Like most people, my relationship with things is related to my relationship with money. When I was a child, my family started out working class, and worked its way up to middle class. I had a lot of typical middle class experiences, with private school, and my parents helping me out financially long after I moved out, but I remembered our not-so-secure start. We had friends and family who were still there.
College was a mixed bag—I wasn’t well-off, but I wasn’t poor. I worked hard, with at least one job all the way through, but between my jobs and my parents help, I had plenty of money to buy new clothes and go out partying. I wasn’t buying the designer stuff, but I wasn’t avoiding the mall, either.
When I got married, things went downhill, money-wise. I had my daughter 10 months and 2 days after we got married, and we didn’t have much money. We didn’t fall under the poverty line at first, but we were just over the top. After my ex and I went back to college, we did fall under the poverty line, but we had enough financial assistance to get by. Plus, my parents were still helping out. This was a really hard time for me, because it was very different from any other time I remembered. I avoided stores, because the amount of stuff I simply could not buy depressed me. When I went to the grocery store, I had to keep a running total in my head to ensure that I didn’t exceed our extremely meager food budget. I couldn’t afford to decorate my home in a way that I liked—it was all hand-me-downs or doing without.
Around the time I got divorced, I got my first professional job with my new college degree. I also had a second child, increasing my expenses. It took a while to pull myself out of the debt and just get some of the basic things we needed, and get out of the expensive daycare years. But now, I am doing well in my job, comfortably ensconced in the middle class, no full-time daycare fees to pay, doing pretty well.
I still remember vividly those poor years, though. They make it even harder for me to moderate my spending. When I go to the grocery store, I buy what I like. At a minimum, I can think about how much we will be home, and whether I am just buying too much volume, but I simply cannot keep a running total of what I am spending, even when I am buying groceries near the end of a pay period with not too much money in the checking account.
I did without so much for so long, that it is hard for me to see many of my purchases as extravagant. Sure, I don’t need 4 winter coats, but a knickknack for my shelves seems reasonable. We live in an expensive area, and I want my children to look nice at school; all of their friends have lots of nice clothes. But my 5 year old has finally started stabilizing in his growth, and I have somehow ended up with nearly 2 months worth of shirts that still fit him. I have to struggle not to buy him another shirt when I see something particularly nice in the stores, though, still.
I used to avoid malls and other stores because I couldn’t afford to buy anything. Now, I find that I need to avoid the stores because I CAN afford to buy things, and I WILL buy too much. I need to find other ways to feel better-off, not poor, than bringing a bunch of extra stuff into my house. One thing I have started doing is going to more plays. I have season tickets to the Rep for the second time this season, and I will do the summer Muny shows again this year.
For now though, I am still trying to avoid the stores and the temptation. Or I will be as soon as I am done buying new furniture for my front room. And new bookshelves. And some storage for my kitchen. But I really need these things, don’t I? I think I do. I think that by making my home inviting and pleasant, maybe I will calm some of my acquisitiveness. Maybe then I will be able to look around and think I have it pretty good.