I think of myself as pretty modest in my wants. A pricy car, a fancy wardrobe or a boat bigger than a Sunfish? Never wanted any of those things. I don’t watch the Kardashians, or the Housewives, or any of those unreality shows.
If you twisted my arm, I would admit that a beachfront cottage would be nice…except for the property taxes…and the insurance…and the chance the next passing hurricane would wipe it all away.
So why did I spend a voyeuristic Sunday afternoon lusting after million dollar mansions?
The Houses We Don’t Have
Every October marks the local Parade of Homes, and every October my in-laws ask us to go with them to go through some of Raleigh’s most expensive model homes. We go look at marbled kitchens, gorgeously tiled bathrooms, and walk-in closets bigger than my bedroom. While I don’t actually want a house 4 times the size of our current home, I still walked away dissatisfied with what I have. What’s wrong with me?
I admit some of the excess I saw Sunday amused me. Why would anyone think they needed marbled tile in their laundry room? And I found smooth-floored his-and-hers garages a bit over the top. I’ve never actually had a home with a garage, but aren’t oil stains on the floor standard? When I walked into a shower with a cobblestone floor, all I could think was “This looks cool, but who would want to stand barefoot on that first thing in the morning?”
That’s not the way I felt about the kitchens, though. Or the closets, the huge master bedrooms with stunning views, or the impressive back porches with outdoor fireplaces or sparkling pools. Oh, none of the houses had the custom library of my dreams. I could still live in one of those mansions, if they just didn’t cost so much.
The HGTV Trap
Pop culture bombard with images of nice things all of the time. Even TV commercials regularly show picture-perfect houses that most of us can’t afford. We go through the check-out line in the grocery store and see images from Better Homes and Gardens, or see images on Facebook of celebrities. It’s hard not to compare all of the images you see to what you have and think that your life is somehow less because it doesn’t match what you see on tv.
Here’s the secret: Your life is not less unless you decide it is.
Most people don’t live in million-dollar houses. Most people don’t have living rooms that HGTV or in Southern Living choose to profile. If you aren’t living the lives you see on TV, you aren’t less.
I call this the “HGTV trap:” Feeling like your life is less because it doesn’t match the images that you are bombarded with.
The media shows us beautiful things, no question. I enjoy looking at beautiful houses as much as anyone. The secret is that most of us have beautiful things in their life, if they just look hard enough for them. You may have a beautiful family or beautiful friendships. You may have a cozy and comfortable home, a good job, or a functioning car. You may just have a beautiful day, or even just one moment of peace. Seek and Find the beauty in your life.
If you don’t find that beauty with what you have, you are way more likely to seek it through buying more things. If you can find it, it’s easier to buy less, spend less, and save more.
The House We Have
We have a house built in the early 60s, and we’re doing some remodeling that makes life in it more complicated right now. A lot of the fixtures are original to the house, and it’s definitely missing some modern conveniences. For instance, a dishwasher never graced our galley kitchen until 5 years after we moved in. Our closets are tiny. So is the bathroom off of the master bedroom.
Our home is a relic of its era. When I haven’t been out looking at million dollar houses, I’m grateful for that fact.
I don’t think we would have gotten this house if it hadn’t been a relic of the 60s.
We live in a great part of town, with some of Raleigh’s best schools. We have over an acre of land, backed by woods and with two storage buildings. Our house languished on the market for months before we found it. It was perfect for us: one floor and lots of land. A lot of people must have passed on it because of its dated kitchen and dark wood paneling, but it was everything we needed at the time.
Frankly, it’s still everything we need. Even though we crammed in a bunch of books, toys and furniture, we have more than enough square footage for three people. It’s certainly as much house as we can maintain. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to keep one of those 7000 square foot monstrosities cleaned.
Lust or Gratitude?
For all that I am grateful for the house we have, Sunday was all about wanting the things I didn’t. It wasn’t like I was inspired to go out and earn several million dollars so I could afford one of those houses. For the most part, I understood that by Monday morning, the lust for a wine cellar and a giant bathroom would be gone, if not forgotten. Unless this year is drastically different, I’ll be happy enough to drink coffee in my tiny kitchen and watch the herd of deer that usually shows up in the backyard. I will be mostly content with my life.
Taking a peek at the houses of the 1% is fun, but only if you can keep it in perspective. It must be really hard if you can’t. What if you get so wrapped up in the nice things other people have that you can never be happy with the good things in your own life?
You can be happy with what you have, live within your means, and be financially secure. Or you can pursue what you see other people have even when it’s beyond your means, put your future at risk by running up debt to get it, and subject yourself to unbelievable stress.
Even if you never spend an extra dime, you can still lust after what others have, and never be satisfied with your own life.
It’s a choice, Lust or Gratitude. Pursue what you don’t have, even when the pursuit drives you to unhappiness. Live with what you do have, and find happiness in it.
You can strive for a better life, but don’t forget to be grateful for what you have. I believe there are good things in everyone’s life. If you don’t practice looking for things that make you feel grateful, no million dollar mansion will ever make you happy.
Updated 10/19/15 and 10/7/16