“It might be fair trade, organic leg warmers, but if your legs aren’t cold, it’s still a frivolous purchase.” Sarah Lazarovic , A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy
In this charming and thoughtful book, the theme is restraint in consumption- learning how to say no when you know you don’t need it. And who couldn’t use a bit of restraint? But what if we took restraint a bit further? What if “a bunch of pretty things I did not buy” became “a bunch of pretty things I did not want”?
Reframing versus Restraining
Restrain connotes privation- making do with a somewhat heavy heart. Self-righteous in our self-denial. Constrained. Reframe bespeaks liberation- sure-headed and light- hearted in our letting go. Contented.
Throughout the ages and across cultures, sages have laid bare the pernicious nature of unchecked desire.
Socrates in 4th Century BC Greece: Seeing a pile of gold and jewelry being borne in procession through the streets of Athens, exclaimed, “Look how many things there are which I don’t want.”
Epictetus in 1st Century BC Greece: “ Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
Rousseau in 18th Century France: “There are two ways to make a man richer: give him more money, or curb his desires." Paradoxically, the net effect of more money may be to impoverish, by fostering unlimited or unrealistic expectations; thus perpetuating permanent gaps between what we want and what we can afford. Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.
Thoreau in 19th Century America: “Man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can do without.”
Edwin Way Teale in 20th Century America: “Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves."
The Buyerarchy of Needs was created with apologizes to Maslow. With apologies to Lazarovic, I suggest one addition to the pyramid. At the base, as the foundation on which successive layers rest, “ Look at how many things there are that I do not want.”
Thanks Socrates and all the rest.