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The Satisfaction of Enough

[Photo credits: guitars: fotobicchio and shoes: Orin Zebest]

“That’s so cool. That’s awesome!” an irritating squeaky voice kept repeating. She looked no more than six, her cell phone glued to her ear.

I stood behind her, waiting my turn in the “15 items or less” check-out line, still on a high from all the choices of breads, cereals and vegetables at my local grocery store. My family and I had just returned from our year on Ambergris Caye, an island with only 11,000 people in the Caribbean. We were lucky when Superbuy carried fresh milk, and in heaven when we found ice cream. Our choice of bread was white, or white with brown food coloring. Writing a shopping list became pointless. In Belize, the store ruled, and the customer learned to appreciate what they offered.

Back in California, I felt like a kid in a candy store. So many choices, too many in fact that my head was spinning. I’d smile at people and they’d quickly turn their head sideways to avoid eye contact. Many treated me as some kind of weirdo, because I did things differently. I would take my time and get out of their way when they pushed their shopping carts like NASCAR drivers. I would let them get in front of me in line. Men, women, even children looked tired and stressed out. No one seemed to understand how lucky they were to live in a country with everything you could possibly want and need.

“No hay!” the Spanish phrase for “there is no” became a daily phrase which my kids and I learned to accept without getting flustered. If they don’t have beef, we’ll eat chicken. If they don’t have lettuce, we’ll go without. Imagine the outrage of people in a U.S. supermarket if they were told, "No fresh milk today. Maybe next week. No hay!"

“That’s awesome! The blond, skinny, six-year-old repeated for the twentieth time on her cell phone. With small feet inside a pair of glittery high-heeled sandals, a baby-size Luis Vuitton purse, and her cell phone still glued to her ear, she reminded me of a mini Paris Hilton. Her mother glowed in admiration of her daughter’s pretentious mannerisms. She would glance around to see if others paid attention to her "cute" daughter.

I wrote this in my journal in 2006, and now realize I've changed. It's easy to start taking things for granted when you live in a society of abundance. Now I allow myself to buy a pair of earrings or a top, more out of a want than a need, however, the guilt stays with me.

So when I shop, I make sure to ask myself, "Is this a want or a need?" And we all know the answer to that.

I made a list of how Belize has influenced my daily life:

  • I turn off the faucet in between brushing my teeth and rinsing.
  • I use paper towels sparingly; never to dry my hands at home though.
  • I only use paper plates when we have more guests than I have plates.
  • I use Ziplocs over and over.
  • I turn off the lights whenever I leave a room.
  • I always close the fridge door as soon as possible.
  • I never turn on the air-conditioning until it becomes unbearable.
  • I always bring my own bags to the grocery store, even Costco.

The satisfaction of enough, is something that I think about whenever I'm tempted to buy a want rather than a need. What about you?

Blogs I follow that help me re-focus on a simple life:

Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, has many ideas on living a more frugal lifestyle.
Lori from Groovygreenliving, offers tips to simplify life, and not waste.

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