half my means, but not half my joy

6 October 2013

When I went on unemployment, my monthly income was cut in half. I am extremely grateful to live in a country in which my government gives me money so I can support myself during this hardship. However, just because I’ve got half my means doesn’t mean that I’ve let this feel like a hardship.

Sure, I can’t go shopping whenever I want anymore. With my old job, I went out and got a Nook Tablet. Months later I got an iPad 2. Then less than a year later I replaced that with an iPad mini. I could afford to do that — then. Now, the main way I’m able to get an iPhone 5S is because I was due for an upgrade and able to receive a $100 rebate on my old iPhone 4. (And I’m selling one of my old Nintendo handhelds for some extra cash.)

One of the main reasons why this financial hardship hasn’t felt like an actual hardship is because I’ve taken the time to truly discern between what I want and what I need.

Growing up in a Quaker faith, then living in a Mennonite community, living within your means was just inherent as to what you should do. It wasn’t ingrained in us vocally, but witnessed to us through example. But I also am more than completely aware of this world we live in which sees material possession and “more” as marks of success. I mean, the iPhone culture is a perfect example with people thinking they must upgrade to the newest model every. single. year. And I’ve definitely fallen into the whole “must buy all the things” mentality that marketing companies love so dearly. I mean, just put me in Target and immediately I buy 5x what I need.

So instead of ordering takeout whenever I want, I’m making meals in my crockpot that will last me at least a week. I might be shopping every week, but it’s because I’m buying just what I need and using what I have before I go shopping again. I’ve set a cash budget for going out this month — one of my friends has a residency this month and I want to support her by attending the performances. I’m not letting myself go to Target with reckless abandonment.

I have half my means, but I don’t feel like I’m living half my life. I have a place to live. I can get food when I need it. I’ve got my friends, my family, my cats. I have enough books to suffice me, and when those run out I’ve got the library. For now I still have Netflix, and Hulu, and internet in my home. I have enough clothes that fit. In all honesty, I feel like I have more than I need.

Happiness doesn’t have to be determined by what we own, nor failure defined by what we lack. Retail therapy is all well and fun, but it’s short lived and what we’re left with is more clutter. I don’t mean to live a life of abstention. Rather, we should strive to find new means of measuring success. I don’t feel like a failure because I lost my job, or because I’m on unemployment. (Which, no, I don’t mean to stay on longer than I need to.) But even when I do get a new job, even if I stay at this income level, I won’t feel disappointed. The things that bring me the most joy and value aren’t things that I can buy or bullet points on my resume.

I’ve been reading more about the idea of simplicity and reflecting on my life and the life I want to live. I’ve come to find that I don’t need more to be happy. My childhood me would be in shock. And as I reflect more on the type of future I want, I know that I can find fulfillment beyond a large paycheck or buying all the latest things. I plan on pursuing simplicity on my own terms and figure out what works best for me.

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