Why We Don’t Need As Many Nice Things As We Think We Do


I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It’s not gentrified, or at least not quite yet, but this isn’t some kind of escape your comfort zone immersion experience. I never feel unsafe, but you won’t see Sarah Jessica Parker scouting locations for Sex in the City 3 here. It’s because I don’t need a lot to live; because where I live isn’t by any means my life.

I often find myself giving homeless people money I don’t have.
Change I need,
or maybe it’s myself that I need to change.
Regardless, I am not kind in hopes of ribbons and gold stars I could cover my walls with.
I am just very aware that we only need a little bit to live.
That is, if we seek a fulfilled life.
It is when we assume living is reliant on accumulation of wealth that we fail to have a life at all.

America is all about giving other countries facelifts. In a way it makes sense, I mean, put on your brand name glasses and take a look at Hollywood: It’s all but fucking obvious that when we reach the point where everything has been lifted, tucked, and “fixed” to perfection, we extend our efforts to fixing those around us. We’ve all seen Clueless, we can all feel for Cher, whose lack of of a clue is almost charming, but Tai when Tai doesn’t want to be her plaything, Cher’s baffled. At a loss for words, even.

She simply can’t understand why people wouldn’t want the help she’s so graciously offering. If the United States could speak for itself as a nation, it would stand up in front of a classroom, twist its hair in its pointer finger, smack its gum, and say something like, “We should totallllly make room for the Haiti-ans,” because who wouldn’t want to live the American Dream, AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT?

I have a lot of Facebook friends that spend summers in impoverished countries. It’s almost trendy, I think. The albums flooding my news feed almost make ME want to hang out in huts lacking air conditioning, electricity, and the other understood essentials I have only been without during hurricane season. This isn’t to say these people aren’t genuine. I actually don’t know a single one of these people who’ve spent time in these immersive programs that isn’t an exceptionally good person. However, the idea that we have everything we need, that we can no longer be improved, and so the obvious next step is extending a hand to those in need, that’s where we’re so entirely wrong.

We share this idea that others need US, and to some extent of course, impoverished countries ARE in need of financial assistance and the proper tools to create livable conditions for their people, but often times it’s us that could take a lesson from them. I used to go to Turks and Caicos on vacation with my father. I was too wrapped up in going to summer camp like all the other kids in third grade that I missed out on countless opportunities to see an entirely new way of living, one my father was always too in love with to justify boarding planes back home. He was right all of the times I was wrong back then. I’d take every complaint back if I could, but even typing this sentence feels like a waste of space considering it’s not possible.

Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “What you don’t understand you can make mean anything.” We can’t reason smiling after a grueling day of physical labor, knowing we made just enough money to fill the small stomachs of our children, with only a small portion left to tease our own stomachs with the possibility of fullness. We find it miraculous that people who can only meet their needs, with little attention paid to desire to fulfill wants, can still smile and enjoy the life they are handed. All those picture you see of places you’ll likely never go, they show kids, smiling, barefoot and covered only in torn clothing. Your heart warms up as you exclaim, “Look how little they need to be happy!” Given the opportunity, these individuals would likely feel compelled to come to America to help US, but how can that be? I mean, let’s face it, we’ve all but lost our minds to the extent that we can’t see anything in need of fixing.

I’m not saying nice things aren’t nice. They’re great. And at 3 a.m., even McDonalds tastes pretty damn good, but we’re blind to a reality where all these things, well, they’re just things. Clutter. Stuff. A shiny armor that make other things seem better than they really are. A pretty means of dressing up a relatively bleak reality. These other people, those we send a dollar a month to in order to feel like we’re good people, they’re better off than we are in most senses. They may not have a fancy home or a shiny new car, but they’ve figured out the secret to finding happiness. They very people we’re trying to save. well, they’ve learned how to live, while we continue to construct a material life we can only hope to be proud of.

featured image – Neil Krug