How Much is Enough?



A few weeks into my Honduran adventure I was horrified to realize that the first two verbs I mastered in Spanish were tener and querer -- "to have" and "to want." More specifically, the phrases yo no tengo - "I do not have" - and yo quiero - "I want."


After my divorce, I was setting up a new home, shopping for a condo -  my very first solo purchase of any consequence. My mortgage guy (who I love) informed me that I could qualify for a ridiculously high mortgage... he then quickly added, "but I don't recommend it" (which is why I love him.) Instead I found something at about a third of that number with the square footage to match.

It was enough. The beauty of that tiny condo, or as I lovingly referred to it, my condoloset, was that it limited the amount of stuff I could accumulate.

Stuff, and its resultant, inevitable debt can quickly take on a life of its own. As my now-husband and I began to build our shared life, we often discussed the concept of, "enough." If you're a fan of Veggie Tales you might recognize this exchange between Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, after Larry goes on a spending spree:

Bob the Tomato: Larry, how much stuff do you need to make you happy?
Larry the Cucumber: [Thoughtfully.] I don't know. How much stuff is there?

Following in the footsteps of this great philosopher (if Bob the Tomato actually had feet), we asked: how much is enough? We talked about what our long term goals were, what our actual needs were versus our perceived needs. We decided what charities we wanted to support.  We lived well below our means. We took advantage of some investment opportunities. We looked for opportunities to serve.

That didn't mean we didn't have fun. There were still vacations and nights out on the town. There were still baseball games and books and bass guitars. But our happiness was not driven by the stuff. It was driven by what we could do with the money we weren't spending on... stuff. Taking a 20-something out to dinner when she needed cheering up. Quietly writing a check to supplement a teacher's need for supplies. Hosting friends on a vacation they wouldn't take on their own. We found our answer to the question of enough.

I can't answer what your "enough" is. But I urge you to ask yourself the question, to heighten your awareness of the role stuff is playing in your life, and the barriers it is creating for you. Stuff will require a home that is probably larger than you really need. Stuff will eat up your free time with maintenance and upkeep. Stuff will get in the way of being able to say "yes" to really cool opportunities. Stuff will rob you of your ability to serve.

There is great freedom in living in "enough."

Which brings me back to my two first-learned phrases, I do not have... and I want. Stuff can be sneaky. Even having well learned the power of a stuff-less life, my human nature just cannot help itself. Being on "stuff alert" is a full time job. It's time for me to introduce a new verb into my vocabulary. Necesitar. "To need" or more specifically, "¿Usted lo necesitas o lo quieres?"

Do you need it, or do you want it?

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