This week, an old friend of mine called. We usually talk several times a year but some years, the phone calls come more frequently. This latest call was to see where in the country we happened to be, and if we were hitting all the snow everyone has been getting.
While we were talking, he mentioned something about life when he was single. I said, "Wasn't life back in the day so great? I really miss the day."
"I miss the day too. So much." he said. "What I miss most about that time were my friends."
"I know exactly what you mean." I said.
"Everyone just got along so well and there was such ease in our friendships."
"And things seemed so much easier. I mean, we all had jobs and boyfriends or girlfriends and were paying rent or going to school, but it was different, wasn't it?" I said. "What made it so different? I mean, do you think as you get older, the same things just don't feel the same?"
"I don't know," he said. "I do know though, that I feel sick about the responsiblity I have; the mortgage I have to pay, the bills I have and the family I'm responsible for." He sounded trapped; not by his family, but by the trappings of his life.
I love that he's always so honest with me, that he isn't afraid to say those kinds of things and he's not so prideful that he has to hide the struggle he might be having. "I imagine a lot of people feel that way, but most people would never say it. They just keep accumulating things they don't need, buy bigger houses and more stuff."
"You know," he said. "My wife likes to keep up with the Jones'. We have a five bedroom house that's huge, and there are only three of us. If it were up to me, I'd sell it and buy something smaller. We don't need that much."
A greater truth could not have been spoken. You really don't need that much. I don't know when (or if) most people come to this realization but I think in some way it's always been in me. Being on the road for the past five years has just brought it out more. There is nothing I really need outside of my basics. There is nothing material I would miss were it to be gone tomorrow; well, except for my computer files, but that's really not something material, per se, they're digital files that can't be reproduced if lost. In a way, it's like losing pictures in a house fire. Irreplaceable. The computer though? That I can replace.
When I see people holding down two or three jobs to pay their mortgage, driving a car whose payment is out of their true comfort range, or buying something they think is "better" because it's more expensive, I find myself shaking my head. It reminds me of a roommate I used to have who didn't want to buy a TV "on sale" because she thought it meant something was wrong with it; and who also bought a garbage can for her kitchen (that was going to be in a cabinet and not visible) in Bed, Bath & Beyond for $15.99 instead of getting the same plastic can in Walmart for $2.99 because she thought the Walmart one was "cheap". You're throwing garbage in it. Seriously? Priorites clearly not in order.
I think a lot of people feel pressure to create some kind of fairytale success and happiness that mirrors what their friends have, what they see on TV and in magazines and what they think will make them feel as if they've "arrived". What they don't realize is that unless they truly have an incredible income stream, a good amount in their savings and also a plan for their retirement, they are setting themselves up for more stress in their lives and a feeling of never being satisfied because they'll always want more.
It really doesn't take much to be happy. Experiences, in my opinion, are more valuable than things. A small house is cozy and manageable. A less expensive car will get you from point A to point B. Your kids don't need sneakers it takes a whole work day to pay for. If you think you deserve nice things and it makes you feel better to buy them, go for it. But one day you will look around and realize you can't take it with you and you would have made it through without.
That's why back in the day, things were simple. Often, all it took was being surrounded by good friends; the ones who put you at ease and loved you for everything you were; before the big house, fancy car or job with a title.
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1 YEAR AGO: Shameless Self Promotion
2 YEARS AGO: Dwarfed By A Behemoth Of The Sea
3 YEARS AGO: Ditched
4 YEARS AGO: Hudson River Solitude