A few months ago, A and I were hiking up in the hills of Portland.
We had been hiking for hours, through beautiful canyons and crevices and between those perfectly-oregon pine trees.
Everything is peaceful, and quiet, and smells like the woods.
Then we pass a McMansion.
The first of many McMansions.
They are perched in the hills like sparkling gnomes, the walls of windows glinting with the sunlight.
Finally, after thirty minutes of hiking uphill, we come to the biggest of them all – the mother gnome.
In the backyard, there is a pool, and a patio, and french doors. A Williams-Sonoma chicken coop (I pinned it…they bought it…), and a custom brick fire pit.
On the edge of the hiking trail is a sign warning about their home security system.
“One day we’ll live in a house like this”, A says.
“Think of the utility bills”, I say.
“We’ll be so rich we won’t care about bills”, A says.
“The pool would get dirty. We’d have to pay someone to clean the pool.”
“So we’d hire a pool-cleaner. And a cook. And a housekeeper.”
“But how could we be carless if we lived on top of a mountain?”
“Why would we need to be carless? We could have a Porsche SUV, and a vespa, and a convertible.”
“That’s like two grand in monthly payments. Think about the car insurance, and the gas.”
“We’d buy them all cash.”
“How are we going to make that kind of money?”
“We win the lottery.”
“Do you know how likely that is? Broke people play the lottery, rich people make smart financial decisions.”
“You’re no fun,” he says and stomps ahead.
A dreams of being rich, and I don’t.
I didn’t realize this until we hiked 1000 feet above sea level to the highest point in the Tualatin Mountains.
Then, I feel angry and anxious and I can’t figure out why, but I know it’s something to do with the Williams-Sonoma chicken coop.
When he says he wants to live in a mansion, I think, “isn’t our house good enough?”
The key to being happy is learning when enough is enough.
And making more than $75,000 doesn’t make you any happier.
$75,000 a year doesn’t buy much of a mansion.
When I see a mansion, all I see are the years I’d have to work to afford it.
And when people say they want to be rich, it makes me uncomfortable. Because wealth and happiness and materialism and success and achievement and satisfaction and jealousy are all concepts that are kind of scary to talk about with my partner, or even with myself.
On the way back down, I tell A that my idea of rich doesn’t involve a mansion.
It involves a little house that’s completely paid off, and rental properties that cover all our bills. The freedom to quit our jobs. Empty days to hike in the mountains, and be with my family. Hours and hours to pour into books, and writing, and creative projects.
“What about you?” I ask, and he says he’d like to be a stay-at-home dad, and maybe coach basketball. Work on his arabic. Travel the world.
“See? Doesn’t that sound better than a mansion?” I say.
“But if we won the lottery,” he says. “We could have all that AND a mansion.”**this post was inspired by this fascinating article in the NYT, and this poem by Kurt Vonnegut.