“Oh! Is that one of those bowls that’s a gong?!” –David, excitedly, at a pawn shop.
Many years ago in Barcelona I went out for a drink with a couple other travelers I met – a Kiwi and a South African. Back then, I was impressionable and prone to be won over by platitudes, but something the Kiwi said has stuck with me to this day. He said it in all earnestness: “I have nothing more than what’s in this backpack, and I’ve never felt richer in my life.” Yes! That is the life for me! is what I thought.
Fast forward many years and add a permanent human underling, and a signed contract to work and pay bills and stay true to another grown-up, and a comment like that seems nice, if idealistic.
Still, one of the major differences David and I face as a couple is our differing relationships to stuff. He acquires things easily, and I still romantically aspire to fit everything I own into a suitcase. Oftentimes, when standing at a store and deciding whether or not to buy something, the thought that goes through my head is, I suppose I totally need this [toothpaste or postage stamp or oil change], but I can’t be bothered to stand in line for it.
Christmastime really underscores our differences. I wish I could just focus on baking cookies and decorating the tree, but instead I’m dreading all the shopping-for-crap that has to happen. Crap-shopping is my nightmare. One year I waited in some all-night line at Walmart with David not because I wanted a $5 blu-ray player, but because I wanted to see what kind of people did. I wanted to smell the Red Bull on their breath, and watch as they elbowed each other to a bin full of Silly Bandz. Yes, it’s condescending, but I find the whole shitshow fascinating.
For Christmas, I’d prefer giving an experience to a material object. I’d rather spring for a ride in one of those engineless planes than wrap up some bulky object that’ll eventually (whether next year or in ten) be hauled off to Savers. Stroll through the wall-hanging section of Savers to see a graveyard of good intentions and forgotten dreams.
Unfortunately, I don’t think David’s a fan of my gifts for the sake of experience. He’s never said so, but I get the feeling he thinks I’m taking the easy way out. And he’s right, because it’s not what he wants, and as the giver, I need to be in tune with what he wants. David is great at giving gifts, because he cares about stuff, and seems to figure out just what thing it is that someone wants but doesn’t know they want. For his dad last Christmas, he picked out the perfect battery-powered camping radio, and it’s a long story, but is exactly what his dad wanted that he didn’t realize he wanted. Who thinks of that? Not me. I was wishing his dad golfed, so I could buy him a round like I did for my dad. Maybe David is the more materialistic of us, but he’s also the more in tune with people, the better listener. He’s the guy who takes note of you admiring or finding a need for something, and surprising you with it down the road.
In life before David, I never liked going to thrift stores. They were all right in theory, but in reality, I found them depressing. Down-and-out types rummaging through piles of funny-smelling garbage. When I first met him, I didn’t discover right away how much David actually frequented thrift stores. At first I was intimidated by his taste and style of dress. Everything he wore seemed high quality and expensive, but little by little I realized that none of it was bought first-hand. He views pawn shops, thrift stores, and garage sales as places to seek out treasures, and we can hardly pass one without stopping.
Treasure-hunting is a nice way to think of it. It’s how I view capturing the best photo. You know it’s out there – you just have to keep your eyes open for it. But it’s hard for me to embrace that attitude about thrifting. Is the needle really worth it when the haystack feels like a landfill? (Okay, maybe that’s harsh.)
Over the years I’ve come to gain a reluctant appreciation for David’s habit. We have an apartment full of quite nice things, just about all of it purchased secondhand. The fancy computer I’m typing this on was bought nearly new for a $1000 discount at a pawn shop. Our TV was a sweet Craigslist find along with the equipment that makes it sound good. Rug, Wii, baby gear, unopened bottles of sunscreen, camping equipment, appliances, snowboards, you name it, it’s all secondhand steals. We even found some really fantastic ceiling fans for our house we haven’t yet broken ground on. These days the only thing new I buy are groceries and the occasional other consumable product.
Garage saling as frequently as we do, we recognize the eccentric regulars: the fast-walking girl with dreadlocks, the stuck-in-the-70s guy who leaves his own garage sales to check out others, the sweet old man who tips his hat. What brand of eccentric regular are we? Are we going to find ourselves on Hoarders one day? Will David be desperately clutching his singing bowl while I try to pry it out of his fingers?
Or is there another side to it? I saw this couple somewhere on TV with a house full of beautiful, tasteful things, carefully curated throughout the decades – all of it found at estate and moving sales. So now I have this whackadoodle goal – completely supported by my guy – of furnishing and equipping everything in our life with recycled goods. We’d be helping the earth by making a place for discarded things. We’d be beating the system that’s set up to suck every hard-earned dime from us.
But the old me is like, forget beating the system. Just say fuck the system. In Buddhism you eliminate desire to eliminate suffering. Just decide not to want all the crap, simple as that. (It helps, as you can see, to view it as “crap.”) The old me screams the words of da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!”
The Kiwi might not have had eloquence, but he had the intention of Lao Tzu, and the intention resonates with me now as it did then. “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize that nothing is lacking the whole world opens up to you.”