What I Want
August 15, 2011 § 3 Comments
I try not to want things.
Let me put that better: I try not to want things I don’t need.
Maybe there’s an even better way to say it: I try not to want things I only want because they I want them.
Still, it is hard at times to define the line between what is a genuinely wise allocation of resources (not just my fiscal resources, but those that went into the production and distribution of the good) and what is merely wanting for wanting’s sake, with just enough gauzy rationale attached to fool myself into thinking it’s something more.
The things I want tend to be related to farm and land. For a while, I wanted a new chainsaw; the old one was of middling quality and breaking down pretty regularly, and I knew a newer, larger, pro-level saw would be pleasure to run. I held out for about a year, but eventually succumbed. I have not been sorry, but I am keenly aware that it was not, strictly speaking, a necessary purchase.
What else do I want? Right now, not much. We just got a pond, which cost enough that I probably could’ve bought a new chainsaw every year for the rest of my life, instead. It was more money than we’ve spent on any one thing since we built our house, and even if there were something else I really wanted and could soundly justify, that hole in the ground has absorbed our discretionary loot for years to come.
There’s no way to argue that a pond is a necessity, and I’m not going to try. But it somehow feels like a wise purchase, and I think it’s because there’s permanence to a pond. It will be here long after I’m not, after I’m too far gone to remember the when the boys and I went swimming in it for the first time, two days ago, with the water just starting to cover the dried-mud bottom. The boys and I jumped in, and then Penny came down, and we all splashed around in our big, expensive hole and it felt like the best damn bargain of my life.
Usually, we think really hard before we buy things; the pond has been on the list for better than a half-decade. If anything, this is truer of Penny, than me. She is as cheap as they come, not just for the sake of cheapness, but because she truly believes (as do I) that so much of what is wrong with world is rooted in mindless consumption. A decade ago, before kids, Penny and I took our bikes to the island of Tobago, where we rode and camped and ate ice cream for two weeks. I remember how on that trip she tore a hole in her favorite pair of shorts, which she’d had since high school. So already, they were at least 15 years old. In a little fishing village, she paid a dollar to have the hole patched. That patch is still there, and she still wears those shorts all the time.
I don’t know much, but I feel pretty certain of a handful of things. One of those things is that the less money I spend (and therefore, have to earn), the happier I am. Part of it is the freedom from having to earn, from the burden of debt, or even the sense of needing to maintain a certain standard of living. Once you have achieved a particular comfort level, it becomes very difficult to accept anything less. This is no different for us, with our comparatively modest lifestyle, than it is for someone living in a 6000 square-foot house and wheeling around in a Mercedes.
But I think there’s something larger at play: I think that the more we buy and consume, particularly in excess of our basic needs, the less connected we become from ourselves, others, and the world around us. All that stuff, and the hollow excitement of researching it, shopping for it, and procuring it, keeps us at arm’s length.
From time-to-time, I still find myself wanting for the sake wanting. But the more conscious I am of this tendency, the less frequently it happens. It’s like learning a new habit, or breaking an old one, and it’s not made any easier by the bombardment of sophisticated 21st century marketing that, even in Cabot, VT, is all but impossible to avoid.
What I do, if you’re wondering, is remind myself of what is truly satisfying; mushrooming with Fin and Rye, splashing in the half-full basin of our new pond, a stack of next winter’s firewood, the butts of each stick checking as it dries in the August sun.
What I do is ask myself, will this thing bring me closer to myself, my family, my community, my farm? Is the need real, or imagined?
I’m still surprised how often it’s the latter.