Economic prosperity has led those who once toiled within the working class to now find themselves as members comfortably ingrained in the evergrowing population of the middle class. With this, we humans buy into the notion of conspicuous consumption and the complex psychological and emotional reasons behind using materialism to maintain a belief of a certain social standing. Materialism evokes many reactions and for the longest time, I was unabashedly a proponent of it. I was, after all, living the yuppie lifestyle in NYC and that inevitable sense of “keeping up” with an ideal sense of what it must be like to be the most successful version of myself. It was admittedly a fun but ultimately frivolous and expensive habit of daily morning Starbucks soy lattes runs, weekend shopping sprees downtown or in noted department stores uptown, as well as after-work happy hours which lasted many rounds of drinks at well-established drinking holes throughout the island of Manhattan.
But where exactly did this perpetual cycle of doing what I believed was expected of me, lead me? It took well over a year as well as the influence of other close friends to bring me to my senses. While I was earning a salary back in NYC (and not an hourly-wage employee as I am currently) I was doing a terrible job saving for my future and spending money like it was falling from the sky. When I moved to Seattle in late August, I finally got the chance to catch my breath and stop living from the nonstop New Yorker pace I had grown so accustomed to but which was physically and emotionally exhausting me of life. Watching things like the Travel Channel, along with reflections of my own thoughts, got me to think of just how rewarding it would be to travel when I’m young, healthy and physically fit rather than when I’ve reached the ripe old age of retirement, 60. During this time when I’m wading through the murky waters of what I want for myself and the means of achieving it, the one thing I do feel proud of is the sense of personal understanding I’ve achieved from my travels abroad.
While I believe quitting my corporate job has led me a couple steps closer to going off and backpacking into the depths of this world, I can’t ignore the reality of my situation as well. For starters, I will need at least a couple grand to spare if I’m to manage several months backpacking and living on my own. Of course, there will be the question of whether to travel alone or with a friend or a group – I’ll ponder on that later. Interestingly enough, I’m reassured that regardless of whether or not my backpacking plans coalesce, I feel happier knowing one thing – that I do not, in fact, need to rely on material possessions for happiness. Rare and expensive commodities do little else aside from weighing us down to what we have, making it difficult to break free and live a bit spontaneously. I’m sure I’d have serious considerations on taking time off to travel if I were a homeowner and struggling to make my monthly mortgage payments. While I am deeply and truly an individual with aesthetic tastes and will always hold a special place in my heart for items that hold sentimental value for me – such as my engagement ring and a pair of silver earrings my fiancé designed for me when we first started dating – at the end of the day, things fade and what remains are poignant memories. We remember past events as these ultimately shape and influence our future. Do I want my memories to be based on the material goods I’ve accumulated and be defined by what it is that exists within the confines of my domicile or would I rather have stories, memories and experiences to change my point of view of this world Earth which I inhabit? And when the day comes when I’m in a rocking chair in a nursing home (hopefully somewhere warm and tropical), I would rather be reminiscing on my youthful days exploring new territories and cultures rather than feeling imprisoned in a cage of my worldly possessions.