Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Price of Stuff

Robert de Niro's character Rodrigo Mendoza hauls his stuff
across the South American landscape as he searches  for redemption. 
Hello! (You're wondering about that scraggly-looking gentleman on the left there. To be explained in a moment. Patience, dear friends.) 

Here's a little bit about me - we'll get to him in a moment. 

I work an entry-level professional job, live alone, and am in my mid-20s. I make about $47k a year now. When I first got my job, I was all "Oh! I'm a *grown-up! now! I have an apartment and an income and clearly I need to spend MONEY MONEY MONEY!" I went to Target nearly every weekend, hauled bags out of The Container Store (avoid at all costs, my friends), convinced that I needed these "things" for my apartment. I bought clothes, and shoes, and accessories, and just followed a lot of my whims.  My credit card statements (combined with my rent) ate up most of my income. Actually, I think most of the time my credit card statements were more than my rent, which was about $1100 at the time.

Then I went to Paris in October 2011 on vacation with my family, and found myself wandering around the worst Metro station in all of Paris - a veritable labyrinth in which we could not find the exit out to the street. I was lugging two heavy suitcases for an 8-day stay, as well as a huge laptop on my back, for almost an hour.

I learned about the price of stuff then, and vowed, from then on, to take a minimalist approach not only to packing, but also my life. I reflected on my study abroad experience in Germany, in which I lived in a 200-square-foot dorm, with a shelf for a bed, lived out of 2 suitcases and a backpack for 6 months, and had the time of my life.

Stuff itself does not bring us happiness. After a certain point, stuff for stuff's sake makes us poorer financially and spiritually, and burdens us with huge credit card statements, heavy luggage, large moving expenses, as well as chaining us, not freeing us to easily move on.

After my return from the City of Light, I took bags and bins of the Target "decorations" I "needed". I started using the stuff I already had to organize my things, made a pact with myself to keep the surfaces of my apartment clear, calm, and minimalist (most of the time), and immediately saw a boost to my finances. I shop at Goodwill for clothes, have a library card, am working on commuting to work by bike, and am much less focused on material wants.  I can't see myself changing. Once you let go like Rodgrio Mendoza, and realize your salvation is not what you own, you're so much freer.

I'm far from the most frugal or minimalist person there is, as you'll see in the coming months. I want to live a live that's pleasant, and I do want to spend money. However, I want to spend my money wisely and intentionally, and I want to become a little more self-sufficient in the process, and a little  bit more minimalist, and use my money to work toward more freedom - not stuff. Freedom is crunching over the fall leaves on my bike, enjoying a 80-degree sunny December day, spending time with the people you love.  The laughter of friends and the sound of the wind whistling by me as I ride my bike are much more glorious than the "ding" of the cashier's scanner, and being able to hug and touch and love the people in my life is far richer than the cold embrace of some thing. I want more of that - more time to spend with them, more time to write and create, more time to love.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

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