I have often thought of life as a box…No, not a box of chocolates (thanks Forest Gump), but an empty box we are all given at birth that we fill with the stuff of life. It’s the wisdom of how we pick and choose those additions that determines how heavy the box is, and how far we can walk with it.
My box, for example, contains an education, a job, education loans, some family members, Mr. Grasshopper, Baby G, a few friends, a house (with a mortgage), a car (fully paid for), a dog, a Netflix membership, an Amazon Prime membership, an Audible Membership, a regular appointment with a Personal Trainer, and this Blog. There are a thousand other little things in the box – clothes, shoes, etc. In my mind’s eye, I inventory each of them. For your sanity, I won’t repeat them here. But you get the picture.
Each addition to the box has an impact – both emotional and monetary. Some things make the box more buoyant. The education in particular helped me get a job that makes it easier for me to carry the box. Other things weigh my box down.
I sometimes imagine that I walked out of graduate school with a relatively light box. Encumbered only by the loans I took to get an education, I began to add things to my box. First I added my job (which fixed me in place), a car, and a rental. Shortly thereafter came a boyfriend (now my husband), and the adoption of a dog. Years later, I added a home with a mortgage, a marriage, and baby (with all the accouterments a little human demands). It may seem a little cold to think of your life in these terms, but it helps me visualize the impact of every decision on my life.
Some of these decisions I am pleased with (Baby G, Mr. G, and the dog I wouldn’t trade for the universe and belong firmly in my box). The education loans are certainly a burden, but not one I regret. On other occasions, I have added things to my box only to realize that they make it too unwieldy to carry. In those cases, I’ve chalked the decision up as an educational experience and worked to unload the item.
A few years ago, I convinced Mr. Grasshopper to join a social club so that we could use the swimming pool, the gym, and various other facilities. We realized over the span of a couple of years that we did not use the membership to its fullest, and that the fees were a drain on our resources. Yesterday, we ended the membership and had to pay a severance fee. I would count that as one of the items I mistakenly added to the box, but something we corrected (albeit with the slap on the wrist of the severance fee).
I have learned that it takes more time, effort, and (often) money to unload an item from the box than it does to add something to it. All the more important to curate everything that goes into your box. Being aware of what’s in there, and its relative weight is essential to deciding whether you can handle any more additions, or if things need to be removed.
In my life for example, I think the Audible membership (which I dearly love) that costs me about $14 per month is endangered. I can get the same benefit from downloading audio books from my public library. The interface may not be as shiny, but the product is the same as the no-cost alternative and it will save me about $168 per year.
Other items in the box have an emotional impact. My closet until recently was close to bursting. My fear that I would somehow lose enough weight to fit back into a pair of pants I purchased in college, or want to wear an outfit I had not worn for two years paralyzed me into hoarding clothes that “I might wear again.” I did this until I realized that the bulk of the clothes in my closet were not being used. While they were certainly taking up physical space, they were also taking up emotional space in my box. I have started to winnow the closet’s contents. Some I sent to the company ThredUp to see how that worked (I have not yet heard back from them and cannot yet recommend the service based on my personal experience), and other items I sold on eBay. I am shocked by the relief I felt as the contents of the closet dwindled.
This emotional weight is not limited to the closet. Based on the same theory the Grasshoppers have started to review and discard/sell the contents of items stored in our basement as well. While that process is more slow going (Mr. Grasshopper tends to develop emotional connections to cardboard boxes, and packing materials), we are filled with a similar sense of relief as we begin to clear the basement.
It doesn’t really matter how you like to visualize this concept. Perhaps you have a mental book of life in which you note all your possessions (whether those are actual things or the people in your life). The point is that you take stock of these things and determine what gets to stay and what must go. The process is never complete. For instance, I have cleared a great deal out of my closet, but I must fight the urge to fill it with new purchases. We have cancelled the club membership, but we must be careful not to fill that gap with another expenditure.
Nor is the content curation limited to things. It also includes the people you add to your box. The Grasshoppers have VERY carefully decided to limit our progeny to Baby G.
The average cost of raising a child born in 2013 up until age 18 for a middle-income family in the U.S. is approximately $245,340 (or $304,480, adjusted for projected inflation), according to the latest annual “Cost of Raising A Child” report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
More people should stare that cost squarely in the face when they contemplate parenthood. Even with our resources, the Grasshoppers’ would see a significant decline in our ability to furnish additional progeny with a full-throated standard of life. Sure, we could give them love and emotional stability, but could we give them college? Medical coverage? Financial security later in life? Could we leave them a legacy? Could we build generational wealth? The answers to those questions becomes much less certain the more babies we add to the Grasshopper mix. I assume the same economies hold true for most families.
As an aside, I should note that the Grasshoppers paid for a great deal of college by ourselves. Mrs. Grasshopper graduated undergrad in three years and worked three jobs throughout the experience. While I will encourage Baby G to do the same, I also want to know that I can come through for her in a pinch.
Ultimately, living purposefully means that nothing (or very little) in your life will be there by happenstance. What better way to control your life than knowing that each item you possess, and each person you allow into your life is there because you want them with you.