Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Someday" is now and it feels differently than I'd expected

I live in a $347,600 four-bedroom house in a perfect neighborhood filled with tree-lined streets, doctors and college professors.

I drive a brand new $38,755 minivan -- complete with a DVD player, of course -- that has top-rated everything and a built-in mini cooler so my bottled water will never go luke warm on even the longest trip.

My king-sized bed has a luxury mattress so amazing that it cost more than my first car. My living room looks like it could be straight out of a Restoration Hardware catalog. And all of my appliances are matching stainless.

But, believe me, I'm not bragging.

Sometimes I get disgusted with it all.

Yes, we work VERY hard. Insanely hard for what we have. And usually we're tremendously grateful, feel overly fortunate and blessed, and appreciate the hell out of all of it. Moving from a century-old house in a rundown town with rusty playgrounds and dilapidated sidewalks, we felt very accomplished to take such a huge step up in a much more well-off community.

And it wasn't easy. We skimped and saved. Penny-pinched and went without. We thought it was everything we ever wanted and always dreamed of. And the timing was important because Allison will now be attending a great school district for kindergarten in the fall -- a fact I'll never overlook.

But are we happier?

Truthfully, I'm not sure.

There's something to be said about the affliction that is Keeping Up with the Joneses. I never really understood it until I suddenly felt inadequate driving a decade-old beat up SUV next to all the sparking Lexuses and BMWs parked in neighboring driveways.

Suddenly things I never cared about before became important. Like what people thought of me when I took Toby out to pee in the morning and I was in the middle of our back yard, morning hair extraordinaire, clad in paint-splattered yoga pants and a threadbare Miami Vice T-shirt Jerry picked up in a thrift store while he was in college. My personal (and officially adopted) favorite.

We don't have jobs with fancy titles. We don't have sparkling graduate degree academic accreditations framed in mahogany and displayed on the wall in our front office. We can't afford to hire a maid and have weekly lawn care service. And that mattress? One of Jerry's best radio station promotion job perks ever. Had we been buying, we would've picked a floor model with one less zero on the price tag.

As for the van, it was a complete freak occurrence after a former high school senior portrait client texted and asked to buy my old CR-V to take to college. I interpreted it as a sign it was time to literally move on. After working out the details for selling, I was convinced we would have to buy used, but low financing and dealer incentives made the payments cheaper to buy new. My first ever brand new vehicle and the excitement quickly turned to guilt. Go figure.

Instead of celebrating all of my newfound niceties in life, the very same things I used to dream of possessing with sentences that frequently included the word "someday," I now wonder if it's changing me. And maybe not for the better.

I'm not sure it's ever enough. I'm constantly evaluating what else we need. We need a new flagstone patio because the concrete is chipping and the little bits that drag in with our shoes are scratching the wood floor. We need better landscaping in the front of the house because the overgrown bushes block the light coming in my office windows. We need to replace the kitchen countertops with granite because it would really complete the space.

Vomit. Vomit. Vomit.

I was fine with our rusty gutters, weeds and peeling paint in our old house. Appearances didn't matter to me. I just wanted linoleum in the kitchen that wasn't straight out of the '70s.

So why is all of it suddenly important now? Why am I so concerned with things other than a very strong desire to keep what we have looking nice and not destroy them?

Some days I remember that I don't want to worry about whether our lawn is as well manicured as the ones that flank ours. I don't want to worry about what people think of the car that I drive. And I certainly don't want to forget what it was like living without.

I don't want to lose touch with the girl who cried because there wasn't money to pay the January heating bill. Who squatted in some friends' apartment for a few months and slept on a couch because having a bedroom would mean paying more rent. Or who worked at a bar and put up with disgusting middle-age drunk men and their occasional wandering hands between the beer taps because the tips would fund an eventual way out.

Maybe I'm just feeling guilty about all that we have. And admitting to myself that living in a nicer place has caused a slippery slope to materialism isn't easy. I also feel more guilt assuming that absolutely zero people will be able to relate to this.

Yes, I still believe that happiness is ultimately a personal decision. There is always a choice to see the good or the bad in any situation. I can sit here and focus on what other people think, whether we fit in, constantly evaluate what we need, or I can concentrate on setting those thoughts aside and do my best to focus on what's actually important in life.

One thing is for sure: Being firmly in my thirties successfully attaining most personal goals and obtaining all of the things I hoped I'd have by now doesn't feel as successful as I thought.

More, newer, faster and pricier isn't always better.

Here's to hoping that looking inward will help combat evaluating and comparing everywhere else. Because it's not -- and never has been -- me.


Naomi said...

I'm not sure how to say it, but I wanted to acknowledge and applaud your honesty in this post. Like others who commented on your previous post, I've been reading your blog since Xanga, and it's great to see you back! On top of your engaging writing, I've also enjoyed your blog for the sentimental reason that I was born and raised in central PA, but haven't lived there since 1994.

Back when you were deciding to launch your business instead of doing something like going to grad school, I cheered--and I'm still cheering. :) I'm now entering my last of seven years earning a doctorate in English. We have a 1yo and a 4yo. My husband has a masters in counseling. We are nearing 40 and struggling to pay off his loans without my taking out new loans. I love what I do, but will my/our earning potential outweigh all the costs? Will we ever be done with school? We don't know yet.

I'm afraid this is starting to sound like a sob story, but it's actually a fumbling attempt to say that your angst resonates with me even though in many ways our life paths are quite different. I don't know about you, but it often feels as though our lives have so little margin. Our time, our budgets, our resources get maxed out so that nothing is left over. Sometimes it's because of choices we make, and sometimes it's because of outside pressures. At any rate, it's exhausting. I wish you well on your journey wherever it leads you.

Lina said...

First, I have been a reader for a long time and was so happy to see you in my feed! Second, I am a fan of your new business FB page and think it's wonderful how you have built it up. You're truly talented and an inspiration to all who aspire to do what you do :) Congrats on your success! Third, thank you for writing this. I can relate. Materialism is so easy to fall into. It's tough to determine the difference between our wants and actual needs. I'm still trying to find that balance. I wish you the best in everything and hope you continue to write again!

Nikki said...

Wow. I was thinking this VERY SAME THING this weekend. We (my family of 4) are looking to buy a new house this next spring. We're moving up. We are trying to decide between an old home with character or a new cookie cutter house with all new everything. I'm leaning towards the cookie cutter and feel horribly guilty about it. I think about the message I'm sending my kids. It will be hard to say, 'Don't worry about what other people think.' when we look like we do care ourselves. Decisions, decisions...

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly, great to see you writing again, even given the subject of the post. But writing has always been the way you work through your journey and no different now. Can't believe

Anonymous said...

Not really anonymous but not sure how to work this thing anymore and no extra time tonight so the previous post was by Jay a.k.a. the plainsman