The purpose of doing without

I think I am starting to repeat beyond seemliness that I have enough money to buy anything I want. Please don’t come begging for little scraps of my great wealth, because this statement is just a flashy cocktail of propaganda, self-delusion, and catechism. In other words, it’s not true.

For one thing, I know that as soon as you buy everything you think you want, you’ll want some more things to go along with the first things. And besides, my imagination is not so limited that I couldn’t construct a shopping spree to wear out my modest reserve.

Whenever I mention how well-funded I am, I always make sure the audience knows that I am also a miserly fellow who won’t buy enough spit to lick a stamp. This way I can appear flush with cash and also virtuous. Or at least not guilty of being rich. Or something like that. It’s a pleasant feeling, anyway, a vindictive melancholy triumphant kind of feeling, or a whiff thereof.

There is one thing more. When I say that I could buy anything, it is meant to prompt the listener to wonder, “Then why don’t you?” It’s very hard for me to think about something until after I’ve said it, so I am also prompting myself.

I am not saving money for the future. Oh, I suppose I am; it does cross my mind that large sums of money are useful for some normal life events like buying a house. In the course of day to day events, though, the types of items I consider buying hardly seem like they would jeopardize a house. What’s a few hundred dollars next to a mortgage? No, the morose or shrewd side of me figures that by the time I need a lot of money it probably won’t be worth anything, due to catastrophic inflaction or some other economic peccadillo. And the solemn theological side says that God gave me the money I have today, and He can just as easily do it tomorrow. If the cynic says that I can’t really provide for tomorrow, the mystic says that I don’t really have to.

Nor do I think that self-deprivation is inherently moral, or uplifting. I don’t think a monk or a hermit is necessarily a godly person. Some smaller sects of Christianity still active today stress utility in all belongings, and shun frivolous indulgence. I’ll spend money on a theme park, or an unused but aesthetically satisfying Black Walunut coffee table, or compensatory ice cream sandwhich.

My aim, then, is to always maintain an awareness of not having something that I consider within my power to get. This touches to each of the perspectives I have mentioned, but does not align exactly with any of them. Since I am not attempting to deny myself every thing that I want, but just some thing all the time, I am not practicing the ascetic philosophy. Since I don’t try with any real effort at all to channel my money into prudent investments, nor stash it in obscure places around the house, nor in any other way pay very close attention to the money at all, money itself is not the focuse of my exercise.

I practice not having what I want because it is dreadfully easy to become accustomed to meeting your own desires, and thereby teaching yourself that your desires are a worthy reference for what should be done. There are men–and it does seem to be more often men in particular–who will get falling-down drunk, or spend all their money, or do anything similar immoderately, not because they are unaware of the consequences or unable to restrain themselves, but just because they feel fully capable of suffering through and overcoming those consequences. I do not.

Here I betray my fine principles, because even if I do keep myself sipping lightly from the cup of self-deprivation, the kinds of loss that anyone can suffer through war, death, disease, and heartbreak are simply immeasurable against the inconvenience of lacking a few material things. I confess to being haunted by the specter of these kinds of unmanageable loss. If I am aware of some immaterial aind precious thing, I may well lie awake and think, “But what if I lose it? How will I bear it? Could I keep my dignity (that is, in such cases, avoid doing something immoral or blasphemous)?”

Nevertheless, I fear the pain of losing a sense of comfort and provision, so I try to keep a lingering sense of discomfort and deprivation, a familiar feel so that I won’t be too shocked if it should appear in full measure. I suppose, in a manner of speaking, that I have yet to learned how to be rich.

But I had meant, when I began this essay, to leave with the thought of keeping my own desires from being my reference for living, and now I have an open question whether humility or fear is my motivation. Well, as I already noted: “It’s very hard for me to think about something until after I’ve said it.”