How much is “enough”? When I was a child in the 60s and 70s fast food meals had yet to be “supersized”. The usual adult-size burger, fries and soft drink of that era were not much different than the children’s meals of today. It’s not like we are more physically active these days and thus need more calories. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true.
And what about clothing? I am stunned by the huge, room-size closets that are considered essential by so many home buyers on the various house hunter-type programs on television. I grew up in an era when the usual bedroom closet was about 6-8 feet wide with a couple of sliding doors. The rare walk-in closet was only marginally larger in terms of hanging space.
The Story of Excess
The past several decades have brought exponential growth in the sizes and quantities of items we consider necessary. Our grandmothers cooked three meals a day with a skillet, a couple of sauce pans and maybe a stock pot or dutch oven. These days new brides register for 17-piece sets of matching cookware…and then eat dinner out or pick up fast food several nights a week. A quick look at a few typical bridal registries tells the story of excess and expectations.
Our houses are bigger, our cars are bigger, our storage spaces are full and our calendars as well. If all this abundance made us happy that would be great. But for many, this excess consumerism has only given us credit card debt, unmanageable homes and a level of stress that is affecting our relationships and our health.
A Backlash Against Excess?
I believe we are beginning to see a backlash against all of this, however. Minimalism, tiny houses and capsule wardrobes are all the rage these days and I hope that means we, as a society, are beginning to realize “more stuff” doesn’t equal happiness or contentment.
How Do We Decide?
So how do we decide how much is “enough”? And not just in terms of “stuff” but what about how we spend our time? Or how much income is enough? We might well decide that we are comfortable with our capsule wardrobe but how many actually consider an upper limit of income adequate for our purposes and then determine how to handle any excess that comes our way?
There are no inherently right or wrong answers for any of this. What seems just right for me might be too much or not enough for you. No one can determine this for anyone else. But I do think we’d all be wise to give it some serious thought.
A number of years ago David and I came face to face with all of this. I was a hospice nurse at the time and loved my career. We had two young children, a very charming home in a nice neighborhood, two decent cars and a membership to the country club. We “had it all”. But then I got sick.
I developed severe adult-onset asthma, chronic hives, a chronic sinus infection that left me absolutely no sense of smell or taste, and allergies to everything. During my sixth visit to the E.R. in about as many months, the doctor told me that I might need to consider moving somewhere else. We had to make a decision.
The only reason I had gone back to school for a nursing degree in the first place was so we could afford to buy a house, which we had done. But it’s really easy to get caught up in spending whatever you bring in. Fortunately we hadn’t taken on a lot of debt but we did enjoy vacations, dinners out, nice clothes (especially for the kids), etc. It occurred to us that we had achieved what we set out to accomplish – buying a house – and all the rest was simply icing on the cake.
We decided I would quit my job and homeschool the kids. After the decision was made I worked an additional six months of reduced hours and used my paychecks to pay off credit card bills. During this time, David’s car was paid off and mine was getting close. We had fortunately bought a house that was way less than we had intended to spend, mainly because the elderly owner had died, her heirs lived on the East Coast and simply wanted to get rid of it. We only had a 15 year mortgage and had paid off 4 years of it already.
All of that made it easier to give up half of our income but it still required careful budgeting. We had lots of talks with the kids before we made the decision. They knew there would be changes but they were both so happy to be able to have me home with them that none of those things mattered to them. During that season, we all received a clear lesson in what was “enough” for our family.
- older, paid-off vehicles were “enough”
- home-cooked meals were “enough”
- hand-me-downs and clothing purchased on sale were “enough”
- trips to the library and park days were “enough”
Over the years our financial situation has improved greatly and I find myself reconsidering the whole concept of “enough” all over again. And let me just say, in some ways it’s more challenging when there is no financial need to so. However, I find it every bit as important at this stage of our lives. David will be of retirement age in about 6 1/2 years. I don’t know if he will decide to retire then or work longer but now is the time to consider what our lives will look like when he does.
This house, guest house and 40 acres are already more than we have the time and energy to maintain. At some point we will want to downsize. That will mean getting rid of a lot of our possessions so I’m already considering that.
More Types of Excess
There’s a lot more to this idea of “enough”, though. What about our calendars? Do we have enough social and community involvement for a happy, fulfilled life but not so much that we feel overburdened by it all?
And then there is that huge, looming issue of the environment and how rampant consumerism is causing a great amount of damage to the planet. Even recycling and donating our excess doesn’t solve the problem.
What about social media and the time we spend online? At what point does it become too much? And how do we scale back when it does?
In a society that idolizes wealth and excess…that continuously sends the message that we need more and more…the very concept of “enough” seems almost subversive. Yet I believe many have grown weary of the constant striving for more. We may not know just how to go about it but on some level I think we are seeking peace and contentment. I know I am.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
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