…is that it creates more. Much like that children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, even a simple action can create a snowball effect that can quickly become something you did not expect. We read this story to our children when they were young as a way to teach them about making choices and their consequences but is equally appropriate when discussing how we end up with all this stuff.
If a hungry little mouse shows up on your doorstep, you might want to give him a cookie. And if you give him a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk. He’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache, and then he’ll ask for a pair of scissors to give himself a trim…
My father has always said that once you end up buying a refrigerator, it’s all over. That was his clear delineation between childhood and adulthood. Its hard to backpack around Europe when you own a refrigerator. Equally difficult is bicycle touring or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I am not so sure he was really talking about losing the ability to be footloose and fancy free. The problem is not really the refrigerator itself, but all the things that owning one implies. By owning that fridge, you have begun the process of “settling down.”
- You start collecting all the necessary things it takes to operate a comfortable, modern American household.
- You buy a mini-van rather than the RoadTrek van you really wanted.
- Long-term practicality begins to gain prominence and short-term joy is told to just be patient.
- You become responsible for more than just yourself- maybe its just a partner or perhaps there are children. Either way, the expectations of others necessarily color your views of what is important.
- The cross-country bike tour you were planning gets moved to the back burner because you really ought to find a “real job.”
When I was in college, my mother used a pencil to write my address in her contact book because I was single and moved around so frequently. It was pretty easy to do back then. I had a duffel bag for my clothes, a few books, a couple boxes, my camping gear, and my bicycle. That was it. It would all fit in the back of my 1981 Toyota Tercel liftback (and I could still see out the back!)
The last move I made was when we sold our home on Bainbridge Island and moved to Massachusetts. Everything my family of six owned, except for the items we would be needing while we looked for a new home, went into a 28′ long x 8′ wide x 8′ high shipping container and we packed that thing full to the roof. One of my good friends, who is apparently a Tetris fanatic, took great joy and care to fit each piece of furniture, each box, each bed frame, into its perfect little spot. That thing was so well packed that there was not an inch of available space for that load to shift during transit. Needless to say, when we opened the container to offload our stuff into our new house, everything was EXACTLY where Phil had placed it six months prior.
The biggest consequence of having more is that, once you purchase that refrigerator, your life has changed permanently. The old life is still visible but it is more like an entry in your diary rather than a living, breathing reality. There may come a time when you will be able to return to something more closely aligned with those early ideals but the glowing coals of a rich life are a very different heat than the grand inferno of youth.
If the expectation is that you will be able to simply take up where you left off, you are neglecting the reality of how different you really are from that earlier version of your current self. Try going out to see a band at a bar some night. I still love live music but find that the scene that used to be so shiny and exciting is less so these days. Seeing the awkward, flirty games people play with one another is like watching some show on the WB network. Also, paying $5 for a can of beer seems kind of ridiculous.
We should, instead, pass along a yearning for that fire, that passion for life. If we can divest ourselves from the habit of constantly needing more, I believe we will be better able to see what truly makes us happy. If we can teach our children that life isn’t about having the most stuff but living and loving and adventure, we may have given them the tools to see through some of the veils of what we “need” to begin to understand what is truly makes them happy and confident adults. Infatuations will fade but the things that really resonate with us are part of who we are. Figure that out, and do it.
To hell with the mouse.