You probably already know, I just bought my first house, and I never want to leave. I get to wallow in self-indulgence looking around at all the plush carpet, granite countertops, high ceilings and, well, empty rooms I just “bought” and even utter, “yay, me!” if I want. But what it’s done to my outlook on life is what I find most surprising.
I think I’m in the majority of my demographic when I say I’m on one ill-fated self-improvement kick or another pretty much end-on-end at any given time. I get targeted for ads on Instagram and Facebook whose target audience could be described simply as “DINK,” and I’m not not interested in what they’re selling most of the time.
I’ve grown cross-eyed and weary of books and gurus telling me to go to bed at 9 pm, don’t eat after 6 pm, only drink water for the first hour of my day, stop drinking alcohol, quit eating animal protein, and take exotic herbs five times a day so I can live happily past 100. Needless to say I have committed to exactly zero of the aforementioned tenets, long-term if at all.
I’ve also tried to reform my spending habits in the past. “Minimalism” is having its own little renaissance on social media right now. As the country is getting more flush with cash than it’s been in ten years or so, suddenly everyone starts to get really moral about how they spend their money. Folks start to think less about hand-to-mouth and more about how to “vote with their dollar” and investing in “quality over quantity.”
That said, I’ve always liked the smell of something new. I like the feeling of new clothes and the satisfaction of rewarding myself for hard work. I grew up with very little in the way of newness, so the thrill never seemed to lose its shine with me even as an adult. I’ve always liked to treat myself to a shopping trip. I love the compliments I get from people on my outfits. I like knowing I look “cool” and experimenting with my appearance.
Of course, the two notions fly in one another’s faces. Minimalism and an appetite for shopping meet at an impasse. And such has been the dichotomy I exist between on a day-to-day basis, absentmindedly opening promotional emails only to then slap my own hand and remember, “you’re saving for a house, idiot.”
And the items would stay where they belonged, at the store.
After six month of this practice, I noticed the obvious: I had more money because I wasn’t spending it on clothes at a whim. Unfortunately that notion wasn’t followed then by a new outlook of valuing more what was already in my closet, but instead just over-and-again foregoing that thrill-of-the-new I had grown accustomed to; austerity with a goal in mind.
But once the money was saved, all tucked away in my account ready to hand over to the bank, and with some liquidity surprisingly left aside from it, I found that my trigger finger wasn’t as eager as it had once been. The week before closing I went out on a shopping trip with my boyfriend who badly needed a few things, and I found that the desire to keep my money in my pocket outweighed the urge to buy something new for myself. The muscle memory for whipping out my credit card had atrophied.
*CUE EPIPHANY NOISES*
Was this adulthood finally dawning on me? Was this the paradigm shift I’d been looking for all these years to, at long last, curb my spending habits and teach me to value the present?
Actually, kind of.
It wasn’t a void of desire. I wasn’t left with a hole where that need once was. I found that the vacuum was filled instead with a much warmer and more lasting feeling: gratitude. And as I settled into that feeling, over time I learned that gratitude is something you can exercise and improve, like the muscle that once was so adept at spending. I could literally train my brain and my gut to take the momentary impulse of “I want” and turn it instead into, “thank you.”
I don’t pretend to be any kind of master of neuroplasticity. I have a lot of bad mental habits, most I’m probably not even aware of yet. But I’ve learned one weakness (that was the easy part), and through a lot of practice – in this case forced by ultimatum of giving someone a large sum of money on a set date – I’ve learned to emulate a person who thinks more rationally about money.
Aside from the massive monument of my own achievement (and the strange way we are allowed to borrow massive amounts of money as long as we hand over enough PII to a third party to steal our identity 11 times over) that is this house, I feel like I’ve taken away from the experience a jewel in my “adulting” crown: “Want” is in itself a negative. It is saying, “I do not have.” Gratitude is the weapon against it, and believe it or not (and this is a post for another day), the more grateful you are, the more good ultimately comes your way. I promise.