What’s the difference between the things you love and the things you use? When are they the same thing and when are they not? How much does your life change when you no longer have them? How much do you notice when you no longer use them?
The most money I have ever spent on a pair of shoes was Ksh 9000. They were Nikes. The first time I held them in my hands I felt great power. I was transported back to a time when the only shoes I owned, were hand-me-downs given to me by friends whose feet were markedly smaller than mine. To this day, my feet still bare some of the scars I got from wearing shoes that were too tight. So for the first time in my life, I belonged in a store where the minimum amount you can spend on a pair of shoes is Ksh 9000. I spent the minimum. When the cashier gave me my receipt, I fought the urge to frame it up on a wall as evidence that these were indeed original Nikes. It took me a while before I could bring myself to get rid of the box they came in; that too could be evidence. When I walked over to my shoe rack I bulked at the realisation that there was no space left for the holy grail of my footwear. When did I buy so many shoes?
There were the Weinbrenners I bought incase I ever went camping or even for a hike. I’ve been to neither.
There were the black Timberlands I bought because my favourite Biggie Smalls line is… ‘It don’t make sense, goin’ to heaven wit’ the goodie-goodies dressed in white, I like black Tims and black hoodies’.
There were the sandals I bought for my trip to Nigeria. I wore them on the first day then decided my old slippers were much more comfortable.
I had so many shoes that most of them were worn out from not being worn at all. The only thing these shoes had in common with the Nikes I was holding, was that the day I loved them most was the day I bought them. After that, they spent more time on the rack than they did on my feet. everything seems like a necessity when you are buying it, but you can only prove its worth by actually using it.
When I was a child, my parents quickly realised that they could save a lot of money if they just waited a few more days before buying me something I cried all day for. Eventually my craving would fizzle out into a distant memory. I don’t think this changes just because you grow up. We just replaced toys and ice cream with 70 inch flat screens and designer clothes that rot in the closet while we convince ourselves that they’ll fit once we lose that ‘extra’ weight. 10 kgs later and you still can’t explain what that dress is doing in your wardrobe. Chances are if you waited a while before buying it, you would have forgotten why you needed it in the first place.
I thought my iPhone was flawless until its battery ballooned into a pregnant piece of junk. It was time to replace it. Up until that point, I had used an iPhone long enough to realise that it offered nothing more fundamental than picking calls and receiving messages. Yes, it had a slick layout and perfectly rounded corners but like most beautiful things, its beauty peaks on the day you buy it. After that you mostly use it for WhatsApp and WhatsApp looks the same on every phone. Even on the cheapest available OPPO, which is what I got for the same price a mtumba iPhone would have cost me. It might me cumbersomely named, but the OPPO is still the most durable phone I have ever had. If it got lost tomorrow I can afford to replace it within 10 minutes, I could never say the same about my iPhone. My palms sweat at the thought of walking into an apple store to part with Ksh 82000.
Something had to change. I had a distorted view of what was valuable about the things I bought. Why was I buying things to add to a collection of stuff that I already wasn’t using? Why did I find things necessary only up until the moment I bought them? The answer is that this is what happens when you place value on what is appealing about things instead of what is practical about them. Things are for using not owning. If I was going to start appreciating things for their true purpose, I also needed to start seeing money as a tool and not a status symbol. If you don’t know how to use a hammer, then a nail is of no purpose to you. The first thing my wife and I did was to begin accounting for every shilling before it was actually spent. It’s difficult to accidentally buy a selfie stick in the middle of the month when money has already been allocated to things of real priority.
When your budget no longer allows you to buy things aimlessly, the first thing you feel is a gratefulness for the things you already have. You are now forced to use them and it turns out they work just fine. Gifts also start carrying a lot more meaning to you. I am, at this moment, wearing the beanie my sister made me not just because I’m poetic, but because it’s the cold season and it feels good to be warm. There’s a clarity with which you start viewing the world when the things around you are being put to use. It’s the surety that what you have is enough and what you need will always be of greatest importance.
The thing I dislike the most about amassing more than you need is that it actually keeps things from the people who could use them most. Giving is a virus we desperately need to spread. Our cleaning lady has three boys who would wear the Manchester United jerseys I have hidden in my closet with a lot more pride than I do. The sparkle in her eyes when I gave them to her brought me more joy than the day I bought them. If my mother was looking down on me she would be very disappointed that I had more shoes than I knew what to do with, when my own brother was still wearing the hand-me-downs I gave up years ago. He put the Weinbrenners to much better use and he didn’t even have to go camping.
Every piece of clothing I own can fit in my back pack now. I have fake Jordans that have the logo of a dribbling footballer where Michael Jordan should be. We call them ‘Cristianos’. I wear them with pride because they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. This is the difference between loving to buy things and loving to use things. The thrill and afterglow of buying things is too short-lived to appreciate what it is they are actually meant to do. Having a bathroom overflowing with hair products that have never been opened might feel nice to look at, but it quickly turns hollow when your favourite shampoo runs out. That’s when you realise what is really important to you.
I believe there is tremendous value in hanging on to things a little longer. Maintaining them. Repairing them. Treating them with respect not because they allow us to fit in, but because life would truly be harder without them. Because we notice when they are not there.
Eventually, you will lose everything you own and everyone you love. Making the most of out of life is by itself a definition of happiness in which everything available to you is completely maximised.
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