“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Boyd K. Packer
The year was 1970 and I was a skinny 13-year-old kid heading into my freshman year of high school. A newcomer to the town of Wellesley, Mass., I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the school. It didn’t help that I was the youngest student in a freshman class of 500. I weighed 92 pounds and looked like a fifth grader.
I liked our new home, which was a cute Cape-style house, inauspicious and neatly kept. The clothesline lent a 1950s charm, and the vegetable garden provided ample produce with plenty to donate to the local food pantry.
Gradually, I became acquainted with the town. While Wellesley had some pricey neighborhoods, the town was generally affordable. Our neighbors included hairdressers, teachers, auto mechanics and plumbers. Everyday folk.
Over the years, however, Wellesley grew increasingly expensive. The commute into Boston is easy, the town is quiet and safe and the school system is excellent. As in suburbs skirting cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the cost of real estate in Wellesley has soared 18-fold since 1970.
Five years ago, our neighbor sold her house. It was an older home in poor condition, but it was on the market for just 11 minutes before it was purchased at full price, sight unseen. The house was then demolished and a mansion was built in its place. Next to our family’s little Cape.
My mom and stepfather recently sold that cute little Cape. We’d hoped the new owners would fall in love with its charm, but sadly, they did not. Today, all that remains of our home is a hollow in the dirt. By summer, a multimillion-dollar chateau will gloat in its place.
It will be handsome but no one will remember that the cat of my teenage years is buried under the compost heap. There will be no rich harvest for the town food pantry, no rotary phone with long spiral cord, no porch where five generations of Arroll women have posed. It will certainly not be purchased by a hairdresser or an auto mechanic or a plumber. What hairdresser do you know who can afford a $2 million home?
I know I’m being sentimental, but I don’t like throwing things away when they are perfectly functional. I prefer to cherish them like grandparents, nurturing them well into old age, and retiring them gracefully.
Wellesley is now overwhelmingly white, privileged and, in my opinion, spoiled. I suppose my objection boils down to the merit of being grateful for what we have rather than always wanting something better.
As long as one’s basic needs are met, bigger and better do not equate to happier. If my old VW Beetle still runs, I won’t be any happier if I trade it in for a Mercedes convertible. I’ll just owe more money. Is it not better to be satisfied with what I have?
Years ago, I knew a woman who purchased a $10,000 sofa for her New York City apartment, then returned it for replacement three times because the pattern on the fabric did not live up to her expectation. Less than a block away, a Vietnam-era veteran lived in poverty. His apartment had no heat and his children went hungry.
Instead of opulence, what if the woman purchased a basic comfortable couch, then shared the rest of the money with the hungry, the homeless or the oppressed? She could help an immigrant family settle in America, or contribute to the local fuel bank or pay for kids to go to summer camp.
I know another woman who frequently visits her elderly parents out of state. She dislikes sleeping on their lumpy couch and drinking their bad coffee, so she stays at a nearby hotel in order to be comfortable. Mind you, to the majority of people in the world, a lumpy bed and bad coffee would be considered downright luxurious.
What if this woman were to stay with her parents instead of paying for a hotel? With the money she’d save, she could help build a well in a Ugandan village so the women do not have to walk eight miles each day for clean water. She could donate books or decent coffee to a shelter for abused women. She could fill the shelves of a local food pantry.
So much can be accomplished when we are satisfied with what we have rather than incessantly striving for more, better, fancier. Instead of asking, “What do I want?” ask, “What do I already have, and how can I use it to serve God?”
How about basics for everyone?
“There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” (I Tim 6:6)
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.