Well, for a very long time I, like many, equated some level of happiness with stuff: the right house in the right neighborhood, the right car, the right activities, the right…whatever. I filled my kid’s rooms with toys and gadgets that very quickly collected dust. I cared too much about the clothing labels I put on their bodies and mine. My husband was working so hard to pay for our lives that he barely had time to enjoy it. We were pretty stressed out, unhappy way too often, and there was a pervasive feeling of dissatisfaction in our household. I take responsibility for most of that. Keeping up appearances and just plain keeping up seemed so important that I didn’t notice I was missing out on much of what really mattered.
My first real awakening came in the form of a pair of shoes. And no, I’m not copping to the label, but they were ones I believed I needed as part of the hip “uniform” of the day. I obsessed over them. The price and the impracticality didn’t deter me, and eventually, I bought them. When I finally put them on my feet, the satisfaction I thought I would feel was not there. I realized I felt no joy in having them. They had occupied precious space in my mind and distracted me from who knows how many moments. They were just one more thing that I didn’t need, one more thing adding to the clutter in my life and in my mind. Since that day, I’ve had hundreds of tiny awakenings that have reinforced the notion that “the stuff of life isn’t stuff at all”. I still have those shoes, though. They taunt me a bit. I am going to find a homeless person and hand them over one day soon.
My next big “Aha” was when my little family moved to Florida just as the economy was collapsing in 2008. We moved there not out of need but on a dreamy whim, risking our old way of life for a new one. We rented a furnished ocean front condo, enrolled our kids in school, while Trent, my husband, happily telecommuted from a guest room walk-in closet. For the next 4 years, we enjoyed a very simple and extremely satisfying existence. Two years in, we bought a small house of our own just across the street from the condo. During those brief years, I very rarely saw the inside of a mall and never missed that aspect of my old life. I only missed the people that we’d left behind, the family and friends around whom we’d built our lives. But life in Florida was filled with outdoor exploits, sunshine, and adventures. Our kids found novel things in nature to be amazed with all the time. We planted a garden, learned to avoid fire ants and stinging nettle, met manatees face to face, camped, hiked, met wonderful new friends, indulgently enjoyed theme parks, and ate LOTS of fish tacos.
Fast forward to the next chapter, our current chapter, where a bold career move for my husband has landed us smack dab in the suburbs of Charlotte, NC. Once again, we’ve made lovely new friends whom I already cherish. I’ve been given wonderful opportunities to grow personally and professionally and am grateful for each. And, there are certainly many advantages to living near a big city. We have access to museums, the arts, diverse cultures and lifestyles, and fabulous grocery stores. To be sure, Charlotte is a beautiful place with warm and welcoming people. What is hard to ignore, however, is that we find ourselves immersed in the “land of stuff”, where there seems to be a resounding focus on acquiring even more stuff. Commonplace are pristine neighborhoods, with chemically maintained lawns, giant homes, giant cars, and a myriad of status symbols. Yes, this very place was our choice. My initial desire to, instead, buy a small farm, got lost in translation, or more honestly, was quelled by the lure of coffered ceilings, large bedrooms, and shiny new hardwood floors. Out with the simple and in with the traffic and over scheduled lives.
So, all of that has led me here. I love this beautiful earth of ours. I love every creature roaming its surface and every root digging into its soils. (Okay, so maybe I don’t love mosquitos, but I appreciate their place in the food chain.) I want my children to cherish and protect this earth, too. I want them to know that their contribution to this world matters much more than the size of the house they live in or in having the latest greatest device, which keeps them planted on a couch inside and out of touch with our natural world. In the end, I know that I am not going to mourn the shoes I didn’t buy, the landscaping I didn’t invest in, or the brand my kids won’t be wearing. But, I would mourn the time I wasted wanting more and not realizing I had more than enough. I would mourn important relationships that I didn’t nurture, experiences that I missed because I was focused on my next acquisition, and I would mourn risks not taken, like this one, for fear I might step on toes or challenge the status quo. Mindless consumption in our throwaway society is harming our children as well as our planet, and setting in motion a path to our own demise. I know I have, at times, been a part of the problem. It is my hope that from this point forward, that myself and my family be a part the solution.