This is the time of year we often hear about our consumer society and the challenge of "buying for people that have everything." Our family may not have everything, but we have more than we really need.
Being an only child with much older parents, I certainly did not suffer from a lack of material goods. My first car was a result of being sent away to military school at the ripe old age of fourteen. Military school was not a terrible experience if you ignore the first six months of homesickness, but it did mean giving up friends and living with a very rigid schedule. However, my parents had some guilt over this, and the car was the result.
Part of me wonders if television is one of the drivers for all our wants. There was little television to enjoy if you were in military boarding school. Even today I find myself working on my computer or wandering during television shows. Likely it is a throwback to that thirty minutes of television in the snack shop we got each night after study hall. People were more interested in talking to friends than in watching a few fleeting minutes of television.
There were no televisions in dorm rooms so that was it for television. Even in college, no one had televisions. Imagine that. I can remember the summers, and enjoying the news and even political conventions on TV. Those days there were no outdoor shows to tempt me with fishing reels and such. They were also days of youthful hope and enthusiasm. A fancy home in the suburbs wasn't part of the equations.
There was a burning desire to experience lots of things from skiing, scuba diving, to climbing, flying, and visiting far away places. That wanderlust led to a trip to Alaska the summer before my junior year in college. It was done using a Dodge PowerWagon pickup truck so I cannot say that it was done on the cheap except the truck was it for accommodations. A foam mattress under the pickup cover was the concession to comfort.
Eventually the spirit of adventure led me to live in Nova Scotia, but it was a result of wanting to be on my own. I needed to live in a wild, beautiful, place, and find my own path without pressure from home. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick solved that need.
I cannot say that the journey has been perfect, but there have been some wonderful experiences and unbelievably nice folks along the way. People have become ever more important than things.
Experience helps you to correct some of the mistakes in your own life along the way. Helping your own own kids grow up allows you to help them miss a few mistakes you made along the way, but mostly they have to learn on their own.
Economics often plays a key role in either creating an addiction for material things or in allowing you to be happy with what you have. With three kids and our first ten years on the farm, financially new cars for the kids were out of the question.
They all started driving in the same old Subaru wagon that I had used as a company car. By the time they were done with it, there were 110,000 miles on it, and the transmission had been rebuilt. Our oldest, Erin, actually went off to college with the Subaru. Michael, our middle child, had the benefit of inheriting his grandfather's ten year old Ford Ranger. Unfortunately, he got nailed in an accident (not his fault), and the Ranger was totaled. I think he had a most exciting year driving our old Previa van his second year in college. The Previa still survives with 185,000 miles on it.
Most folks are not lucky enough to live their whole life in the lap of luxury. Our family has been no exception. We went through some pretty tough times on the farm. I can remember one Christmas when we were not certain that we would be able to afford a turkey. There was no shortage of food but buying from the grocery store required cash, and we had a couple of tough winters where cash was anything but plentiful.
Being short on cash never made us unhappy. It created pressures, but it also made us appreciate money when we were fortunate enough to have it.
All of our kids have lived on their own for a time now, and I am proud that they have survived some tough times on their own. Tough times make you stronger. Often those lessons make you question the need for that next consumer goody.
At this point in our lives we are more interested in getting rid of things instead of accumulating them.
As I walked through one of the big box stores, it is hard not to notice all the gadgets and things which likely we can all do without.
There are always a lot of expensive televisions going out the door. Yet I have seen little to justify a new television
The last few years have clearly shown me that people are far more important than things.
One big challenge for our society which has moved from making things to managing information and services is to realize that owning something is not an adequate substitute for creating something.
As we shovel more and more information around, finding a way to unleash your creativity while making the world a little nicer for the next person is going to be more and more important to our happiness.
It's certainly better for the soul than heading off to the mall.