This is yet another part of my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series... actually I've skipped forward a bunch of years, but just think of it like one of those artsy films that's out of sequence... I'll get to those other years eventually. To read the series from the beginning, click here.
So... the year was about 1997. I had purchased a house, was earning a bit more money (I think I made about $25K that year) and was starting to feel like I was edging my way toward the middle class. I was now the director of the little music school, which was growing by leaps and bounds... quickly morphing from a group of hippie musicians to a "cultural institution," now capable of paying me a real (albeit small) salary with full health benefits.
It was all great... and yet it wasn't. I mean it was really nice to not be quite as broke as I had been, yet there was a nagging sense that the mundane was nipping at my heels, ready to overtake me at any moment. Things that had never concerned me before were starting to play a major role in my life.
Suddenly I had to worry about watering the lawn, and fixing the furnace, and having "business" attire that I could wear when I met with granting agencies, and I had meetings to attend, and a job that was taking WAY more than 40 hours a week. My salary had literally doubled in the past few years, yet I didn't really feel like I was any more financially secure. I guess I was starting to feel like the trappings of the modern world were catching up with me.
Then, one day... well actually it was one night... in the middle of the night... I was flipping channels and stumbled upon a quirky little documentary called Affluenza.
It was my first introduction to the voluntary simplicity movement, and it was a revelation. I had always lived frugally, and compared to the broader society around me, my trappings were really quite minimal. But it was certainly true, that I was starting to feel the nagging sense that it just wasn't good enough.
But here was a movement that preached financial prosperity, without the whole trap of materialism. Perhaps there was a way to enjoy freedom and financial security, without getting stuck in the cycle of meaningless spending. I was sold.
So I started to read everything I could find on the voluntary simplicity movement.
While there were many worthy tomes out there, the one that really made an impact was a book called Your Money or Your Life.
In the fist month, I determined (not joking here) that I had spent nearly $100 on, believe it or not... pens.
But there it was, in stark black and white. $100 down the drain on pens. Oy vey! How could it be? It must have been some sort of anomaly, I figured. So I promptly set about ignoring the problem.
So another month passed, and I did my tally, and discovered to my horror, that, once again, I had spent nearly $100 on, you guessed it... pens. OK... at this point there was no getting away from the ugly truth of it... I had a problem.
So that night, as I was doing the dishes, I had a little talk with myself. Actually it was more of an argument.
Seriously, I was standing there doing the dishes, when I proceeded to have this little meltdown. I knew I needed to stop spending so much money on stupid stuff... I mean, really, how many pens does one human need? But part of me just kept saying, "But I WANT them... they make me happy."
Then came the statement that would change my life... well, actually, I'm not sure you could accurately call it a statement, since I didn't really say it out loud... I'm not THAT crazy... But anyhow... the words were:
Why can't I spend $100 on pens if I want to... It's MY money!Then suddenly, like a ton of bricks, it hit me.
IT'S MY MONEY!!!
I'm not quite sure that I'm able to explain the depth of the epiphany, but I suddenly realized that there was nobody to argue with. It was really just a simple decision. I could have a pile of pens, or I could have $100 in the bank every month. Instantly, the answer became obvious.
When I looked at it a little deeper, I realized that the whole thing really had nothing to do with pens in the first place. You see, my love affair with all things stationery began in my youth when my best friend and I would go to the mall and spend hours and hours hanging out in the Hallmark store. I'm still not sure exactly what the draw was, but we'd inevitably come home with cute little flower shaped pads of paper, journals, and pens with hearts on them. It was our thing.
Then, in the seventh grade, she moved away. Even all these years later, the loss is so palpable that it still makes tears well up in my eyes. We vowed to write, and we did... every week, for years and years, and visited each other every summer. And all of the stationery and the pens took on new meaning. They weren't just things... they were my connection to her. Eventually we grew up, went our separate ways, and lost touch. But somehow, the obsession with pens remained. I guess it was my way of holding on to the best friend that I ever had.
|Um... can you guess which one is me. Hint... the love of cats is nothing new!|
When I finally had my "day of reckoning" I discovered, that I had... not kidding... 4 grocery sacks full of pens. But, by that point the pens had lost their grip over me, so I packed them up and took them to work, where they all got put to good use.
That was my first real step down the road of voluntary simplicity, and I've never looked back. Over the years I've had to learn similar lessons over... and over... and OVER!
So many of the things we do, really don't have anything to do with the behaviors themselves, and each time I uncover the real emotions behind them, magical change comes unbelievably easily.
And... in case you're curious... I found my best friend again, after about 25 years. You'll never believe this, but it turned out that both of us were busy reading the Harry Potter books... in Spanish.
It's enough to make you believe in magic!
For the the next post in this series click here.