I need a lot less to live well than I think I do. One of my first experiences where this was clear was after spending a few weeks in Germany with my college friend, who’d moved there to start her Master’s program.
I remember we would go to the supermarket, and I would cook up some gnocchi with ham and peas, or we’d go eat at the outdoor cafés, or grab a bratwurst on the way to a museum. We’d buy bottles of wine, drink coffee, go dancing, play cards with new friends, and we even splurged on the best thai massage of my life to date. I remember the moment I checked my bank account when I got back home and was genuinely shocked that I was not penniless, and in fact had a lot more money left over than I’d even thought possible, considering everything we did.
I’ve spent the better part of ten years meditating on the magic that happened on that trip, and other such instances. The many ways in which my time, money and effort gets spent is something I have strived to simplify. I have tested budget apps, excel sheets, philosophy books and the internet; and have found a few truths to stand out, through both trial and error.
We have heard all about the neon lights of marketing and capitalism, the “sex sells”, the advertising, the photoshop. I’ve learned to look past it, to focus less on how I do not look like the model, or my apartment like that beach front cottage. Instead, it’s been about the active exercise of creating beauty in my day.
That means looking outside the box: not going for the overpriced souvenir, seeking out a local festival that’s happening and learning about it, talking to people, taking a walk and following the organic “hivemind” of the city through clusters of art galleries, or flowershops, or a park. Taking a seat to enjoy the sun, grabbing an espresso for a quick recharge, sketching a statue. These things can happen anywhere, since it’s the genuine life-map of how humans live and enjoy their time, regardless of whether money is spent. I can choose to buy something everywhere I go, but it won’t make the experience I am having better, unless I am able to perceive it to be fulfilling.
It’s true too that I was not conditioned to be a soldier in the middle of the desert, I was raised on Long Island. It would be ludicrous to presume I am able to be 100% mindful and make everything from scratch. But I choose what to care about, and what to care less about. When my mind presents me with a need, the first question I have learned to ask myself is “Is this is something I already have, or can make?” The next questions are then, “am I willing and able to put in the time to make this happen?” and “Is it more cost effective to buy it? If not, how much do I save?”
I make these choices daily, whether deciding to cook, buy curtains, go to a movie, or go see a limited performance of the Russian ballet (which I did and it was breathtaking). Equally important is that at the end of the day, I trust myself with the decisions I made, lest I fall back into the trap of comparing myself and everything I’ve worked for to the billboard model and the Hamptons real estate ad.
What arises, almost automatically, is a variety that comes from enacting a life that isn’t copied verbatim from a poster. It means that what I create is unique. I gain inspiration and supplies from the world around me, and then I make what I want of it. As a practice, being able to view life from the guise of a curator, to shine light on the little areas I know need work, I have an attitude that is forgiving, compassionate, and playful, like a painter at his easel.
Photos by Zander Price