Updated on 10.11.10

The Meaning

Trent Hamm

For the past several days, my cousin and her two sons stayed at our house. It was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time, as she’d never been able to visit us until now.

I was very close to this cousin of mine (let’s call her Laurie) when I was a child, but as we both grew into adulthood, we drifted apart for various reasons. She moved east, I moved west, and we would go for years without seeing each other.

Yet, as we’ve built a relationship again over the past few years, I’ve come to find that we have a great deal in common with each other as adults, far more than we had when we were younger. So many of our life experience all the way along overlap with each other. She’s one of the very few people on Earth that I feel genuinely understands.

Re-establishing my relationship with her has been one of the best things I’ve done in my adult life.

As I watched her leave earlier today, a few thoughts occurred to me.

The genuinely valuable things in my life have very little to do with money or accumulation of stuff. It’s people. My wife. My children. My parents. The handful of people close to me that mean a great deal to me (the aforementioned Laurie, John, Rachel, and a small handful of other people that I’ve previously promised not to mention on here). The large group of less intense social connections that I have, ranging from people like my great aunt Dori to some of my old coworkers.

When I sit and take stock of my life, the things I want most are healthy relationships. I want those people I mentioned above to know that I care about them, even though it’s often not the easiest thing to communicate such thoughts.

Buying stuff really doesn’t matter with regards to those relationships. All money really does is keep a roof over my head and keep the people I care about the most reasonably safe and happy and healthy. Beyond that, money does very little to improve those elements that matter most. For a long time, I believed that they did – at other times, I would just use money as a way to make myself not have to think about it.

Buying things doesn’t make people love you.

My short and medium term goals right now all revolve around making sure the people I care about know that I care about them. If it’s truly those relationships that matter to me, then I owe it to the people I care about to show them that I do care for them.

For me more than anything, it means repairing some relationships and it means cementing some other ones. It means some letters and some phone calls and some face to face meetings, too.

After all, there is no point in having financial success if you haven’t secured the things in life that matter to you the most.

What relationships in your life need some mending? Why not suck up a bit of pride and send that person a letter telling them that you really do care and admit that it’s your own inability to communicate that has been the problem? Call them up and do the same thing. Or wait until the holiday season and take that person aside for a chat.

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  1. Janna says:

    I have been meaning to write to let you know how much I enjoy The Simple Dollar. I appreciate your opinions on the variety of topics you discuss–money, family, friendship, work, books, food, games,etc. It seems like you are always the voice of reason on these topics.

    I recently read comments on Get Rich Slowly when your book was reviewed. I was disturbed to read the negative comments and I hope you don’t think that is the attitude of most of your readers. (I wonder if the anonymity of the internet allows people to believe they are king/queen of the universe.)

    Keep up the good work. I don’t have any money problems or debt, but I read your column just to reinforce my own thoughts in that topic. Thank you.

  2. Michelle says:

    I always love your posts and this one hit close to home for me. I recently separated from my husband and am filing for divorce in the next few days. Soon after moving out of our house I found friends on Facebook that I wasn’t allowed to talk to while I was married. I apologized to them for being a bad friend while trying to make my marriage work. But now I see that the things accrued in my marriage, the stuff I had bought years before to make me “happy” are not worth it. Those friends, and all the others, are what make my life everything it needs to be.

    On the same note, while in the process of removing my stuff from the house, I was thinking to myself over and over again that it feels like my house is on fire and I can only take what is truly important to me and things I NEED to survive, not the things I want. I left almost everything there.

    Thank you again for writing about all of these issues. They are always an important reminder of how to live simply and happily.

  3. Roberta says:

    I’m really happy for you that this visit went well as I remember you sharing in a post not long ago that you were feeling anxious about its approach. This post of yours touched me very much, and it’s surprising that no one has commented yet about it. You are right, to be sure, and what’s odd is that doing GTD and adopting the frugal lifestyle and making all of the changes that I’ve been struggling to make–and they aren’t always easy–led me 2 weeks ago to google and write to a friend whom I’ve neither seen nor spoken to in at least 10 years, possibly more. I don’t know if she will right back. We did not have a falling out, but simply drifted apart. I have also joined Facebook and am reconnecting with a lot of people that way. Great post.

  4. Pamela says:

    Good advice. Say “I’m sorry” even if you’re not entirely at fault. And don’t wait until Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years’ – do it sooner. People and relationships are what’s important.

  5. Laurie says:

    This post comes at a good time for me. I have had a very difficult time staying in touch with people for about the last 5 years, for various reasons – full-time job plus graduate school plus small child plus injuries and illness. I am in the midst of trying to implement GTD (thanks for the great review of that, btw!) in order to get back on track generally and reconnect with some of them.

  6. Roberta says:

    Wow. I meant, of course, WRITE back.

  7. Ashton says:

    It’s very true, what’s the point of owning the whole world if you lose it all in the end! Making money is fun, and that’s how it should be, but being with people that interact with you is way more fun!

  8. Aryeh says:

    I agree with all you say about relationships being important. However, in recent years, I have had a lot of problems with relationships with family members and friends (even friends of more than 30 years) who live on other continents nit seeming to want any contact with me and my wife and kids or even having any interest in us. I have tried on many occasions to reach out to them and have either been rebuffed or not having any response to my e-mails or they deny having any problem with me at all, but when I see them on “chat” systems, they don’t answer me when it is obvious they are online. How do I get through to them???

  9. Thad Puckett says:

    I read your blog regularly…first time comment.

    This story struck home with me and I wanted to let you know I think you are spot on. I turn 50 in just a few weeks, but if I have learned anything as I have aged it is that the relationships I no longer have (because of moving around or change jobs or whatever) are what I miss more than anything. A few more dollars here or there might be nice. But a long talk with all the people that have impacted me through the years would be nicer.

    It is not possible to put a dollar value on what makes a person truly wealthy: their relationships with family and friends.



  10. jj says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Trent. I’ve been thinking a lot about the same thing lately – priorities in life. Mine are people and relationships, as well. I’m focusing on simplifying my relatively simple life even more and spending my time (outside of work) on what I love the most – family and friends. Thanks for the encouragement, through your post, to continue! I love your blogs and look forward to them!

  11. Lois Gibbs says:

    I so agree. My sister recently died of pancreatic cancer a year after her fince ddied of the same thing. She had collected a lot of “stuff” over the years and was in the process of donating and selling it all. She wrote the following:

    “How important is Stuff in the scheme of things?
    Since being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I have realised so many things.
    1. Stuff, even family memorabilia, is NOT important AT ALL!
    2. It will not mean as much to anyone else after we are gone. It may all be sold, tossed, or discarded.
    3. Stuff won’t save your life, make you well, or even make you happy when you’re sad.
    It clogs the arteries of your soul, dragging you down with it as it expands.
    I’d rather lose all I own and have my fiancee and my health back.

  12. Monica says:

    Great post! Like the old saying goes, the most important things in life aren’t things.

  13. tentaculistic says:

    I am so glad your cousin’s visit went well, especially since you were stressing in advance. I don’t pray, but I was sending you positive thoughts…

    Lois Gibbs, how tragic, and what a powerful statement about “stuff”. It clogs the arteries of your soul. I’m sorry for your loss, and that of your family, and bless you.

    I’m struggling with keeping relationships going right now in my life, so this is a good reminder.

  14. CalifLady says:

    #4 Lois: Thank you for sharing your sister’s thoughts about “stuff”. What a profound way to look at this topic. I will definitely keep her words in mind as I review what kind of “stuff” I can purge from my life.

    My condolences on your loss.

  15. Molly says:

    I’m really interested in hearing more about John’s campground, please. How’s it going?

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