I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of the clothes.
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Earlier this week, I read an interesting post on Facebook, entitled “Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt.” It’s from Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog Momastery. I even borrowed the above epigraph from this post because it really struck a chord with me.
Although I recommend you read Melton’s original post, I can boil it down to this: one of her posts included a picture of herself in her kitchen. While Melton thought little of this, her readers began messaging her with tips and advice on updating her kitchen. Melton’s response? An outpouring of gratitude for her shamelessly outdated kitchen and all the wonders it provides for her family.
Melton’s “Gratitude” blog was a great reminder. I don’t think often enough about how grateful I should be for what I have. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get caught up in wanting to “have” because someone else already does. It’s easy to fall into the entitlement mentality.
Just last week, for instance, I wrote about how happy I was that we finally have a lawn guy. Wow, how fortunate are we? We can afford to pay someone else to make our lawn look nice. What kind of a luxury is that? And I grumble about the house’s interior, too, and get onto my kids when their toys are all over the place, but I have to remember a time, not too long ago, when we didn’t have a house to mess up or a big lawn to mow.
Years ago, my husband and I got caught up in the idea that home ownership was the end-all-be-all. We simply wouldn’t be anyone if we remained renters. Well, maybe I shouldn’t drag Thomas into this, but I know that I certainly felt that way. When we were first married, we lived in a tiny apartment. It was literally smaller than my bedroom where I grew up (although, admittedly, that bedroom was huge). We tried to entertain family for a surprise birthday party for my mom and then for Christmas, and to say that it was tight would be a gross understatement. Sure, we were happy and have some great memories of our first place together, but our time there was tainted with the idea that we wanted more.
Why? Why couldn’t we just enjoy what we had and stay? But no. We wanted that fabled “starter” home. Too bad we bought in 2006. On the budget of a couple 23-year-olds, we could either afford a shabby house on a not-so-great side of town, or we could afford a condo in a developing neighborhood at pre-construction prices. We were sold on the idea that lots of shops were coming in. Thomas and I loved to walk everywhere, and we envisioned ourselves walking to the Starbucks next door whenever the mood struck.
Except that the housing market crash happened, and no Starbucks was ever built. The condo that we thought we would sell for a great profit after three years – max – became our home for almost seven years. We had two babies there, and they shared the same bedroom. If you’d told us that in 2006, we would have turned and run. We would have let them keep our $4000 deposit. But we didn’t know, and so we made the best we could out of it.
You know what? Despite complaining about the condo (our running joke was that every time Thomas met someone he hadn’t seen in a while, he’d say, “Want to buy a condo?”), I reminded myself from time to time that we did have a roof over our heads. We did have a huge closet. We never had to worry about taking care of the lawn or the roof or the paint job. We were on the ground floor and surrounded by trees, so our electricity bill was super low.
But we also had some of our bedroom furniture in the dining room because it wouldn’t fit in our room. Our exercise bike was right there in the living room. If you weren’t careful when you came in at night, you’d run right over my sons’ Little Tikes workbench. The carpet had spots in it when we moved in – and we were the first people to live there. That only became more pronounced with a cat and two kids.
About a year-and-a-half ago, we finally left the condo years behind us. One thing we knew for sure: we didn’t want to get stuck again, so we found a rental house, knowing that if it was horrible, we could get out at any time.
So we now have a huge lawn, where the kids can play. We have a garage, where we can store things like the exercise bike and all the stuff we kept in storage – and even a car. We have a bedroom for each kid. Our furniture is all where it belongs.
We also have a tile floor that’s awful in different ways than our old, spotty carpet. We only have one tree, and it doesn’t provide any shade for the house, so the A/C runs constantly in the summer. Plus no ceiling fan in our room. The kids have fans – why can’t we? The house is older, so our kitchen (like Melton’s) is outdated. Our fridge is smaller and doesn’t have an ice maker. I mean, I have to fill ice trays and put them in the freezer myself – we’re talking prehistoric, here.
But you know what? I kind of like our fridge. It has pictures of our family all over it. It displays my six-year-old’s latest artwork. It’s covered in magnetic letters that my two-year-old identifies every time he gets a Gogurt.
Our grass is thick and green, even in winter, and we’ve had two beautiful hawks visit our backyard, plus dozens of smaller birds, squirrels, and even a little snake that keeps us rodent-free. Wildlife is not something my kids got to enjoy at the condo. And the lizards – oh my gosh, you’d think that my cat was in heaven. She sits by the sliding glass door and tracks them all day long.
Although there were times that I thought I would somehow be fulfilled if we got a bigger place – and I do appreciate that aspect of where we live now – it took moving out to appreciate the positive attributes of each of our previous homes. Just because we lived in a little condo through most of our 20s doesn’t mean our 20s were somehow lesser because of it.
As I look around my house, much as Melton looked around her kitchen, I see that we not only have enough, but we have more than enough to live and to thrive. Sure, I still dream about another house. Nothing specific, just bigger than what we have now – but do you know why? Not because I want to have one of those HGTV dream kitchens or an in-house theatre or any of that. I would love a bigger kitchen, where we can cook and bake without tripping over each other. And an extra bedroom or two would be nice, so we can host our out-of-town family. And bookshelves, of course. I would love to have a place for our books, where someone can see all the titles and say, “This is a great book!” or “Can I borrow this one?”
But you know what? Say that dream home never happens. Say that we are “stuck” here for seven, ten, twenty years…
Although not ideal, if this is the last place I live, I don’t think I’m going to go to my grave feeling cheated. Because it’s not a new fridge or a bonus room that will make me happy at the end of the day. I hope that I’ll be able to look back on my life and remember the relationships and the silliness and the joy rather than the headaches and stress that come with always trying to upgrade, to keep up, to become whatever it is that the commercials and TV shows would have you believe gives true happiness.
If I’m not happy as I am now, it’s the me that needs to change, not the accessories that come with the me.
As for Robin Williams – if I’m ever going to mention him, it might as well be this week – after getting over the initial shock, my next thought was, But he had it all. Of course, only he knew what it was like to be in his head, to feel what he felt. Depression is nothing to mess around with, and I’m speaking from experience – the terrible, postpartum kind that steals joy from moments that should be precious and forever cherished.
Of course, depression is a different thing entirely, although it certainly can come along with the feeling of never having enough, never being enough, never being fulfilled. But the point is that if a famous man, a wealthy man, a man with supposedly “everything” a person could want still didn’t have “it” (that lasting joy, that sense of being fulfilled in life), then who can? Will any of the things or ideals that we as people chase ever be more than a disappointment?
Now, before you get your panties in a wad, I’m not putting down celebrities or people who want to remodel their houses. But many of the “haves” are notoriously unhappy – along with many of the “have nots” who concentrate all their energies on attaining the lifestyle of the “haves,” thinking that’s where life can finally start. If you’re chasing something that you think you must have – be it a new car, a trendier wardrobe, a $1000 handbag, an Ivy League education, a set of initials behind your name – remember that these things do not a fulfilled person make. They are fancy dressings, so much fluff that often masks a great vacuum beneath.
If today were my last day to live, I wouldn’t die thinking, Well, I didn’t get my dream home. I never had my fifteen minutes of fame. I just wasted my life. Nor would having those things make my death easier to cope with for my husband and children. I would hate to die with the regret that I spent so much time going after things or ideals that I missed out on watching my kids be their goofy selves and cooking with my husband in our outdated kitchen.
If I wake up tomorrow, I’ll play with my kids some more, and we’ll spend some more time in the kitchen. My life is pretty simple but full, and for that I am forever grateful. The cake – the substance – has already been measured and mixed and baked to perfection.
The rest is icing – unnecessary but sweet if savored in small doses.