Just when I thought I was content with our house – its newly painted black doors, its remodeled kitchen and clean new white baseboards, our belongings drastically sorted through, purged and lovingly arranged on our clean(-ish) shelves – I had to go look at some shiny new dream homes and ruin everything.
We went to see some new homes being built, and oh! They were beautiful! Gorgeous wide-planked hardwood floors. Nine-foot-high doorframes. Granite countertops on islands big enough to seat 10. Walk-out basements. Bathrooms with separate walk-in closets for husband and wife. Adorable bar areas with chilled wine refrigerators, plus extra beer fridges in spacious laundry/butler rooms.
Suddenly, my home didn’t look so great.
This sort of thing happens to me every time I step into an actual mall, too. I’m quite happy with my wardrobe, and do most of my shopping online when I have a specific need and can get exactly what I’m looking for without the temptation of other beautiful items in a store – and without two rambunctious preschoolers in tow. When I go to the actual mall, though, I don’t feel so great about the selections I have folded in my drawers at home. I see soft gray yoga sweaters and sparkly gladiator sandals, and entire stores full of crisp new black & white basics and silk scarves that surely would look perfect on me, and I feel a pang in my chest.
All my contentment just dissipates. All my satisfaction at having a carefully selected wardrobe that reflects me and my life just goes away. It’s replaced with something else … envy.
Oh, how I need those flirty white sundresses and spacious glass-paned kitchen cupboards! I didn’t know I even wanted them, didn’t feel empty without them – felt great, in fact! blessed with abundance! – but in an instant, it all disappears.
Contentment, replaced with need, in a single afternoon.
I know how it happens. I have a Bachelor of Art degree in Advertising, after all. I know how companies present their products in beautiful displays, selling not clothes or household fixtures but dreams – alternate realities in which we hold out our gorgeously adorned arms to greet our dapper husbands in a stress-free, joy-filled home where surely a surly toddler would never exist.
Never mind that I have been sickened – physically nauseous! – after recently discovering the vast overstores of food, clothes, toys, linens, books, gadgets and STUFF filling our 2,000-square-foot home in a suburb of a city that U.S. News & World Report ranks as the Best City in America to Live In. Big home! Safe suburb! Full closets! Over-full pantry! Everything I could ever hope to have. More than enough! More than I could ever wear, read or eat.
What is it inside of us that is so susceptible to shiny, new objects?
Seeing a beautiful new home makes me embarrassed of the outdated light fixtures in our 20-year old home.
Seeing crisply tailored black dresses in the mall makes me embarrassed of my ordinary, trusty, go-to LBD, even if I did think, just a month ago, that it fit me perfectly and was timelessly classic.
Seeing better things makes me feel suddenly less than.
I am happy with my “stuff” until I see better “stuff,” newer “stuff,” or shinier “stuff.”
Surely there is a way to guard against the draw of materialism. “Stuff” doesn’t bring us happiness. “Stuff” just brings envy, feelings of lack and unworthiness. I know this, logically. It’s just hard to remember when I see beautiful, new, shiny stuff beautifully displayed for me, and others, to drool over.
The truth is, retail therapy has real benefits and can make people truly feel happier … temporarily. It can provide a quick pick-me-up and provide feelings of contentment, even increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. It can also cause angst and serious stress if it contributes to debilitating debt or feelings of guilt. Science says the key is moderation. Go figure – yet another area of life in which moderation is paramount.
I know I don’t need a new home any more than I need more clothes in my closet. The needy feeling is just a feeling, and is not reality. I keep reminding myself that things aren’t important, only people and experiences are important, and any rise in dopamine from buying something new is temporary. I’m not looking for temporary happiness – I’m looking for true contentment. So, for now, I’m going to pretend I didn’t see those gorgeous new homes, and I’m going to enjoy the beauty surrounding me in my own home.
But oh boy – those separate walk-in closets sure would be incredible.