I noticed yesterday that I had half a tank of gas, so I stopped by the gas station and filled up on my way home from work. As I was standing at the pump, I experienced the familiar sensation that this act gives me - a feeling of security. Have to go somewhere unexpected? Full tank of gas. Price shoots up 50 cents in one night? Full tank of gas. Whatever happens in the world tomorrow, I have, at least for right now, a full tank of gas.
It’s not much, but it’s something. It has a limit, though. My tank will only hold so many gallons, and it’s impossible to shove any more in. Would I have more security if I had a bigger tank and filled it to the limit? Would I have even more security if I had one of those oil storage tanks in my yard?
The problem with simplifying and downsizing is that other parts of my life are not restricted in size, and in my tendency to fill them, I run into that problem. I think it’s human nature to want that feeling of security, even about trivial things. It gives me contentment to see my hundreds of quilt books on the shelf. Yet, more quilt books are published all the time! Egad! How much is enough?
I taught my kids a lot of important things, but I also regrettably taught them my bad habits. Matt, for one, knows that no matter how big a meal he eats, or how full he gets, there is always a little, tiny corner of the stomach that can hold something sweet. Miraculously that miniscule space has avoided filling up for the entire meal. There’s always room for more - if it’s something we really want.
I think we realize that having more than we need of anything good is pleasurable, but I think we may not realize that we are also searching for that feeling of security. Food, clothes, money, personal collections - it seems we consumers are always ready for more. Unlike our gas tanks, the situation is a bottomless pit, and it is a struggle we have to relive day after day after day. Excessive consumption is enticing and is actually a self-propelling act. It’s hard to know when to stop because the gas doesn’t spill over the side and give us a clue.
Ed and I used to joke that that someone with 100 million dollars was someone who was not satisfied with having 90 million dollars. That may be true. The other side to the story is that someone with 90 million dollars is probably making so much profit and interest that their money expands without even taking action. They probably can’t even spend it fast enough. (Unless they’re in the government, of course.) At a certain point, our desire for security can spin out of control and take on a life of its own.
So in the end, we have to be our own monitors of consumption. Like nutritious eating or exercising, it unfortunately falls into the category of “Decisions you wish you could make one time and be done with it” instead of “Decisions you have to renew every day for the rest of your life.” I hate those.