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The pointless pursuit of more: when is enough enough?

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

I hope you had a great holiday this past week, and that they were as restful as they were fun; as reflective as they were festive. And I hope you weren’t inundated with too much new clutter to add to your home.

Sometimes it’s hard to not go overboard during the holidays – after all, it’s so easy to find great stuff for your kids, and well-meaning family members often express their affection through a box and ribbon. But sometimes – it’s just all too much.

If you’re planning on joining the Sound Mind, Sound Mom Book Club this next year, and have therefore started reading Your Money or Your Life, then you might be reflecting on our consumerist culture. I have been, anyway.

When Is It Enough?

In 1929, the Herbert Hoover Committee on Recent Economic Changes published a progress report on a newly introduced concept called the “standard of living.” A new idea, this was developed soon after the Industrial Revolution in order to convince Americans that they were now working to elevate their standard of living, instead of satisfying their basic needs. Most people now had their basic needs met for adequate survival, so the government was a little concerned that Americans wouldn’t have much motivation to work. In this report, the government noted:

“..The survey proved conclusively what has long been held theoretically to be true, that wants are almost insatiable; that one want satisfied makes way for another. … economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as far as they are satisfied.”

In other words – as soon as people’s needs are fulfilled, they will innately turn their attention to fulfilling their wants. And wants beget newer wants; inside us is an insatiable appetite for more.

“More” is like the horizon – we can set our focus on it, but no matter how far we trek toward it, it keeps moving away. It’s a carrot strung in front of a donkey – it keeps us going, but we never win the prize. And so we keep working for the ever-elusive “more.”

Are we hard-wired that way?

hands in the air
Photo by Michelle Chiang

C.S. Lewis refers to this appetite for more as a desire for Home. What we’re after is a complete satisfaction that we’ve “arrived,” that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. The tricky thing, however, is that we won’t find it here on earth, because we are made for another place. Our Home – heaven with our Maker – is at the core of all our desires. So until we’re there, we remain never fully satisfied.

In other words, human beings are constantly reaching for more, but more will never be enough.  At least on this side of the grave.

So what are we to do?

Things are not wrong. My husband and I gifted each other iPods for Christmas, an item we’ve both wanted for years and have saved up the cash for. It was fun to treat each other to these little luxuries because we worked hard and set aside the money for them, a little at a time.

And as we drove around yesterday, we noted how iPods have morphed culturally from luxury items to near necessities – that as a couple, we are pretty behind on the times, in terms of scoring the latest and greatest gadget.

No big deal for us, but it still caused us to reflect that what historically have been luxuries only for the uber-wealthy are now at easy reach for most middle-class westerners. An endless array of entertainment is at our fingertips – we only need to beep a few buttons on some remotes to watch, listen, or play anything.

vintage refrigerator
Photo by Amara Vazquez

100 years ago, only the elite had ice boxes in their homes; new-fangled technology that kept blocks of ice frozen in well-insulated kitchen cabinets. Now, refrigerators are in 99.5% of American homes – it’s the most common home appliance worldwide.

Should we feel guilty?

I’m not a luddite – technology is a good thing. And I have no problem with spending money on luxuries when it can be afforded and provides a greater good.

But when is enough enough?

When are we internally at peace with our income and the things it provides? At what point do we stop mindlessly working, and start working with realistic, profitable, and healthy financial goals for our families?

What you can do at home to curb your appetite for more

Here are a few ideas to keep yourself in check as you live in a culture that’s driven on more:

1. Make a plan to regularly budget this next year. Live on what you have, and never more. I’ve written about budgeting quite a few times here and here, and some of my online friends have written excellent primers on budgeting on their blogs, such as Frugal Dad, Small Notebook, and Being Frugal. I also recommend using an easy program like Pear Budget.

2. Give. Giving – even before you budget your living expenses – is good for your soul. Make this a non-negotiable part of your money management.

3. Make friends with like-minded people. I’m not suggesting you ditch your best friend who lives on credit, but if you feel alone, seek out camaraderie and accountability. Get involved in a local church – and if you can’t find friends who want to live frugally in real life, there at least plenty of online resources.  You’ll find lots of frugally-minded friends here at Simple Mom and at the sites I have listed on my links page.

4. Join the Sound Mind, Sound Mom Book Club and read our first selection, Your Money or Your Life. This book answers the basic questions behind the why of money management. Its goal is to help you create a new road map for money, to convince you that the way most of the world handles money is not only outdated, it’s unhealthy. The writers’ hope is to transform readers into “FIers” – people who are Financially Intelligent, full of Financial Integrity, and Financially Independent.

Money management is a holistic art – it affects our entire well-being and our family’s unity, not just our pocketbooks. It’s worth the effort to be good stewards of what we’re given and to be students of basic economics.

This is why we are starting with Your Money or Your Life in the 2009 Book Club. What a great way to start the year.

Care to join us? There’s plenty of time to start. All you have to do is read the book and join in our weekly discussions, which will start on January 1 (this Thursday!)- I’ve just published new information about how the Book Club will work. Feel free to read up and ask questions if you have any.

How at peace are you with your family’s income level? Does it affect the way you manage your home? And if you’ve started the book, I’d also love to hear some of your initial thoughts.

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Comments

  1. I’m ready!

  2. My husband bought the book for me for Christmas! I’m so excited to start reading.

    One Question: Will it matter if my version is different? He could only find the “New Edition” (1999) in our local bookstore.

  3. great suggestions and posting, thanks.

    3mily´s last blog post…20 qualities of power-moms

  4. I am excited for the book club to start – I am getting my first book today!

    I am not at all at peace with my family’s financial situation, because we are dead broke and up to our eyeballs in debt. Despite that, I am hopeful. I am graduating in 2009 so all of this hard work for no pay should pay off when I have my first real job, and a return to the regular paycheck. We live very, very frugally. I have gone so long without even the things I need that I have finally conquered the part of me that used to always need more, more, more. When you live for a whole year with less than 5 outfit options, it suddenly seems less important to go shopping every week. My priorities have definitely changed from my younger days!

    You have posted about this before – the hardest thing for me to overcome the “I want it NOW” urge about is a house. I really want a house. Sigh.

    Lucie @ Unconventional Origins´s last blog post…Introduction: Bringing in the New Year at Unconventional Origins

  5. I read the book already (based on your post about the selections for 2009) and it was great.

    Great post today … loved the suggestion about surrounding yourself with like-minded folks!

    Naomi´s last blog post…Making Laundry Easier!

  6. I got the book for Christmas, too!

    We bought very little this Christmas, but welcomed our parents’ versions of gift-giving, which added up to overload. And then found ourselves asking, “Why did this happen again? How can we teach our children a healthier relationship with ‘stuff’?” We want them to be able to enjoy Things without feeling torn to bits by that insatiable desire for more.

    I realized that part of the problem for us is that we use Christmas not only as a time to get special things we want, but also to give things that are needed. And it all adds up to way too much. I’m realizing that we need to work with our budget so that we’re able to afford the needed clothing during the year, and even save for a special thing now and then throughout the year, so that this Christmas overload doesn’t feel like it “has” to happen.

    I loved when the Crockpot Lady said she was pretending that Toys ‘R’ Us hadn’t vomited all over her living room! (Her post.) We felt the same way.

  7. I love the suggestions posted here. Thankfully, we didn’t give or receive gifts this year and though I love “things” (clothes mostly) I usually dont go shopping much. These are all really good suggestions nevertheless and I love the advice about giving.

    Carla´s last blog post…Homemade Reusable Grocery Store Bags

  8. I think it’s easy to see when enough is enough when we look at what others have and how they use it … it’s so much harder to see in our own lives.

    Mary´s last blog post…Some encouraging thoughts for those getting a later financial start…

  9. great post! We had a big move “overseas” a few years back. We had to pack and pay for the shipping out of pocket and downsized to 40 beer box sized boxes , a guitar, and a keyboard for 3 people (and 2 cars). We have repurchased many of the essentials that make life comfortable but since this move have discovered the wonders of simplicity! Our home is warm and welcoming but we do not have a ton of knick knacks or stuff that we do not use.

    Turtle´s last blog post…Let it snow, let it snow…la dee da! and 2 pimps

  10. I already picked up “your money or your life” at the library! Looking forward to the book club!

    Dana @ Letters to Elijah´s last blog post…Frugal Tip: Use it all Up!

  11. I just started the book (I only have it until mid Jan thru inter library loan). I’d read it before but really enjoying reading it again. Taking notes so I can be a part of the discussion. (The library didn’t get the newest version – sorry I had hoped to share from the new version. But this one is still very good and applicable.)

    Avlor´s last blog post…Current Project – Lined Mittens

  12. I’m new to your blog – loving it! I’ll be joining the book club but had to laugh when you said ‘and therefore have started reading YMOYL…’ I’m not THAT ready! I’m ordering it today because I found out our library version is 16 yrs old. I have debated buying or reading the very old version but I’m opting to buy this and one other (FWO) since my library doesn’t have that one.

    Anyway what has put finances into clear perspective for me is getting involved with a non-profit in Guatemala called Mayan Families. We have two sons adopted from Guatemala and understanding the difficulties families the families there face with poverty really helps me understand better between wants and needs. When I know a cheap dinner out for my family of 6 costs the same as a WEEK of food for a Guatemalan family, and knowing the children we sponsor in school there have never eaten 3 meals a day, it makes going without easy. We always now weigh large financial decisions against what that money would mean to someone who is starving and without education, a home and medical care. It’s the small spendings that trip us up…

  13. One of the reasons we {downsized} Xmas this year was to lessen the growing expectations of our family members of more, more, more. More does not equal more. We are spending some time this week talking about what we want to DO in 2009 and how to do those things we will have to spend LESS on STUFF. {experiences NOT stuff} is our new family motto.

  14. I just placed a reserve on the book at my library. We have been more or less following Dave Ramsey for several years, although our emergency fund isn’t where he’d like it to be. We are comfortable and I am greatful, but sometimes still fall into the ‘more’ trap.

    Holly´s last blog post…Handmade Gifts

  15. Being on a pension with a teenager to care for, I often find it hard to understand so much of what I read as being needed to be taught. On a pension you have to be frugal and be content with the least. While it may not have been an easy leasson to start with, as I already considered myself to frugal and handy, it is actually enjoyable to know that what I consider normal and a bit hard is what so many desire to embrace. Funny ol’ world. Cherrie

    cherrie´s last blog post…Bits of sunshine for you!

  16. I truly can’t wait! I’m putting the book on hold at my library…hopefully it will come in soon.

    Faerylandmom´s last blog post…I Live in the Peanut Gallery

  17. Another terrific post, TSh. I enjoy your site more and more each time I visit. It’s too bad we live in separate countries, I’s love to have a book club get together in person!

    Stacy
    Website: Kids ~ Stuff ~ World

    Stacy´s last blog post…KSW loves TOMS shoes

    • One of the readers here suggested a great idea – starting local Sound Mind, Sound Mom Book Club groups. You still participate online, but you can also get together monthly (or whenever) with local participants.

      I’ll provide a forum within the Book Club, so people can discuss details, if this is an interest to anyone!

  18. I am very at peace with our finances, but only because we hit “rock bottom” in 2007. We are just discharged from a bankruptcy now. The only debt we have left are my student loans. Christmas equaled no debt for us this year! We are even doing renovations without going into debt! It’s an incredible feeling.

    Giving is one thing I’d like to add. We’ve started a saving schedule as part of our 101 in 1001 list. It has helped, so maybe I can work giving in, in a similar fashion.

    I haven’t read the book you are reading in your book club and I just can not add one more thing, but I look forward to continuing to read your site.

    LaDonna´s last blog post…Not Me Monday #4

  19. I have yet to get the 1st book listed on your book club. I hope the library does have a copy which I can borrow.
    I personally subscribe to enough is enough. If there are extras it means that we are been blessed for the year by GOD. I have yet to come up with a budget for next year but reflecting on this year we have managed to stay within budget and are relatively debt free- besides housing and car loan. Money Management is essential to live comfortably.

    Dominique´s last blog post…Year End Reflections-(Roy)

  20. I am struggling with enough being enough. We live in a more than comfortable suburban neighborhood that hasn’t (yet) been hit by the economy. Here kids woke up on Christmas morning to an abundance of presents, and adults discuss which trip was their favorite this year. Sigh. I know intellectually that I shouldn’t be envious, but I am envious. I am welcoming this discussion with all my being.

  21. The book you chose is fabulous! I am of (at least) two minds when it comes to giving and getting (and it’s cousin, accumulating). I want my kids to have fun toys and the joy of receiving surprises but I desperately crave simplicity too… and those seem at odds. Given that my house is still so filled with clutter, I think simplicity is still losing.

    I do take comfort in knowing that they can play with so many more and different toys at preschool and playdates with friends… but it’s also a relief to hear that my lust for more more more is a human condition. Thanks Tsh.

    RookieMom Heather´s last blog post…Activity #1061: Customize your celebration

  22. I often reflect on the once-luxury items that are now necessities. I wrote about it here . Looking forward to the book club!

    Just Plain Joy´s last blog post…Sound Mind, Sound Mom Book Club

  23. I’m very excited about finances right now–my husband just got a good job after one year of being unemployed. The last year has been an eye-opening experience. Now I’m excited to use a full budget, make our family more self-reliant, and learn more through experience. And I’m looking forward to the book club. :)

    Andrea´s last blog post…Week in Photos: Christmas

  24. have read the 1992 version (just finished the other day) as that is all i could find here in Australia (library so far, but will check if Borders stocks the new version to compare).

    My husband and I are in good financial shape thanks to being savers rather than spenders and managing on one income for the last 5 1/2 years so I could stay at home with 2 kids. I had planned to skip this book because I felt finance was one area I did not need any help with, but I still managed to take away some great info and perspective. will be moving house tomorrow and no internet until the 19th but will join in as soon as possible.

  25. I can’t wait to get started with the book club – this book has been on my “to read” pile for a couple of years now!

    Christi´s last blog post…

  26. I’m gong to order the book soon – and I’ve written about your book club on my blog because I’m really excited about it. About the finances part, I feel pretty content with how much our household income is. It’s by no means large, but it meets our needs, keeps a roof over our heads, and my husband’s income allows me to stay at home with our son. The only thing that I worry about is our savings accounts (not including IRA’s and 401K) – but we’re tackling the first baby step and getting that $1000 emergency fund together fast. Just having that will relieve some stress!

    Heather´s last blog post…Now that Christmas is Over…

  27. Your Money or Your Life is one of my favorite personal finance books. Great first selection! I really enjoyed this post, and it reminded me a verse from Matthew (6:19-21 NIV) that a friend recently shared with me:

    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    Frugal Dad´s last blog post…Last Minute Gift Ideas That Do Not Require Standing In Lines

  28. I’m at a point that I’m incredibly thankful for the job my husband has, that I’m able to stay home, that we “own” a home (actually 2) – or should I say “mortgages” rather than “homes” for now… But I’ve also been greatly humbled in the last 2 years because of some financial “gambles” that we took, sincerely not feeling greedy, believing in investing, but simply not aware of how much we still had to learn about money, the market, housing, etc. And now we are on the “painful” side of humility – we make an excellent income, are able to still give about 15% of our income away each year, but we are essentially “strapped” due to the financial obligations from our poor-choice investments.

    I’m learning more & more to trust in the Lord, thankful that he continues to truly provide for our every need & then some. I’m also incredibly thankful that both my husband & I are on the “same page” when it comes to budgeting & we are both determined to learn what God desires for us in this circumstance, not wanting it to become the focus of our lives. I’m eager to start reading the 1st book on your list, though I haven’t been able to get a copy yet. Have to wait until next month – we’re on a budget! :)

    Vicki´s last blog post…My mosaic

  29. so much food for thought here. thanks as always for your insights.

  30. Awesome!

  31. What an awesome and inspiring post! My one resolution for 2009 is to simplify my life in any way I can. I had been getting really stressed out about my family’s income level, but now I am just realizing how much I have, and how lucky I am. Over the course of the year, I want to take a look at every aspect of my life and think about how to simplify/downsize it. By focusing less on consuming, I want to get more in touch with my joie de vivre!

  32. We are starting the new year with a few new things – a new budget/money plan being one of them. I’m excited to see what we can save and what we can put toward paying off debt! We do have ING and take advantage of being able to open multiple accounts though we aren’t funding them as regularly as I’d like, that will change!

    I think I’ll join the book club if I can find the book at my local (super small) library. It’s hard but I’m not buying books for at least a month!

    Tsoniki Crazy Bull´s last blog post…A New Do

  33. I am looking forward to starting! The library should have a copy of the book for me today. :)

    Jennifer´s last blog post…New Years Eve 2008

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