My cell phone doesn’t let me watch streaming internet video.
I don’t own a pair of pants that cost more than $40 – and most cost less than $10.
We don’t have a flat panel television – we’re still using my old CRT one from my college years.
The back bumper of my truck has rust on it.
I don’t throw out socks until they have holes in them.
We use old t-shirts for rags.
There’s a juice stain on our couch that won’t come out, but we’re not going to replace it any time soon.
I make my own laundry detergent because the store stuff is overpriced.
Some people might look down their noses at us for these things. I don’t mind.
I’ll wave to them as they leave for their high-stress job while I sit in my office in my pajamas and write.
I’ll think about them for a moment as I load up the kids for a day trip to the science center.
I’ll thoroughly enjoy the time I spend working – and when I don’t enjoy it, I’ll get up and do something else.
I’ll talk to my wife and tell her that if she wants to spend a few years being a stay-at-home parent, we can make it work.
I’ll spend the late afternoon playing soccer in the backyard with my son instead of de-stressing in front of the television.
Those are trades I’ll always make.
It took me a long time to let go of the need to keep up some sort of false appearance of perfection in my life. The towels had to be perfect. I had to have the latest, shiniest gadgets. I worried constantly about the appearance of success.
Yet, in the end, the people I was really jealous of were the ones doing interesting things with their lives. I might admire the gadgets and the beautiful house (and I’m still envious of them in a lot of ways), but I was truly envious of the people doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. I envied the people who could make their own hours and follow their own muse. I was jealous of stay-at-home parents, too.
Those were the things I most valued – and most wanted.
What I learned along the way was that I had to make a choice between keeping up some sort of pretense of material success or going after the things I most wanted in life. I realized that there’s always something else material to want, some way to feel inadequate because someone else has better stuff, and some way to puff myself up because I have a shinier thing than someone else.
Once I framed things in that context, the choices became easier. Instead of making sure all of our linens matched, we just used them until they were worn. Instead of insisting on the latest and greatest gadgets, I would just get a freebie cell phone and use my gadgets until they didn’t work any more. I didn’t worry about the rusty bumper too much and I didn’t panic and start throwing money around when my kids spilled a bit of juice on the couch.
My stress level went down. Plus, I found that suddenly I had more financial and time resources than I ever imagined. I used both of those resources to my advantage, applying them both to the things I most wanted in life.
Yes, my truck has a rusty bumper and some people might raise their noses at it while they drive by in their Lexus. I’ll watch them go by, off to their stressful job, then I’ll go inside and do the things I’ve wanted to do all of my life.
Sounds like a good trade to me.