Envy comes hidden in the form of paint swatches and HGTV and DIY that won’t ever be done.
At a recent get-together, I was overwhelmed with the talk of new houses being built, new houses just being finished, and a couple of fantastic remodels. They were all lavish beyond my imagination, and I recognized envy creeping in.
The house I grew up in wasn’t fancy, but I always liked it. My mom went “crazy” recently, and bought new carpet for the dining room after 30 some years (go, mom.) But as I looked at these beautiful homes and listened to people describing what they were building and what they felt they needed it, I was overcome with a strange sense of embarrassment and confusion. I felt like an outsider. I could not process it.
It is not my place to judge. God blesses some, and whatever else, we are all held accountable for how we use our money, myself included. Envy of things, envy of other’s situations in life, discontent — I know these things, daily.
Planning For Someday
I confess that I will go to a book store to snap a photo of a book’s barcode in a shopping app. I do snap barcodes and don’t buy from the store, yes, but I do not actually buy the book online, either. I add them to my wishlist on Amazon, and move on.
The feeling of adding to a mere wishlist vs. actually buying the book brought about the same level of satisfaction, I discovered. Inevitably, weeks and months later when I stumble into my wishlist, nearly 90 percent of the time I delete the books I added. I’m not interested in them. I can’t remember why I wanted them. I don’t want them anymore. I came to realize that in the past, I often bought books not because I wanted to read them, but because I might want to read them someday.
I had enough for now, but envy and want had convinced me to buy enough for later, too. I hoarded books, just in case.
When Enough Is Enough
Choose “enough” instead of “more” as a life priority and value. — Pastor Kermit Culver
I realized that I (me, not you) do not need six cans of green beans (whether on sale or not), 20 pairs of shoes, 15 purses, or 40 cookbooks. I can’t use them all at once, I can’t keep track of what I have, and the end result is more buying. Full closets are never full enough, new furniture never new enough, and possessions quickly become boring. A few years ago, the pastor of the church I attend did a sermon series on being faithful in our finances. “When is enough, enough?!” he asked us.
Pretty good question.
I wrote about it, in spiritual terms. I struggled with it, in material terms.
I started emptying my closets, almost desperate to get rid of stuff. I hated it for being there. The emptier they became, the more I felt like I had enough. It was a strange turn of events. By reducing my collection of stuff, I somehow became disinterested in collecting it all together.
I contemplated ways to bring “enough” into all realms of life, ways to be content with what I had. I had to just stop watching HGTV, which mainly tells us how what we don’t have. I began craving a desire for “at a glance living” in which I could see and comprehend what was in a closet or cupboard, for example, at a glance.
Clearly, I’m not there yet.
This weekend had me hopping on real estate sites and imagining what it would be like to have a nice home. That’s greed, pure and simple. I have enough. I don’t need anything else. I am not looking for a house. But I went looking anyway.
When Enough Isn’t Enough, But You’re Getting Close
It’s fine to have a theory, but it needs a way to be put into practice. There are a few things I do to combat failures and continue in successes in this attempt to live out the theory of enough. Much of the time, these actions take place in journals.
I come across a gadget or a house or piece of furniture I like? I cut the picture out and glue it in a journal. I draw it. I write about it. I add it to my someday-wish-list and I walk away from it. It’s the same feeling as if I bought it.
When I find myself dwelling on something past that first step, I ask some questions and even write the answers down in the journal next to it:
- Why did I want it? (e.g. nostalgia, “I deserve this”, habit, part of a collection)
- What do I like about it, and what don’t I like about it? (e.g. it’s beautiful, but just another thing to dust)
- What would I have to do in order to get it? What will it cost me, in non-financial terms?
- Do I need it, or do I want it?
- What would the upkeep involve?
- What is the financial risk and investment?
- Would it change my life positively?
- Would it be enough? Or would I become bored and want the next new thing?
- Am I hoarding (fear-based), collecting (habit-based), or living comparatively (trend-based)?
Answering those questions almost always makes me pretty content with where I am. Sometimes, it serves to assure me that the thing in question is something valid to have, either a legitimate need or an acceptable want that won’t burgeon into something out of control.
And, more often than not, it ends up being like narrowly missing a bad tattoo decision: my tastes changed drastically and I’m glad I skipped the ink.
For me, cataloging it in a journal is enough. It softens the blow of telling myself “no.”
That Sounds Like Pinterest
While this sounds like an offline version of Pinterest — and it is, basically — there is a major difference: it’s done in private for no reason but my own.
Pinterest makes the collecting and sharing public; it makes it social. People comment on what is shared. Sometimes friends encourage us to buy stuff we shouldn’t; their nod of approval tips the scales against the theory of enough.
On Pinterest, people share things for different reasons, not all of which are healthy (go look at the number of pictures of thin women on Pinterest with captions like “I want this body” or “this is my dream ideal” or “I wish that was me”). I have found, in my life, that interaction such as that introduces a level of competition and comparison that lays the foundation for discontent in my heart. I don’t want to fantasize about the wedding I won’t have, the chandelier I will never buy, and be reminded of all the things I do not possess.
And so I keep my offline wishlists in a private journal on my shelf that I usually never look at again. Eventually, it hits the trash can.
The point isn’t to revisit. It is to remove the burden of discontent and allow for it to dissipate. Find a way to do that, however it may be.
Recommended Reading: K.P. Yohannan’s Road to Reality