Luke

Why it's okay to want

Written on Wednesday 17th February, 2021

For a long time, I've been afraid of recognition, praise, and gifts. I criticize myself endlessly. I expect better of myself, and I think - no, believe - that gifts and money are wasteful.

I can't say where all these traits come from, but I can say that I was raised to respect money. My father studied accounting, made his own business, and therefore approaches money with unmatched scrutiny. Frugality. Penny-pinching. As gas prices soared during the 2008 recession, he sold one used car only to replace it with another: a feeble Chevy Cavalier. The car struggled on steep inclines and the engine was often on the brink of complete failure. But it worked. And most importantly, it ran on compressed natural gas, which sold at $1.50 per gallon compared to over $4.00 for the regular stuff.

Over that car's transitory 5 year stint with our family, it probably saved us a few hundred dollars, and it taught me to respect every dollar I found. I would only spend my money after considering the value and potential longevity of the item. How far could I make my money go? 

And so when I was finally off to college - on my own at last - I made a habit of incurring just three expenses: food, housing, and gas. I kept the thermostat low (to my roommates' dissatisfaction). I drove my car a maximum of once every three weeks. Meals were simple, and usually based around black beans or eggs, or some combination of the two. I'd add rice when I was really hungry. My mother often asked how I was eating. Was I eating healthily; receiving three square meals a day; eating fresh veggies?

To her questions I always answered curtly, saying, "Yes."

And while that was a bit of a lie, I didn't want to explain to her all my frugal quirks. In my time at school, I had taken up a vegetarian diet. I did so after reading the UN's landmark 2018 environmental report, or rather, doomsday report. How could I eat energy-intensive and methane producing meats and sleep soundly at night? The same went for driving. My rugged 4-wheel drive SUV could handle my rough Vermont winters, but it's 10 mile-per-gallon average was slowly guiding humanity towards year long summers.

All of this - the frugality and the doomsday mindset - guided me towards a bare-bones life. I did everything short of reusing toilet paper. I needed very little. In fact, I wanted very little. The minimalist lifestyle suited me. I could've lived in a van down by the river and achieved nirvana.

But something changed. Perhaps it comes as the result of growing older, recognizing my own mortality, and the selfish desires that arise from that realization. Or maybe I learned the difference between minimalism and squalor. Either way, I learned that everyone needs to strike a balance between contentment and desire.

These changes came as a new perspective entered my life. That of a new, intimate friend.

As John Mulaney says about his wife, a significant other has a way of pointing out the obvious things. Such as, when we woke up shivering one morning, burritoed in a thin sheet, she said, "You should get more blankets."

And I said, "Yeah…I should!" I spoke like how I imagined Archimedes exclaimed"Eureka!" upon discovering the water-displacement properties of a voluminous object.

And this conversation would repeat itself time and time again. 

"You should eat more than eggs and black beans."

"You have a car. It's far. You should drive there."

"There are holes in all your shoes. You should buy new ones."

"Why don't you have winter boots? You should get some."

…and so on and so forth.

While I will never encourage the rabid consumerism of a Black Friday mob storming into a Walmart in order to save thirty dollars on a super-triple-HD-plasma-ultrawide-ultraflat-hydroponic TV, I believe that everyone deserves a little something from time to time.

While factors like childhood lessons in penny pinching and anticonsumerist sentiments influenced my purchasing practices, truthfully what afflicted me the most was self-loathing - the belief that I didn't deserve anything. But with a few words of encouragement, I reconsidered my place in this world.

Saving the planet was not my responsibility alone. Neither should I constantly seek to save money. One shouldn't hoard money for the sake of hoarding money - don't be like Smaug - one earns money in order to spend it.

Long ago I would've balked at the idea of writing for a wish list maker. That would be sacrilege. But here I am, and there's no knot in my stomach - I am happy. And I encourage others to buy gifts for themselves and others. Buy a TV. Buy a new video-game console. Buy a new car. Whatever it is, claim the things you want, because you deserve to do so. All I'd ask is that you marry your desire with a recognition of its impact: both on the environment and your wallet.

Long story short: I want to remind you to make wish lists. Buy things. Reward yourself. This is an unapologetic reminder to you to use this site, because I have learned to unapologetically desire things. I'm no zombified consumer, but I am a human being, so I'll buy legos and jackets and books because they make me happy.

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