Today marks a monumental day in Mark (husband!) and my life.
We bought a bed.
Now, I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Our mattress has been sitting on plastic-wrapped box springs, on the floor, for 5 years. Prior to that, our old mattress was on one of those free frames that come with the mattress when you bought it, and I think it was the same frame I got in college.
The bed represents the first piece of furniture we actually *bought* in our adult lives. You know, something that we didn’t get on Craigslist, or Ikea, or was a hand-me-down or gift of some sort. In fact, the Ikea furniture that’s currently in our master bedroom replaced a used, falling-apart dresser that I literally bought for $20 FROM THE CLASSIFIED SECTION OF THE NEWSPAPER when I was a sophomore in college. It was that old.
As a 42-year-old professional woman, grown adult, and mom, the fact that we didn’t buy a *real* piece of furniture until we were in our 40s, juxtaposes 3 conflicting emotions. Pride, envy, and embarrassment.
Mark and I are surrounded by people with more money than us. They have nicer houses, nicer cars, nicer gear, nicer clothes, nicer appliances, nicer STUFF, and people who actually afford things like interior decorators. Some of them are more ‘successful’. Some of them inherited it. Some were just damn lucky. And I admit I allow it to affect my sense of self-worth. The ‘keeping up with the Jones’ effect. I feel myself often apologizing to friends for the beat-up dining room table, the front steps that are falling apart, or the kitchen that desperately needs upgrading. I certainly have my moments of envy that my furniture is mismatched and hand-me-down, or that my yard wasn’t designed by a landscape architect, or that a color specialist didn’t match my wall color to my throw pillows, and I do envy these Houzz-perfect friends and neighbors and magazine articles. (The lesson in here is “live in a shitty neighborhood well below your means” and you won’t feel pressure to keep up with anyone!).
However, there’s huge freedom in NOT GIVING A F*CK. Spilled wine on the sofa? Whatever. Big scratch through the dining room table? That’s cool. Broke the front-porch chair? No problem. Our house could burn to the ground and there are 3 objects I would be sad to lose. A pillowcase that was in my grandmother’s dowry, a lamp my father made out of a bowling pin when he was in his 5th-grade shop class, and an antique guitar amp in Mark’s music studio. The rest could burn. I am not owned by my stuff, and I love it. In fact, I was reminded of this today as I drove to pick up the new bed in our 20-year-old truck with 120K miles on it. The paint has totally peeled off the hood down to the metal, the dashboard is cracked like the Grand Canyon, and you have to detach the battery from the truck every time you stop it because some electrical poltergeist drains the battery to zilch in an hour. But you sit up high, you have to drive slow, and it makes the most phenomenal throaty bass 8-cylinder growl when it idles. It’s like an old man whose history included decades of undefeated world-fighting championships. He moves slowly but WILL CRUSH YOU if you mess with him. I LOVE driving this truck, I could mow over 10 fire hydrants and would only feel the joy that the truck could pull it off without dying. I am not owned by my stuff.
But when I let myself, I AM owned by that feeling of ‘keeping up with everyone else”. I have to work hard at not letting it bother me. Like somehow I’m not as worthy because my house doesn’t feature the latest seasons fashion (or really, any season’s fashion). It takes effort to push the feelings of inadequacy away and to be my own reference point, rather than use someone else’s situation as my reference point.
Today, when I was unpacking the pieces from the bed that I a) picked up to save the $199 delivery fee and b) assembled myself to save the ‘white glove service fee, I was staring at the photos that hang on our dining room wall, and I was reminded why I’m okay with not owning nice stuff. The pictures on our wall are large photos I took while Mark and I traveled. 2 of them are from our trip to South America, where we blew the down payment we were saving for a house. That trip was 3 months long. We were in 5 countries and featured epic backpacking the “W” in Torres Del Paine National Park, a 5-day trek through Incan trails to end at Machu Picchu, and a huge mountain bike ride down the Worlds-Most-Dangerous-Road in Bolivia. The other pictures were of Aleka and Jackson when we took a 2-month sabbatical to go surfing in Costa Rica. Jackson turned three on that trip, Aleka learned to swim, and I surfed every. single. day. In short, we save our money for travel. I’d happily go into debt for an adventure. But go into debt for a sofa? Or a new retaining wall for the planter out front? Barf.
The other thing our lifestyle has afforded us is the ability for Mark to stay home full-time with our kids. And while it’s a huge sacrifice he’s making, and honestly, his job is harder than mine, I know our kids will reap the reward of our thrift for their entire lives. They are emotionally well-grounded and get the attention they need to help them become productive, happy adults.
I don’t write this post to brag, or to judge, but rather to say that life choices are complex and often come with conflicting emotions. Honestly, I’m envious of my neighbor’s perfect landscaping and their design eye (they have the cutest little container on their front porch that stores umbrellas! It looks like a pair of rain boots. How sweet!) I feel embarrassed that our house is “that house” on the street, bringing the average price down. Sorry! But on another hand, I’d trade a monthly lawn service for a trip to the Egyptian pyramids any day of the year.
And at the end of the day, the fact that I even have these thoughts is a sign of the abundance Mark and I have in our lives and that all of these so-called problems are manufactured, privileged, first-world problems. We are blessed with the stuff we do have, the lives we live, the opportunities that surround us, our health, our families, and our love for eachother…
So Mark, here’s to our first piece of furniture, that I bought ON SALE!. (And if you know anyone who wants to buy 2 twin box springs, still in the plastic wrap, ping me! We’re saving for Panama…)