When my husband was looking for work, I started praying that he would find a job that wouldn’t pay too much.
I mean, I wanted him to get paid enough, so we could afford to have a car, an apartment, and, if possible, a baby. For a while there, it was looking like we might have to stay at his parents’ house for a while—and I’m not really sure I would’ve lasted more than about a week there (reasons are varied, but suffice it to say that Rush Limbaugh is their touchstone of reality, and Jon Stewart is mine).
So, I prayed, please don’t let us be unemployed and have to live with my in-laws.
But, I went on, please don’t let us make too much money. My husband has a master’s degree in engineering. It was a definite possibility that he could end up making too much money.
“Too much money” isn’t a concept that even makes sense to most people: How could a person have “too much” money? I have friends whose household income is over double ours, and they still talk about scraping by. I have yet to read about a contented billionaire whose decided, gosh gee, a million is pretty much enough for anyone, and they’d like to give the rest away to feed starving children in India. When someone asked him how much money was enough, John D. Rockefeller famously said “Just a little bit more.”
In my house, we prefer to quote the Notorious BIG: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” To me, money is like salt: It’s necessary for many things, but too much can really ruin something good.
I don’t want to become one of those people who never have enough, who always have that itch to buy, who keep a running wish list in their heads. They use the word need in this really peculiar manner. The last smart phone isn’t smart enough; they need the latest version. They need a larger flat-screen TV. They need one more kitchen gadget, one more pair of shoes, one more car.
Everyone knows that feeling of buying something new: It’s satisfying, like some empty space inside of you has, temporarily anyway, been filled. The clothes we wear, the places we live, the things we carry with us: These are the things we stack around us, constructing our identities one brand at a time. I recently watched an ad that had the tagline, “Without your stuff, who are you?”
Without my stuff, I’m lighter on my feet. I’m easier in my mind. Belongings have a way of attaching to us so it’s hard to tell where we end and our stuff begins. We get to saying “I just couldn’t live without my…” This is ridiculous: To say that life could no longer continue if you didn’t have a portable music device.
So apparently, “let me not be rich” is one prayer God doesn’t mind answering. (Kindly, he didn’t make me live with my in-laws, either.) My husband got a job working for a non-profit; we have just enough.
There is a simplicity of soul that comes from living with just enough. When you don’t have extra money lying around, life revolves around homemade food, long walks, borrowed books. My husband and I make all of our soups, breads, sauces and even yogurt from scratch. For entertainment, we go to the farmer’s market or take a walk by Clear Creek. Occasionally, he takes me out for coffee and we share a cup. We bought my baby daughter’s wardrobe at a thrift store, where we paid by the pound. We have one car, and he rides his bike to work most days. We wear our shoes until they have holes in them.
We give a lot away, too, to people who don’t have health care or enough food to eat. We talk about the word need in these terms: There are women in Ethiopia who need fistula repairs they can’t afford. There’s a man in Kazakhstan who needs a loan to start his work as a tailor. There’s a friend in Vermont who needs money to buy groceries this month.
Being rich is dangerous. Materialism is so destructive. It can really make you lose perspective.