chasing the money.

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“A lot of people get so hung up on what they can’t have that they don’t think for a second about whether they really want it.”

Lionel Shriver, Checker and the Derailleurs

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”

Bertrand Russell

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Henry David Thoreau, Familiar Letters

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”

Ellen Goodman

In my moments of heightened emotions, I tend to throw certain words at my absent husband that make me feel better. But today I started wondering how appropriate the words are for the situation.

Materialism has a much broader definition than I thought, I must admit.

materialism: a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values

How much we’ve all fallen into that definition! But for the most part, I feel (as I’m sure many do) that I always come back to “center” and try to consciously never let any material interest dictate my spiritual values or moral decisions.

But the example given by a Google search was a good one:

“An example of materialism is valuing a new car over friendships.”

I tried to match it to my (ex)husband. He chose a new $4,000 watch, a $6,000 rifle for himself, a new woman, a new house, $600 in alcohol and food expenses on her her birthday at a restaurant (while still married, before he even separated from us… and yes I kept looking through his credit card bills mailed to my address).

For the first 8 months as a single mother, he gave us no financial support and very little support in the “other” bucket. He was no more useful than a rock sitting on top of a stovetop. Useless in application, makes you wonder why the hell it’s there, and makes the whole setup look broken.

He spent all of his income (upwards of $120,000 annual) on dinners, drinks, drugs, parties, extravagant life experiences, and Uber ($200 in one day). And his credit card debt continued to rise during that time, by roughly $600 a month, sometimes more. It was hard, seeing what he was spending on himself and her, and seeing the money that it took to keep myself and my son fed, clothed and in school. See, I had quit my job to move to another city with my husband’s promotion. A month after I moved there, he left. So I was without a job, without him, and without promised income. (the silver lining is I had taken a buyout with my old company, so I had a stash, and my family was in that city, and they quite literally kept us from being homeless).

When we sold our house, 6 months after he walked out, we split the profit down the middle. He took his half out down to the penny. And continued to live this “lavish” family free lifestyle hours away from a family that he vowed to honor, love and respect forever.

Exactly how materialistic and hypocritical can a person get before they just… turn into a heap of salt?

But I had my own issues. In the throws of being a single parent, trying to give my son the happiness and opportunities he deserved, I found myself overspending at a time when I should not be overspending. I would buy him any toy he wanted, bought brand new nice clothes, nice organic healthy dinners, fancy label kids’ foods… the list goes on. All because I felt inadequate. And stressed. And hopeless. Helpless.

My husband spiraled into a selfish, greedy, unfortunate drain that was greasy and clogged with drugs, alcohol and whores.

But I spiraled, too.

These days I’ve created a more rewarding, stabilized lifestyle. I still spoil my son with love, but the right kind of love. I still buy him toys, but only when he has earned them. He still has nice clothes, but only the amount that he actually needs and wears. We try to eat organic and natural, but I remind myself daily that I am a child of the 80s… and I turned out just fine with my microwave dinners and generic brand canned food (gasp!).

In my growth I realized that my (ex)husband and I practiced two different kinds of materialism.

His was a selfish, social climb surrounded by sin and deceit. A spiral that is hard to return from. A spiral that causes one to lose friends and family along the way.

Mine was a selfish payment made to my son to make him love me. A payment made to myself to make me feel like a better mom. It’s a lonely, isolated spiral, which makes it all the easier to continue. It too, is hard to return from. And it was teaching my son all of the wrong things at one of the most influential ages of his life.

But on my road to financial (and physical) fitness and recovery, I have been forced to look at everything differently, and value everything on a completely different scale. I accept myself as I am, I comfortable making the decisions that I must make, and I accept the facts and situation that I must accept. And my relationship with my son has become so amazing and sweet. Before, it was hard to even say “I love you” through the mountain of toys, clothes, food… and now the love between us is pure, warm and safe. We enjoy our moments, we love our days together. There are less outbursts, more appreciation for the day-to-day things that I used to overlook as I searched for the latest and greatest toy.

But, I must add that to the extent that I can, I don’t let money control me in either direction. I have friends that have seven-digit bank account balances but won’t take their kid to Disney World because it’s too expensive. I understand saving up for a rainy day, but worrying about the rainy can control you for the worse, too. There is a balance. There is always a balance to strive for.

To circle back to the definition of materialism: “a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values,” I can say that I now feel the spiritual comfort that exists when I remind myself daily that all of the danger of the “gotta have it” possessions, shiny things, new gadgets, for they will only ever collect dust in the end. We can’t take them with us into the afterlife. We can’t store them all up in boxes and keep them as a measure of the life we lived. It doesn’t work that way. But, seeing my son’s face light up with the occassional toy, watching him pick out a favorite game or movie, surprising him with a sweet trip somewhere. That’s the hopeful balance.

I hope that our spiritual journey and loving, appreciative foundation continues to grow and be built up. I hope I can continue to teach him what’s important, especially knowing what the road behind me looks like.

As for my husband, he is still with the other woman, still taking extravagant trips, still going to expensive restaurants and buying elaborate presents. Still doing drugs and drinking in excess. Still ignoring what he has destroyed in his past and created for his future.

And he still hasn’t changed his mailing address.