Two Questions To Carry With You

In this month’s O Magazine, Martha Beck has an article about how the average person will earn $700,000 over his or her entire lifetime, and if you think of it in that way, you might ask yourself:


Her obvious claim is that “people who don’t consciously renounce unneeded, unloved purchases end up with stuff–piles of mediocre, creeping stuff that actually decreases their quality of life.”

She tells a story, which I think is brilliant.

“I have a fabulous friend I’ll call Eve, who bootstrapped herself from dirt-poor beginnings to considerable wealth.  When contemplating a purchase, Eve asks, ‘Do I really NEED this?’  Then she asks, ‘Do I really LOVE it?’  If the answer to both questions is no, then however inexpensive an item may be, she won’t buy it.

“I’m using capital letters because Eve pushes the definitions of need and love much further than most people.  Having survived abject poverty, she knows (as some wealthy people don’t) that she doesn’t actually require an indoor polo field or, for that matter, an iPod, though she could afford both.  She also believes that once her needs are met, she shouldn’t waste one penny or one second on anything she doesn’t LOVE.

“Not just love.  LOVE.  There’s a difference.

“This system has given Eve a dazzling joy dividend.  Her closet contains no clothes she doesn’t adore.  Her history brims with people, places, and activities she is totally and completely crazy about.  Every dollar of her fortune (way more than $700,000, I assure you) has been spent on things she’ll never tire of.  I’m not as disciplined as Eve, but to the extent that I imitate her, I find myself reaping maximum psychic return on my own investments.”

And then Beck illustrates with a two-by-two matrix where she recommends how much you should spend in each category.

It’s funny, I’ve been using my own version of this for years, but hers is so much more succinct and easy to follow.  When I was teaching, I was appalled at the numbers of doctors’ kids in my classes who were listless, lazy, and spoiled, and I determined that if I had kids, they were going to learn the value of money.

I’ve started in this way.  When I see something tantalizing (to me), I rave about it to Liliana, then I put it back on the shelf.  If I don’t get everything I want, it makes it easier for her to deny herself.

For every person, it’s different.  I may spend lots of money on music, because it fills my soul.  You may spend lots of money on clothes, because they’re important to you.  We all prioritize.  But if we stick with what we LOVE and NEED, it seems to eliminate hoarding…and maximize the joy we experience.

Easy enough, don’t you think?

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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