a new pair of this, a new one of those and the next generation of the latest thingamagig out there. I hear myself saying to them over and over again, “please just appreciate what you have and stop wanting more.” So this year, I vow to listen to myself and practice what I preach.
It’s not that I’m a compulsive spender or that my kids’ college funds are being blown on shoes and handbags. But I do admit, I love a good buy. And, well, let’s face it — there are a lot of them out there. My inbox, and I’m sure yours too, is bombarded by amazing discounts on all the things I didn’t know I couldn’t live without. How can I pass up that flash sale? Or this sale on a sale? It’s a daily deluge that can quickly sneak in and ramp up.
Not long ago, my new pair of black boots arrived. This was not an impulse purchase, but a necessity, considering I’d gone practically forever — an entire year and then some — without a pair. I pulled them from the box to show my husband who looked at me cockeyed.
“What?” I asked, already ticked at his less-than-enthusiastic expression. “I had free shipping, 20% off my entire purchase, and they were already on sale,” I added defensively, to reinforce the fact that they practically paid me to take them off their hands.
“What’s wrong with your other pair?” he asked.
“What other pair? I haven’t had black boots in more than a year.”
He turned and walked upstairs and into my closet, immediately disappearing into a cloud of chaos, only to return with a pair of great, unworn, black boots that I didn’t even remember I had.
The moment taught me two important things. One, if I can’t keep up with my personal inventory, I have too much. And two, I really need to clean out my closet.
In the early years of my advertising career, I had a salary negotiation with the agency’s president. He told me something that, at a wide-eyed 26, I hadn’t quite realized about the human condition. “It doesn’t matter how much you make,” he said with resignation, “it’s never enough.” How sad, I remember thinking. I didn’t want to be that kind of person then and I don’t want to be it now.
Showy isn’t in my DNA. I come from humble stock. My bloodline has a long tradition of solid, middle-class values. My parents, their parents, their parents’ parents — they all made their money the old-fashioned way: they earned it. And along with earning it, they respected it. Not in a miserly, hoarding way. My parents taught me to appreciate money, but not to mind parting with it either. Mom will empty her pantry for anyone who knocks on the door asking for canned goods, and Dad has been known to surprise strangers by picking up their tab at restaurants. My parents are the type of folks that, even if they had millions of dollars, would still live in their modest ranch home and drive a sensible car. They find absolutely no value in demonstrative wealth.
I look at them now, in their late 70s. They’ve both logged thousands of 9 to 5s: My dad, a retired IBMer, and my mom a former bookkeeper. They don’t have a country club membership or a second home. But they have everything they need and, most importantly, everything they want.
This isn’t a new sense of contentment they’ve stumbled upon in their retirement years. It’s who they are, through and through. My mom has never had a desire for designer anything. She wouldn’t know her Dolce from her Gabbana. This presented some challenges for my older brother and me growing up. Not that we wanted a materialistic mom, but the problem was, ours could sew. Strutting around in your Butterick-brand denim pants (not jeans, please note the distinction) can be detrimental to a middle-schooler’s emotional state. My kids have no idea the bullet they’ve dodged by having a mom that can barely thread a needle.
Yes, 2016 is my year to get back in touch with my not-so-impulsive side — to model my parents’ behaviors and be generous by supporting more worthy causes, not my favorite retail store. So good-bye good buys. So long free shipping with no minimum order. I’m battening down the hatches and putting the hammer down on want. But it’ll be a whole lot easier after my Amazon Prime membership expires.