Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Shopping, Contentment and The OC

China did a lot of things in us.  We're still processing what those things are, but one thing I know, China helped me to be content with less, with simple.  And I surely needed this, because it's not my natural bent.  I like things.  I like nice things.  But when you see people living simple lives free from the trappings of stuff, stuff and more stuff, it has an affect

Don't misunderstand, China is on the fast train of consumerism, headed straight to materialism.  But in general, the people we knew lived with far less than the average American.  And when a Chinese friend walks into your home, you can't help but try to see it through their eyes, and the excess stands out like it's been coated in highlighter.  

I wish I could say that these things alone caused me to simplify our lives and our "want" list.  But the truth is that it took a little more to force us into it.  Here's what it took: 

We've known our homes are temporary.  So we don't put too much into decorating or home improvement.  And while I miss having colored walls, it just doesn't seem worth the expense or effort when we know we're not here to stay.  We've learned that hand-me-down furniture is great, and simple pinecones from the park can make for simply beautiful decor.  Not allowing yourself to indulge in finery teaches you that you can be totally fine without it. 

In China I rarely bought clothes and never bought shoes.  Requesting the equivelent of an American size 9 shoe brought laughter from shoe vendors.  Long sleeve shirts almost never reached my wrists.  Since I skipped coming back to the US the summer before we moved back, it had been two years since I last went shopping in America.  I kind of expected myself to go a little shopping crazy upon our arrival.  Instead, in the five months since we've been back, I've bought two shirts and a pair of $10 shoes for myself.

We currently living on a tighter budget than we've ever lived on before.  Forced frugality has a way of dividing your "want" list into a much smaller "need" list.  And there's something quite freeing about that, a sense of "this is how we should be living anyway."

But here's the thing.  The longer I live in the OC, the harder it is becoming to live contentedly with less.  I'm becoming more in tune with the fashions of the day, and the internal wiring of my womanhood shouts "Compare and Compete!"  So I take a whole afternoon by myself to go shopping for myself (with hubby's approval), and after a few hours of fussing over the fittings and gagging over the prices, I come back with...nothing.

Here's what bothered me more than my empty shopping bags and my wasted time - my heart.  The contentedness wasn't there.  My heart had convinced itself that it could have been content with those knee high boots (if only they were in my price range), and that dress (if only it weren't too short), and that sweater (if only they'd had my size).  I wasn't content without them.  I believed the lies.  But here's truth: 

Real contentment has no "if only's." 
Real contentment can be in the OC and not of the OC.  
Real contentment can look at those with more without envy and without judgment.
Real contentment looks at those with less and is moved to sacrifice for them. 
Real contentment is a heart dwelling in the reality that I have the hope of Glory, the well spring of Life, the gift of Presence residing in me. 

And I let a little shopping trip get me down?  Really

Lord, slip me back into reality.     

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Ladies, does your womanhood shout "Compare and Compete"?



  1. Great post! I really struggle with contentment and materialism too! Especially at this time of year when everything is in frenzy mode! Thanks for the good reminders that all of this is temporary and can't fill the God-shaped hole in our lives.

  2. Of course it does! But, yes, living here helps because, really, I don't want half the gaudy stuff out there. :) However, Taobao is changing things..grr. Also, knowing your tight budget, made the surprise package that much better. Thanks for sacrificing. :)