I had a professor my freshman year of college tell my class that he didn’t wish fame or fortune for any one of us. Cue groans about another authority figure preaching that Millennials are lazy, good-for-nothing party animals with no sense of direction and no future to speak of. “No, no,” he said. “You misunderstand me.” Instead, he said, he wished us enough. Enough to be comfortable. Enough to have what we need. Enough to live happily. Enough to feel fulfilled.
In many ways, we live in a culture of excess– super-sized meals, super-tall stilettos, super-shiny cars, super-fast internet. We want it now, we want it to be the best, and we want it all. My vices are books, kitchen supplies, and shoes. Gimme, gimme. I would be content with a floor-to-ceiling library, super-size kitchen, and walk-in closet (luxuries I have never had the pleasure of experiencing). In the same breath, though, there’s only so much stuff I can accumulate before I start feeling like I’m suffocating under the weight of all things material. My carrying capacity for clutter is much lower than most people I know (maybe blame it on the Type-A), and the second my capacity is reached, I go on a massive cleaning spree and eventual purge of things I thought I needed but really did not.
This summer, I got rid of three huge bagfuls of clothes. There were things I’d worn maybe once over the course of years of ownership, and things I bought because they were just too cute or the sale was just too good to pass it up. Damn it, consumerism, you got me. I’m not saying owning stuff is bad or buying something because it’s at a good price is bad– show me a pair of $5 shorts and I am so, so there. But sometimes the lines get blurred between needing or really wanting something and wanting it just because it’s there. Like my dad says, “If you use a coupon just to get $20 off $50, you still spent $30.”
There have been times in my life when I’ve had enough to keep me comfortable and happy, but I’ve still wanted more. Like when you already have a pretty cocktail dress in your closet for that party, but you really want another one anyway because everyone’s already seen the other one. Do you need it? No, definitely not. Do you want it? YAS. I, just like most everyone I know, am sometimes easily distracted by bright price tags and marketing that insist I cannot possibly be complete without the latest and greatest gadget or garment. I, like most everyone I know, often fall victim to the promises that excess provides. You will be happier, you will be complete, you will have the life you’ve always dreamed of. Until next week when gadget 2.0 comes out.
So what does “enough” actually mean?
Well, just like anything else, enough is not exactly one size fits all. Your enough is probably vastly different from mine, and that’s totally okay. I measure my enough along a ruler of fulfillment and joy– Is this something I need to have in my life in order for it to be fulfilling and joyful? Or is this something that is maybe just filling the space where that fulfillment and joy should go? The things that provide me with the most complete sense of myself rarely coincide with what the media tells me should “complete me”: Washboard abs? Nope. Five-inch heels? Nope. iPhone 6+? Nope. The biggest challenge in my pursuit of enough is being okay with saying “nope” to the things I know don’t truly hold much value for me, even though they’re sometimes shiny and exciting.
Equally difficult is giving myself permission to say “yes” to the things that are of the utmost importance: Writing. Books. Cooking. Boyfriend. Tigger. Family. Friends. (One day) my own home. An open kitchen. A view of nature. Travel. Comfort. Safety. Security. Enough.
Permission to say yes.
Understanding what is enough for my life is not a static truth, but an organic process– pieces of that understanding fall off and come together as I grow into myself and learn where my priorities lie. In many ways, each day I create another part of my enough through the choices I make and the things I do. I create it by remembering that it’s okay to treat myself to a new book or new dress every once in a while… but also by remembering that a new book or new dress does not always the greatest happiness make. I remember enough when I cook dinner after a long day, and then snuggle on the couch with Boyfriend. I remember enough when Tigger curls up next to me at night. When I write. When I am in nature. I remember enough when I let myself just be myself. When I am me.
Stuff isn’t bad. Wanting stuff isn’t bad, either. The problem arises when that stuff distracts from rather than enriches our brief human experience on this organic satellite. When stuff becomes the mortar that fills in the cracks of our joy and fulfillment, or maybe even the bricks themselves. In my own pursuit of enough, stuff is kind of like the sprinkles on the cupcake– you need the cupcake and the frosting first. You need an entire entity before you accent it with rainbow nonpareils. The material stuff in my life can’t be the foundation upon which I build the life I want for myself, but it can add just the right amount of color and happiness to elevate that life just a little further. Stuff can be part of enough.
The line between enough and excess can sometimes blur into near-nonexistence. How do you measure the endpoint of enough and the beginning of too much? That is for each one of us to decide with great responsibility and care. The culture of buy-me-now and two-for-one makes it easy for greed to cloud that responsible judgment, and makes it easy to justify taking more than we need because “it’s just so good a price, and who really cares anyway.” Greed often feeds self-service and apathy, while enough feeds self-awareness and empathy.
In pursuit of excess, we forget the communal way in which we exist not only with other humans, but with other beings and our environment. Stepping back and understanding the clutter that excess brings into life invites us to shed the extra layers and get down to the heart of who we are and who we want to be. We can still have stuff, and we can still take advantage of that sale (I know I do). The difference is knowing that not every opportunity needs to be capitalized on in order to be complete. In order to have enough.