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On Saturday I flew up to Johannesburg for the day to attend a family reunion.
I expected it to be quite exhausting, but instead I experienced a perfect balance of minimalism, gratitude and family.
If you’ve seen my TEDx Cape Town talk, you’ll know the sad story of my mother’s ‘special occasion’ towels.
Determined to learn from her mistakes, Sporty and I have made it our mission to spend our money on experiences, rather than stuff.
Saving for a Rainy Day
The reality, however, is that ever since we paid off our debt and started growing our savings account, we’ve been reluctant to spend our money on anything. The fear of slipping back into that ‘red’ hole kept us out of trouble with the bank. Yay!
When we implemented Operation Freedomize those purses string were drawn even tighter. Meep!
Being money wise is wise (obviously), but I think as a concept it can sometimes be taken too far. You hear so many stories of people in their old age or worse, on their deathbed, who are full of regrets about the things they didn’t do.
What one needs, we’ve since discovered, is a balance between spending mindfully, saving with purpose, and enjoying life. It was with this in mind that Sporty accepted her brother’s kind offer of a plane ticket to Perth, where all we’d need to fork out was a little spending money for the trip.
A girl must at least be able to buy herself the odd coffee here and there.
And it was with this in mind as well, that I decided to fly up to Johannesburg to spend the day with my family. Some of whom I’d never met, some I hadn’t seen in more than a decade, and others I hadn’t clapped eyes on since our last get-together in 1986. Egads!
My initial reaction upon receiving the invitation was not to go. I had every excuse in the book to politely decline and stay put (in my comfort zone): It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. I hardly know these people anymore. I’m supposed to run a race on Sunday morning. It’s cold. I don’t like Johannesburg.
Connecting With Family
In the end I put my reservations aside long enough to book the flight and I’m
really so damn happy I did.
My paternal grandfather was one of seventeen children, so outside of our immediate families we didn’t really know one another. We bonded in spite of this however, through our shared heritage, our memories and our love of vetkoek and koeksisters.
Sporty leaves on her own adventure in less than a month and she’s just as pleased that she opted to throw caution to the wind and go. She hasn’t seen her Mom and brother in a couple of years, so there’ll be plenty of catching up to do. (Sporty ~ Plus it’s Mom’s 80th!)
Family —whether you’re related through blood, marriage or something else— is important. We’re not islands, we humans thrive in community. It’s a message The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu drive home in The Book Of Joy as well.
When my cousin dropped me off at the airport on Saturday afternoon, I expected to feel drained from all the input. Instead, I felt only joy, gratitude and relief. Relief at getting the hell out of Iceville*, yes, but also relief from knowing that for once I didn’t let lame excuses stop me from doing something really cool.
*Johannesburg is ridiculously cold compared to Cape Town!
On the flight home I reflected on how much I have to be grateful for. From being in a beautiful, fulfilling relationship and having the means to spend the day with my extended family to my health and even the commute-perfect day I’d just experienced, where everything ran smoothly, either on or ahead of schedule.
I really do have a lot of good stuff in my life. Nowadays though, gratitude is something that invariably takes a backseat to its noisier counterparts: complaining and gossipping. We take so much for granted that we forget just how good we have it.
When we touched down in Cape Town, the woman in the row behind me bemoaned the fact that we’d have to bus it back to the airport terminal rather than disembark via a direct chute.
It was wasn’t a big deal by any stretch. The plane emptied quickly and the bus ride back was under five minutes. We all do this though. We’ll complain about something small and inconsequential without giving pause to the bigger picture.
In this instance, the fact that we’d just flown 1,400km in less than two hours and in a fair amount of comfort. We’d also been given free food and booze and some of us even availed ourselves of additional booze.
(To be fair, circumstances were beyond extenuating, as the vegetarian food had run out by the time the flight attendants reached the back of the plane.)
Where Does Minimalism Come In?
Remember my mom’s towels? Stuff won’t make you happy. If anything, it’s cause for gray hair. You have to pay for it, clean it, fix it, maintain it, insure it. And then, in spite of your best efforts, there’s still a good chance you’ll misplace it or drop it in the bath.
If you have the opportunity, spend your money on things that matter: like visiting family or friends, going on a trip, doing a course, making a meal for someone or donating to a charity that’s close to your heart.
Another super smart thing to do with your money is to squirrel it away so you can retire early.
We need stuff, of course we do, just don’t make the accruement of possessions your life’s work. Spend your money on experiences that will feed your soul, because stuff is just going to clutter up your cupboards.