The Contentment Conundrum

I feel like I have spent my entire life searching after some thing that will bring me satisfaction. I can, and probably will, continue to dissect this urge for the remainder of my earthly life.

I have a vivid memory of Christmas morning as a child, seeing what today I would consider the embarrassment of abundance under the tree. I remember consciously thinking to myself, “There is happiness under that tree.”

My memory is equally as vivid of sitting in the living room, surrounded by torn wrapping paper and piles of lovely things and feeling emptier than such a small child has a right to feel.

I remember being ten years old and saving up my allowance of one dollar a week to buy a stone-washed denim jacket from K-Mart that I’d had my eye on. (Incidentally, this was also the day that I learned that sales tax was added on top of the purchase price in the state of Ohio, where I grew up, but I digress.) I was not even out the door with my fancy snap front stone-washed denim jacket (for which my mother had to chip in the ninety-eight cents sales tax) and I was already feeling the painful twinge of buyer’s remorse.

I have dozens of memories like this.

That’s all there is?

This isn’t what I thought it would be.

What’s next?

“Is that all there is?” asks the alley cat on Christmas morning.

Thoughts like these have leaked out of my unsatisfied soul for as long as I can remember.

An interest becomes an obsession. (I love this and I must have it.) An obsession becomes a by-all-(legal)-means-necessary drive to possess. (I will finally be happy once I have this!) Possession inevitably leads to disappointment. (I was happier when I was dreaming about it.) Disappointment leads to disdain. (This didn’t make me happy so it must be bad.) Disdain leads to self-hatred. (You thought that would make you happy? You fool!)

I have to believe that I am not the only person who lives this cycle out unendingly; I also have to believe that I am not the only person who wants this cycle to end.

I don’t just want to be happy. I want to be content.

…and everything in its place

Due to factors both within and beyond our control, my little family of four scalawag adventurers lives in a small fourth floor apartment.

My indulgent husband and I moved into this apartment in 2012 after the building, which is on the historic building registry, was renovated. We had long been intrigued by the building and when the apartments were complete, we asked to visit. Obviously, I fell in love with the view and after a series of pretty incredible miracles, we were residents of a historic landmark.

At the time, having children was the last thing on our minds. We took our time laying out the apartment, picking out our furniture. When we first moved in, I was pretty darn proud of the place we lived. It was mostly Salvation Army and Ikea chic, but it was unique, it was home and I loved it. The apartment was perfect for two people and our stuff.

But hah! Life had a wrench the size of a first baby boy and all the stuff that came along with him, planned for 2015, and a second wrench the size of another baby boy and his stuff in 2017.

…when the baby was smaller than the alley cat…

How do four people fit in this same, perfectly calibrated space with all of their stuff?

Easy answer? They don’t.

I have always admired my mother-in-law for her organization. In her home, which, is admittedly spacious, each item has a designated place to live. She doesn’t have to wrestle with the toaster to get to the spice rack or move a box of toys to get to her shoes.

Even before I had babies I admired her for this, but now I am in awe and have a near-constant dissatisfaction in my heart because I have to move all of our plastic storage containers to get to the rice cooker.

There are two options: 1. Move into a new apartment or 2. Get rid of stuff so that we all can fit (comfortably) in this apartment.

I have chosen the second option. I struggle to imagine what this is going to look like or how I will know when I have achieved it, but watch this space!

“Just like Laura Ingalls…”

When I was growing up, it seems like we had an inordinate number of storms that would knock the power out on our street. I was lucky to have an older sister who remained nonplussed at something that I would have found a little scary without her.

Without fail, my mother would say to us, as she would go about collecting flashlights and lighting candles, “Look girls! Now we are just like Laura Ingalls!”

Admittedly, Little House on the Prairie was a hit in our home. Maybe it was the cute little calico dresses or Nellie Olsen’s perfectly coiled curls that were so attractive to us. (I have so much more to say about life lessons learned from Little House but I am going muzzle myself for the moment…)

But what I think, truly, that was so attractive about that life was just how contented the Ingalls family seemed. Not just with their little house, but with their family relationships, with their lot in life, simple as it was. Yes, Hollywood. Also: life goals.

There was a sense of wonderment which took hold, if even for only a few minutes, as I considered what it would look and feel like to live differently.

What was fun for an hour on a stormy night was not how I wanted to live my life. However, whether to humor Mother, or because there was a genuine excitement about stepping outside of our usual routine and way of life, my sister and I would play along.

As I have grown up, that sense of wonderment has become a bit of an undercurrent. I don’t really want to live without electricity or without a car. But…what if?

When my husband and I met in 1997, neither of us had a television. We have been married since 1999 and never did get one. We have managed thus far to raise two little boys without one. That one unintentional decision set us on a path to intentionally do things a little bit differently than other people.

We don’t live just like Laura Ingalls, but I am constantly looking for ways to live more simply and with greater satisfaction.

This blog is going to follow my journey towards contentment.