The Lifestyle Trap
I recently found myself in a situation where I didn't own very many glasses.
A recent spate of butter fingers combined with a couple of dishwasher incidents meant I was down to four glasses. Two pint glasses and two smaller glasses that I didn't particularly like using.
So between myself and my girlfriend we had two glasses each.
This situation meant that we would either have to run the dishwasher a lot more often in order to maintain a supply of clean glasses, or reuse glasses for a much longer period of time, washing them as we go.
I went for the latter option.
For example, I would get up in the morning and grab a glass of water. I would then leave that glass out for when I got home and use the same one to drink out of all evening.
I'd then refill it before going to bed and have it there as my overnight water, which I always have but rarely drink.
Then it's morning again and I repeat the whole process.
I could use the same glass for a days, giving it an occasional rinse.
It wasn't really a problem, I just kind of got used to having to squeeze a little more time out of every glass.
Of course this is normal behaviour for anyone who hasn’t got a dishwasher - but once you have one you get lazy and all of this cleaning feels like hard labor.
Anyway, one day my girlfriend arrived home with some new glasses after a trip to Ikea.
All of a sudden I was spoiled for choice. There were now a total of ten glasses in the cupboard.
I felt like Caligula, living a life of unbridled indulgence.
For the first couple of weeks, however, nothing changed. I kept up my usual routine and the new glasses simply sat there unused.
But then my behaviour started to change.
I stopped keeping track of which glass I was using and started just grabbing a fresh one whenever I needed it.
Four weeks later, having ten glasses now feels the same as having two.
We still seem to run out of them at the same rate.
Our behaviour has adapted to the number of glasses we have available to us.
I’d imagine we’ve all experienced a situation in our lives where some appliance broke, or some other limiting factor, meant we had to adapt temporarily to being slightly inconvenienced. Generally speaking it will involve being a bit more thrifty, or result in having to do more work than we generally like to do.
I couldn't help but feel like there was a lesson in there somewhere...
What does it all mean?
My glasses story reminds me of when I was young and working part time in the local petrol station.
I went from no money to having money and quickly became dependent on that money.
Then I got a raise, as I moved from working the car wash to working in the shop.
Sure enough, just like when I went from zero money to some money, my new wages quickly became the standard. The thought of living on what I earned pre-wage increase became as scary as the thought of going back to zero money.
The amount of money I needed just to survive seemed to be directly related to whatever I was earning at that moment in time.
This is the lifestyle trap.
We make some money and establish a lifestyle that the available money permits.
Then if we start to make more money our lifestyle gets a little upgrade.
We spend more and more on comforts and luxury.
We adapt to that lifestyle and anything less is simply not good enough.
At this point the money we earnb becomes the minimum amount of money we need in order to sustain ourselves.
We work harder and harder to maintain our lifestyles and hopefully get a little upgrade in the future.
Any reduction in that money means a downgrade in lifestyle and that’s a terrifying thought.
The problem with this system is that there is no upper limit.
It doesn't matter how much money you make you can always get more stuff, find new ways to spend it, establish a new 'minimum amount you need to survive’.
But it’s not just things we acquire, we also accumulate shit loads of stress.
This is the real problem with the whole thing.
We risk our health by getting stressed by the work we need to do in order to accumulate things we don’t need, with no real end goal in sight.
In reality we need very little to survive. We just need to adapt. It might not be a life of luxury, but we are far more resilient than we know and less stress is always the best option.
The key, I think, to is to ditch materialism and invest your energy and effort in things that cannot be taken away if your financial situation changes (invest in your skills!).
I of course understand that there is a minimum amount of money that we need. Food, shelter, clothing - we need to sort those out.
However, shelter aside, I think most of us could survive on a lot less than we think we could.