When I spent a semester in D.C. a couple years ago, all I brought with me was two pieces of checked luggage and my backpack. I returned home with just those three things. Contrast this with the other intern – who was my roommate – who brought eight pieces of luggage, ordered things online as though the money in his bank account would be worth nothing the following day, and the room looked as follows:
I have more or less packed everything I will bring with me when I move back to D.C. next week. My entire life fits into two pieces of checked luggage, my backpack, and three small boxes that I will mail to the address. How many people around my age could say something similar? I am very proud of this achievement, especially in light of who I used to be.
In my first year of college, when I discovered that I could be around other people who shared my sexuality, materialism was de rigueur. A good part of the group’s activities happened at the mall where designer wallets, armfuls of clothes, and luxury watches were regular purchases. Appearances were tied to one’s status in the group, and indirectly to how much money there was in one’s bank account. Naturally, this led most people to end up working inhuman hours at multiple jobs just to keep up with the constant game of one-upmanship on who could have the fanciest cars, the most cutting-edge phones, and most stylish clothes.
I knew that it would be foolish to keep up, but I could not help but to process, unconsciously, the idea that more stuff led to a better life. After all, who does not want to be kindly treated not just by friends, but also by strangers who issue effusive compliments and clerks who smile genuinely while handing back your credit card?
I never did anything as blatantly foolish as blow two month’s salary on a Chanel J12 watch, sign my soul over to lease a Porsche, or pay ridiculous ETFs just to upgrade to an incrementally improved version of a cell phone, but I did spend more money than was prudent. If clothes were on sale, I would buy them with the thought that I would receive approbation for showing up well dressed to an outing. That never happened. I spent generously on alcohol, hoping to ingratiate myself. They just drank it without thanks. I picked up food bills, certain that they would return the favor one day. That day never came.
I was struck by how empty and superficial my life – and, conceivably, their lives – had become after I broke ties with the group. I had trash bags full of clothes that did not quite fit and that I ended up donating. I struggled, with “struggled” being almost too modest a word, to pay for rent and food. I was no happier surrounded by all the accoutrements of a materialistic lifestyle than I would have been without them. Things ended up costing me happiness rather than buying it.
I began a slow, but deliberate campaign to disabuse myself of the notion that I could buy my way to a better life. As my clothes wore out from use, I replaced them with plain, functional, and minimally branded equivalents. Nothing with a gigantic logo would ever make its way into my closet or drawers again. I would keep my phones until they broke, rather than upgrading them as soon as I could get away with it.
There are, of course, still vestiges of those whirlwind days. I kept a few shirts with giant logos on them to wear to sleep as a nightly reminder to make better fashion decisions. Until recently, I kept all my broken, somewhat pricey watches in drawers to look at whenever the temptation for a new timepiece crept into my imagination. I have resolved to keep my laptop until it physically breaks, just as the last one did.
Despite all this, I must admit that I am still not immune to the enticements that new objects promise, but never deliver. Lately, I have been feeling rather blue. Events with my friends did not turn out as I had hoped, I am anxious about permanently relocating across the country without a support system, and I am painfully bored at home without anyone to hang out with or things to do.
For some reason, I got it into my mind that a new wallet would be a good idea. No doubt, a lack of emotional fulfillment and encounters with people who had luxurious equivalents influenced this thought. I went to the mall and asked to be shown an inexpensive wallet that caught my eye. Something about it seemed very familiar, but it was seemingly plain and functional, so I dismissed the thought by telling myself I must have seen it online or something.
I came home, still unable to shake the feeling that I had made a mistake. I opened one of my boxes, found the old wallets that I kept as relics from my darker days, and realized that I had bought the same wallet again. I chuckled at the irony. I thought about returning it to get my money back, but the lesson was well worth the price.
I am not always as evolved as I would like to think I am.
It’s hard to imagine the old @thoughtsfromthewalkhome as he describes himself here. I find the current him to be a modest, humble, mild-mannered individual. Yet his story serves as a cautionary tale of “losing oneself” in the urge of wanting to fit in. Especially within the gay(sian) community that more often than not judges a person’s value based on superficial standards.