About 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, expressed a truism that I find remains absolutely accurate today if given a qualifier: “a person who always wants more is never satisfied with whatever he has at this moment.”
From a material standpoint, he is correct. The mindset that says there is never enough money, or possessions, or power, or….whatever, is what drives many of us forward. It is the power behind the desire to upgrade our home, get a bigger car or truck, buy the biggest TV screen available. The children need to go to an Ivy League school. This urge to never be satisfied is what drives our economy.
While my family never really played that “more is better” game, we wanted the best for our kids. We bought an Apple computer soon after they became available so the two girls could learn about a new world that beginning to open up. We weren’t above subtly mentioning we had spent Christmas in Maui, creating lifetime memories.
We just never got caught up in the “impress the Joneses” lifestyle. A purchase fulfilled a need for us, not to dazzle someone else. Frankly, since Betty and I decided very early on to live well beneath our means, we could not have afforded to play that game anyway. Even so, we were part of the materially-driven culture; it surrounded us every moment of every day.
Importantly, I have found that retirement has the potential to disrupt that mindset. Because so many parts of your life change when you leave the world of regular paychecks, it is the perfect time to reassess your relationship with material possessions, desires, and what drives you in your life.
If my experience is at all normal, pulling away from that incessant pressure to buy, to upgrade, to remodel parts of the house simply because you have become bored with the color, or the layout, or appliances, lessens the longer you are away from employment.
Quite often, when you start to spend more time at home, doing some freshening and repair work does occur. You notice that the wallpaper is starting to peel a bit. That huge sectional sofa was great when all the kids lived at home now dominates the room for no particular reason. You sense that the 15-year-old dryer seems to take forever to dry a load. The drafty back windows are hard to ignore when the snow starts to fly. Being in the same space heightens your attention to those things in your living environment that need some TLC.
When you find yourself replacing, upgrading, or adding to your possessions because you are bored or restless, you have to stop and think through the decision. Each new possession or change to your home comes with two costs: the original purchase price and the maintenance/upkeep expenses. Even if that means nothing more than dusting, vacuuming, or occasional repairs, these are events that tap into your energy and time, two parts of your life that may be better spent in something productive, creative, or simply restful. The fewer excess possessions, the more time can be spent on you and your interests.
In one sense, the Covid mess of the past 21+ months has had a potentially positive side effect. Like many of us, you spent many hours streaming movies, shows, and documentaries on your TV or laptop. Except for a few exceptions, most streaming channels are commercial-free. That means you have avoided hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of commercials on television. The first time you go back to a movie theater, you are thrust headlong into the consumer world: the first 10-12 minutes before the previews are packed with attempts to motivate you to buy something. Covid has meant you weren’t in a reclining seat absorbing all that stimulation to purchase.
Malls, shopping centers, even individual stores are designed to trigger a “buy me” impulse. Companies spend millions each year to know what impulse products should go at the front of a store or on those displays at the end of an aisle. Packages are researched continuously to test what color, box size, and wording are most persuasive. If you aren’t in those stores, all that emotional stimulus doesn’t make its way into your consumer’s brain.
I have been fascinated with the (partial) idea of minimalism. Like many things, some people take a simple idea and go overboard: all your belongings in one suitcase, one plate, one cup, and one saucer. To me, minimalism is more a mindset than a physical representation. To me, thinking before making a purchase, any purchase beyond a bag of fries or a new t-shirt to replace one ruined by paint thinner, is how my minimalistic mind works.
We will spend money on a 10 day trip to Kauai without a second thought: a business purpose, seeing new friends, and taking our first break since Covid destroyed so many plans made that expense worthwhile. Memories and taking care of our mental health made that money well spent.
What if I suddenly decide I’d like a VR headset. I will research the various products available and understand I’d have to spend hundreds on the headpiece and various games and simulations.
I am going to close the Amazon page until I can think through that purchase. Resisting the urge to just click has to become a learned response.
Each of us maximizes our contentment in different ways. Unless a purchase or decision jeopardizes someone’s fiscal, physical, or mental well-being, none of us can judge another. If we can control our own impulses and decision-making, our chances of having a satisfying retirement are greatly enhanced.
The qualifier I mentioned at the beginning of this post is if the quote is about a person who is not satisfied with a little creativity, an OK marriage or serious relationship, time with an enjoyed hobby, or time spent with family. In those cases wanting more is to be encouraged. That type of pursuit should not be stopped when there is more to learn, more to paint, more friends to enjoy. That is a positive part of being a human being. Fulfilling all we can be should remain a neverending quest.