If you haven't been reading long or don't know me very well you may not know that, at the beginning of 2011, I made a commitment to pay off all my debt. It was a daunting commitment because, at the time, I had $18,000 of it. No, you did not mis-read that. Eighteen THOUSAND dollars in credit card and student loan debt. Since then, I've managed to pay off 2/3 of it - in 18 months - by creating a budget and sticking to it with only a few exceptions.
That fact alone is huge particularly as I am chronically committed to remaining uncommitted on so many levels. But I have stuck to it. I'm really proud of what I have accomplished so far and, with every pay period, there is the satisfaction of watching that last card's balance due get thwacked with several hundred extra dollars.
However, it hasn't been particularly easy. There have been times where it's proven extremely difficult emotionally more than anything. I've sometimes felt depressed and isolated because I couldn't engage as regularly as I'd like to in one of my favorite things...
Spending money on other people.
I stopped buying gifts specifically for birthdays and for holidays several years ago. It just seemed...somehow wrong when I sat down to make my list of people I was obligated to buy for, assigned a dollar value to each person, and then made a list of people I wanted to buy for and assign a dollar value to each one of them.
That, in a word, sucks.
Doing it that way, I always managed to find something to give within my price range...but it was uninspired. It was the epitome of the phrase "it's the thought that counts" and that's not the kind of person I want to be. It's not the person I am. Because, in all honesty, I'm a phenomenal gift giver under the right circumstances.
So I stopped doing it.
Now (or, at least, I did, pre-2011), I buy gifts, liberally sometimes, when the moment strikes. If I see something that X will like - even if I don't know him very well - I buy it. I give it. The single most important ingredient to becoming an excellent gift giver is paying attention. And, if there is one thing I'm known for, it's for listening, paying attention, being present.
For awhile, while I was micro-focused on paying down debt, I stopped doing that too. Subsequently, I found myself depressed, anxious, angsty. When I had the epiphany that some of those feelings were coming from the fact that I'd cut off the blood supply to my emotional well-being, I re-evaluated my priorities and made adjustments to my budget so that I could continue to make progress toward this last bit of debt and still satisfy my need to see other people happy.
Recently, Lex and I talked about this particular need. He was the one who pointed out that, most people, when engaged in the art of retail therapy, buy things for themselves - new shoes, a corset, the latest tablet, a lot of discontinued RPG minis - because it feels terrific to receive. Even if the buyer's remorse guilt is high later, the act of buying to receive something for ourselves is an even greater high. He also pointed out that, somewhere along the line, even though I depend on retail therapy, my brain got re-wired and imprinted with getting the same high by giving rather than receiving. Although, in my mind, I receive something even more valuable by giving. I receive the knowledge and satisfaction of knowing I've made someone else smile or laugh. That I've possibly restored their faith in humanity. That I've made a difference in whether or not someone can start a new project, recoup losses from a theft, compete in a life-altering event, make a dream come true, maybe even cure cancer.
By the same token, I'm not a good gift receiver. Whether it's because I once gave up nearly everything I owned and learned firsthand how little I actually needed to be happy or because I feel as though I have enough, when people ask what I'd like for a gift, I have no answer. It took me 8 months to spend the $50 Amazon gift certificate my mother gave me for my birthday mostly because I couldn't think of anything I felt I wanted particularly enough to buy. It's quite possible I spent that $50 on someone else (sorry, Mom. Love you!).
Sure, Acr0nym buys me cheesy truck stop knives every time he goes to Def Con (even this year when I went with him). Sure, Spux buys me a region-specific toy automobile (I have a taco truck from LA and a Waste Management truck from New York currently) from her travels. Those who know me best know that I love regional ghost stories from people's travels. I've got a ginormous collection of pens and pencils from all over the world because my friends and co-workers thought to pick one up for me while they were travelling for business and pleasure. I collect the artwork of my friends. I collect frog figurines but only when they are gifts (I don't buy them for myself). I collect out-of-print children's books. I love photography - photographs good enough to frame and taken by someone I know. All of those collections...those things...began because someone thought to start it for me.
But do you understand what all of those things amount to - those things I buy for other people, the things other people buy for me?
It's not about the money. It's about time. It's about paying attention. It's about putting thought and time into someone else. It's about the knowledge that someone put the thought and time into you. That is the single most important investment I can make in someone else and the single most appreciated investment someone can make in me.
Taking time makes memories.
Taking time says "I care".
It's not about the money. It's never about the money - even though it often requires money. It's not about spending dollars or sense. It's about taking out time to make sure someone knows I care.
|Time...you can't stop it. Photo (once again) courtesy of Matt Conroy|