Sometimes it seems like we have too much abundance in the U.S. I just came home from the store where I saw a box of chocolate covered cherries for $1.50. I bought a sweater for $11.00. It does not feel right, it feels wrong to be able to purchase a brand new article of clothing for such a small percentage of my income. But I did it.
I’m pretty sure it was knitted on a machine, but someone had to run that machine, and with my purchase price being so low, I’m sure the retailer’s purchase price was much lower. Which means the wages earned by the people who actually produced it must be very low. I write this partly to remind myself that it is true. It’s easy to look the other way, to put it out of my mind, to forget it.
I bought the sweater partly in response to a good friend who gently commented on some t-shirts I’ve been wearing which I have owned for 15 years. Yeah, they’re a bit ratty around the collar. I’m not extravagant when it comes to clothing, but I think I can do a better job of caring for myself. It’s a balance, isn’t it? And how do we judge whether we’ve achieved the balance point or not? I know there are better ways to replace my falling-apart t-shirts and my otherwise out-dated clothing.
For Halloween I bought a new pair of jeans at the Thrift Store for $2.50 to be part of my costume. I decided they were pretty good for daily wear also! I feel so much better about the purchase I made at the Thrift Store, than the purchase of the $11.00 brand-spanking-new sweater.
One of my fondest childhood memories of Christmas is from the year my mom did all her Christmas Shopping at the Thrift Store because that was all she could afford. I loved it, because it was such an abundant Christmas! I got so many nice pieces of clothing. And probably some toys, too, but mostly I remember a really great button-down shirt.
Abundance doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. But it does take an investment of time–to make wise purchases, to take care of the things we’ve already got, to recycle, reuse, share. It takes time, and time takes a commitment. So I need to strengthen my commitment.
I want to have an abundance that is solid and basic and responsible. I don’t want an abundance that is based on goods that are inexpensive and easy to throw away because they didn’t really “cost me” anything much. But I know that I am part of a system that creates “abundance” by depriving others of their basic needs.
The things I want, and the things I have, are costing other people much more than they are costing me.
In her book, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times, Laura Dunham writes that
Those who view the world as a place of scarcity tend to hoard, not share, what they have, while those who see the earth’s abundance believe there’s enough for everyone and respond generously to the needs of others. (p.7)
Sometimes when I hear people talking about “defending our way of life” here in the United States, I get a sense of this hoarding mentality which doesn’t believe there is enough for everyone.
I actually want to change my way of life, not defend it, so that I can use less, need less, want less. For that, I need friends who are doing the same, and I need a stronger sense of sufficiency. In my next post in this series, I’ll reflect on frugality and simplicity as a means of strengthening a sense of sufficiency. And by sufficiency, I mean it is enough.
How can I help myself feel that it is enough? How do you?
This is part of a series reflecting on Laura Dunham’s book, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times. Her seven “Graceful Living” concepts are abundance, frugality, simplicity, generosity, sustainability, justice, and Sabbath. If you’re interested in getting a copy of this book, you can email the author directly at email@example.com.