Buying things will not make you happy. But when I walk into the kitchen, I think about how nice a good set of knives would be. Real chef knives, dangerously sharp. Or maybe the ceramic knives that Ming Tsai uses. And it won’t make me happy but I want a new refrigerator. One that’s stainless steel with a French door and Energy Star compliant. And I’d like to find a cool painting to hang on the only wall in the kitchen to bring some color into the space. What about a non-slip rug by the sink? To make it feel homey. But none of those things will make me happy. I just find myself wanting them.
Having more stuff will not make you happy. But I want to create a space for us in our tiny, rented apartment in Los Angeles. I want it to be beautiful because our life is beautiful. Everything we share is beautiful and in my mind our home doesn’t reflect that. It doesn’t say what I want it to say. It doesn’t say we live a life I love, we make meals together and for our friends, we follow each other around the house talking about our day while we do other little things at the same time. But putting pretty stuff in this place that isn’t mine and feels temporary won’t say all that.
There is one material thing that I want. And that is my own home. I’ve wanted it for as long as I can remember. Little girls are supposedly always imagining their weddings and how amazing it would be. I was always dreaming of a gourmet island kitchen with French Country antique white cabinetry, dark granite countertops and wide-plank walnut floors. A little bit of land to plant fruit trees and grow vegetables. A study with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to give a home to all of the books I have stored in my parents’ garage. An open floor plan. A master bath. And lots of sunlight on a quiet street in a beach town.
So maybe it’s not just one thing. It’s an idea: of a home to share and love. I’ve never felt secure financially. So I’m trying to feel secure, even though security is never guaranteed, even with no debt and a pile of cash. If you try to get rich, you’ll never have enough. If you try to keep up with your friends, neighbors, coworkers or even your family, you’ll always overspend. Relentless advertising and media reinforcement over the years has pretty much ingrained into my mind the idea that having lots of stuff and lots of money to spend is the easy road to happiness. But I’m working towards a goal. I am paying off my debts slowly but surely and instead of thinking about little things I want to buy, I remind myself of the home that will be possible if I just keep my head down and power through. The hardest part of paying off debt is that it isn’t fast. There is no instant gratification like what sleek new kitchen tools could provide or the silent hum of a refrigerator that isn’t 25 years old. There are results, but they are fragile. You could go out and buy new stuff and wipe out all your hard work.
But there is momentum. And momentum builds. And it affects the rest of your life- your relationships, your work, your side projects. This thing, this American Debt Project and this grown-up life of mine, is just beginning. And like every beginning, it is full of possibilities.