There is a Japanese word, mieppari, that means a person hung up on maintaining appearances or caring too much about status and wanting to impress others. Keeping up with the Joneses, if you will. Ah, keeping up with the Joneses…are you immune? I am not. I still vividly remember feeling mortified whenever my dad drove up in our jalopy of a Chevy Nova to pick me up from one middle school event or another. I even asked him to park at least a block away so no one would see me duck into the back seat, which actually had no real seats if I’m recalling things correctly. Classy.
Things have a way of coming full circle, and one day when I went to fetch K and a couple of her friends for a playdate after school, I heard K apologetically explaining that our car is very old and that a lot of things don’t work. She sounded painfully embarrassed, and I felt the pang of shame from my youth in her tone of voice. I might have been projecting. We have only one car in our family and it is a truly beat-up, thirteen-year-old Honda Civic. The average American college student has a better car than we do. When K was three, she proudly showed me how she etched her name on the external side of the back door with a stick. Oh, her glowing, tell-me-I-did-a-good-job-face! Her name is still emblazoned there today. I was conflicted, I tell you. I was so delighted that she knew how to write her name, but she obviously needed to learn a lesson about respecting property.
M and I actually didn’t even own a car until K was almost two-years-old. We’d been living in Seattle for nearly six years at that point, but finally realized that the carless life wasn’t working for us. We bought it used at a bargain price, and because the previous owner lived a stone’s throw from a golf course, it sports quite a few golf-ball-shaped dings. Within a year of purchasing the car, the stereo — which was the only nice thing about the car — was stolen, and the thief left…poop on the passenger side as a parting gift. It’s true. So very disturbing, though mercifully, the offending matter was in a plastic bag and we just needed to air out the vehicle for about a week. What’s even weirder is that our neighbor had the same thing happen on the same night. Anyway, I am digressing in a very wrong direction. I should point out that I scrupulously disinfected every inch. The car has been through a lot.
Similarly, our house is tiny and fairly run down, and it’s one of the main reasons I don’t show much of it here. Almost every piece of furniture in our house is secondhand, and I just haven’t gotten that decorating thing down, even though I absolutely love voraciously pinning beautiful interiors. I’m pretty comfortable with my sense of style and think that I have a decent eye, but it doesn’t seem to translate well to home decor. It’s not even about having an endless budget; I’ve seen plenty of amazing interiors put together with little or no money. I just don’t have the decorating gene. Believe me, I’ve tried. I have many friends with magazine-worthy homes styled to the nines, and I’ve always been a touch embarrassed of our humble, shabby (but not chic), ragtag abode. When I think about it, it’s less about comparing against other people and more about the disparity of reality vs. how I envision it in my mind’s eye, but that’s neither here nor there.
The gorgeous flowers are from a good friend of mine who left them at my doorstep yesterday. I can smell the freesias as I type this, and it makes me happy. She is the embodiment of kindness; I have big book deadlines this week and she sent them to wish me luck. So sweet! Recently, she went on a trip to Honduras and with her husband and young daughters in tow, they immersed themselves in the Honduran local culture via a community enrichment program. My friend was one of the group leaders, and it sounded like a life-altering experience. She told me that there are exactly two balls for thirty children in the village. Two. And one of the balls was sort of flat and didn’t really bounce. Her daughters marveled at how happy the children all seemed, unaware of what could be perceived as severe lack. Perspective, right?
In the affluent neighborhood that I live in, yes, our house is closer to a shanty. But it’s a comfortable house, and M, K and I fill it with goodness and heart-warming memories every day (we also fill it with anxiety and tantrums and craziness, but that’s for another time).
I was picking up a different set of girls and K for yet another playdate yesterday, and I overheard this conversation:
Friend 1: “Have you been to K’s house before?”
Friend 2: “Yeah, it’s super fun, right?”
Friend 1: “So fun! I love going over her house!”
In the rearview mirror, I could see K smiling contentedly, and I’d like to think that she understood it was her own personality that made our house so fun and had nothing to do with how it looks or what’s in it. I want her to know that she’s enough as she is. Our house is enough. Our monogrammed, dented-up car is enough. Our every day, in all its ragtag-ness, is more than enough. I find that when things aren’t going swimmingly, which unfortunately is too often, it’s hard to remember that. But think: two balls for thirty Honduran village kids, but no shortage of games or creativity or joy. In fact, there may be more games, creativity and joy because they have so few toys. As I glance at my daughter avidly watching a show of her choosing on an ipad, I’m grateful to be reminded of what matters. And now, I must go wrestle that ipad away from her.
33 thoughts on “Enough”
What a truly wonderful post. Thank you for your honesty and for reminding us about perspective. Hmm. I needed to read this today. Good luck with your book deadlines. : )
Thank you, Daniela! The book stuff is chugging along!
What gorgeous flowers! I can so relate to your tale of dented cars and ragtag furnishings! We are in the midst of looking for a replacement for our very loyal, but fading fast, 20 year old Volvo- and I think our little boy, who is still 3! is the one most excited about making the upgrade. So funny, and kind of strange- how even the littlest of littles tune in to the bright appeal of newness. I’m going to be sad to say goodbye to our old car (we’ve only had it 5 years) that came to us already with a sweet history and tolerated many, many road trips and lots of mud tracked in after hikes through nearby rain soaked forests. It almost scares me to think of having something pristine that needs to be taken care of- I’ve so enjoyed the not having to worry much that goes with an already beat up car. Someday you’ll have that space you dream of- but i think you’re right in that what’s most important is all the love and creativity going on in your home that makes it most special and that’s so much better than anything!
Totally! One of the things I absolutely love about having old or used stuff is that nothing is precious. I can’t tell you how many times K and her friends have marked up our couch…but no problemo! I would be sad to replace our trusty car too 🙂 Thanks, Gita!
When I was in secondary school, my parents went overseas and it was my mom’s friend who brought me up during those years. I called her “auntie”.
So, my auntie took me to school and back on her old bicycle, every week-day without fail. And yes she pedaled to carry a chubby school girl that is even heavier than her. I remember clearly that a piece of the back seat’s cover was torn out, and while sitting, I always put my hand to cover that ugly part. Maybe I should mention that in my country, at that time, wealthy folks don’t travel by bicycles.
A boy at that time started to show some interest on me. I was happy and excited and I told her this: “From tomorrow, could you wait for me around that corner, I’ll walk to you.”. She did what I asked for naively, and until one day she forgot the routine and waited for me next to the school gate. Needless to say how angry I was that moment. And needless to say how disappointed she was when she found out the girl that she has been taken care of everyday was ashamed of her. I think that was the first time I saw her crying.
13 years has passed. Of course she has long forgiven that-spontaneous-and-stupid-and-superficial me at that age, but I could never forget that. And reading your stories makes those days become more vivid to me. I guess we all have that particular period, when all that matters to us is appearance. And because of that, we hurt the ones who we-later-find-out-that-they-are-all-that-matters. You won’t need me to say this, but I believe that K always loves her parents, no matter what car or what house they own.
Pardon my wordy comment and my English. I just wish to share my story with you because you shared yours. All the best to you and K. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Norah – so heartfelt and wonderfully told. I have a feeling many, many people have similar stories of embarrassments of younger days. It sounds like your “auntie” was such a kind caregiver!
This post struck such a chord with me! I generally felt embarrassed throughout my childhood and early teen years about my family’s house, cars, clothing, lack of gaming consoles, etc. My mom kept the Camry purchased in the year of my birth right up until I was old enough to inherit it. My family was too practical to spend the kind of money that would impress my peers (a philosophy that I now back whole-heartedly), but I can still remember moments of hot shame when I viewed my belongings and lifestyle through what I thought were my peers’ perspectives. High school was a god-send because I made friends based on interests instead of proximity.
Now that I’m an adult, I myself drive a 16-year-old Honda Civic. I can see the virtues of its extraordinary gas milage. And I bought it with cash. I too have an aversion to decorating – the best I can do is pick furniture I like, objects that don’t clash, and keep my space functional. I love my life, but I can see how adding a kid into the mix and recognizing those old feelings would make it hard to not want to protect her from them.
I wonder if it’s painful but good to have those feelings – I wonder if it creates empathy, or a desire to connect with others beyond impressing them. I don’t know, but thank you for sharing this beautiful post that has made me think and remember. And oh my goodness, what a crude (yet thoughtful?) stereo thief.
Civics are going to outlast us all, I’m convinced! 🙂 I agree that these feelings can help foster empathy and connection, and as Kristin says below it’s hard to know which balance to strike with kids. And can you believe the stereo thief? Yes, oddly thoughtful despite his defecate ‘n’ dash style…
This post is perfect. I myself struggle with these very same feelings sometimes and often remind myself of the things I do have that are far more important than a perfectly decorated home or brand new car. Sometimes it is far too easy to get caught up in the material aspects of life and forget that what is really important is family, love and feeling good about yourself. I hope K realizes too that her friend like her for her and not her house or possessions. And I think just by what I read here, you are doing a great job of making sure that is the case 🙂 Love your insightful posts, Sanae! And good luck with your deadline.
Thank you, Meghan! Having grown up in L.A. where I think materialism is taken to an extreme level (though with the internet, it might be a more even playing field now), I’m deeply familiar with the rat race. It’s hard. I’m glad that it feels less oppressive here in Seattle, and I do hope that K grows up to be down-to-earth, holding dear the things that truly matter in life.
Those flowers are gorgeous. plain and simple.
As for the subject matter of your post, I have lots and lots of thoughts about it. You struck a chord within me that has been vibrating for awhile now. Namely, how to live a life, and raise children, in a society where more and new are always better. As I mentioned before, we recently underwent a full kitchen renovation which I love, but came with some concessions. That is, was my old kitchen not “good enough”, and by whose standards do I judge it? Is it not lightyears more preferable than the shanty kitchens I read about in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” We have friends who actually couldn’t believe we “put up” with our kitchen as long as we did. And part of me revolts against that. Same thing with out 11 yr old van that we just spray painted this past weekend to cover up the rust. My husband said he would be embarrassed to take it to work (it’s “my” van) and I wondered about that.
And then there’s the responsibility in raising kids to not become entitled. A whole ‘nother topic that would take up too much space here.
Have you read “Seven” by Jen Hatmaker? She subtitles her book: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” and while it’s not completely about “keeping up with the Joneses” there are elements of not putting your worth in your stuff. Worth a read.
Thanks for addressing this issues Sanae, as usual in your highly readable style. Best of luck with your book deadlines and hold onto that dear friend who has the best taste in flowers:)
Entitlement! Oh, don’t get me started – I too have so many thoughts on these matters and could have gone on for weeks! I love all the feedback and shared stories and your observations on your kitchen remodel are so refreshing. I’ve had “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” on my reading list for some time, but I haven’t heard of Seven – must check it out! Thanks for this great comment, Lucinda!
What a good post… we too have older vehicles (one is from the 70’s) and we do have a newer house, but it doesn’t always look pristine… I home school 4 kids here all day long, so I’ve had to give that idea up! 🙂 But there is so much life in our house and all that life makes it a home no matter what it looks like or where it is. What a blessing that is!
Wow, from the 70s! That’s awesome – you’re getting into vintage classic cars territory there :-). It’s so true – it’s the life that you fill your home with that blossoms, not the objects.
I have only been following for a few weeks, but this is my favorite kind of Sanae post (though your sewing is beautiful, too). Its so easy to fall for the smoke and mirrors of the internet, and fool yourself into thinking that everyone is more creative, successful, well off, than you. So nice to read about a life based on something other than analytics. Introspection is rare on the internet.
Oh, thank you Kristi! Yes, it’s very shiny and pretty and seemingly effortless on the internet, isn’t it? I’m here to bust that 🙂 I love writing these posts but try not to do too many of them because I think these can also easily skew too serious or maudlin or self-absorbed. I want share but not barrage anyone, you know? 🙂
I have very humble beginnings are I never really knew it until I was old enough to date. I adored my grandparents, but they lived in a very small, run-down house. I never saw it that way until I took a boyfriend to meet my grandparents. And all of a sudden I saw, through his eyes, how my grandparents’ home looked to him. He didn’t even have to say a word. Needless to say, after that visit to my grandparents he was no longer my boyfriend. K has true and loyal friends and I think that reflects on her parents. She knows what is superficial and what is genuine. Good job Mom!
So inspiring that you chose to value your grandparents over (what seems like) a judgmental beau! I don’t know if I would have been that strong when I was just starting to date. And thank you for the encouragement on my parenting though 90% of the time I’m scratching my head wondering if I might be giving her fodder for future therapy sessions!
great post! similar thoughts here – i was embarrassed by having to buy knock off doc martens and often going without the latest trendy thing (reebok pumps, north face jackets, etc.) through high school due to a tight family budget. i remember often feeling like i wanted things i couldn’t have as a kid (nintendo being a big one – i was always playing at friends’ houses but wasn’t allowed one at home!). so it is an odd balance now – i don’t want my kids to feel that embarrassment and social awkwardness that i had with clothing because i felt like i “didn’t fit in” and it felt awful, but i also see the importance of simplicity and living with less. when you DO get special things, they feel more special. when i sew, i’m careful not to make it look “homemade” but it’ll be interesting to see how that goes as my kids get older. will they still be proud i made it or will they get self-conscious??? hmmm. as for home design, i’m a big fan of mixing thrifting, etsy-kid-self made art, and a few good pieces we save up for. i’m sure your house is awesome, i don’t believe you when you say it lacks design! 😉
Oh, I remember all the knock-offs I used to wear too! And you are so spot-on about trying to figure out that balance. I’m in the same place completely! I think as Pacific Northwesterners, our chances of our kids thinking the sewing is cool for a long time are pretty good. I feel like there’s a real appreciation for crafts in this part of the world 🙂 As for my house…hmmmm…let’s just say I think it has SO much potential. I just need to study my Pinterest boards more, I think! 🙂
Thank you for your simple, and clear and good words. I have made a few big decisions lately and have been having similar thoughts. What is important to me, what really counts? How do I want to live? How much money do I need? Even though I don´t have all the answers to those questions I find that I really don´t need much. Yes, I live in a tiny appartement, I too drive a pretty old car and I can´t afford many things. But whenever I ask myself, do I really need this , the answer is usually “no”. A very freeing no without regrets! I love to be surrounded by beauty and get a lot of pleasure from a beautifully handcrafted mug. But maybe even more pleasure I get from creating beauty myself. All this sewing my own wardrobe has reconnected me with my love (or very strong need) to create. And I am lucky to have wonderful friends and a caring family. Which is so much more important than maintaining appearances.
And I am with Kristin, I don´t believe your home lacks design! Maybe you don´t notice, because in my opinion you have more than a decent eye and maybe many things you just do the way you do them would be considered beautiful design viewed from the outside. And I am sure I would say the same sentence, if I ever were invited for a visit, “I love going over to Sanae´s house!”
All the best for the book deadlines!!!
Big decisions! We must have a conversation offline -I want to hear more! Isn’t it amazing how little we actually need? Now that I’ve stopped buying ready to wear clothes, I can’t believe I used to have these crazy clothes shopping urges (it’s been almost two years since I bought anything!).
Thank you for your sweet words about my house and aesthetics, though really, no false modesty going on here…
This was a joy to read, and a wonderful reminder. As usual, Sanae, thank you for your thoughtfulness and eloquence.
Thank you, Sonya! I am trying to remind myself of all these things all the time, and I’m so pleased when others enjoy the posts!
what a beautiful, wonderful post. my house growing up was very humble, full of out of date and shabby things, but also full of things my parents had collected in their travels in the peace corps – i was embarrased by a lot of it as a kid/teen but thinking back on it, it was full of character. it wasn’t “nice” stuff (and quite the opposite of magazine worthy), but it had meaning. and like K’s friends, people loved coming to our dingy, run-down house! i think people feel comfortable in houses that feel like homes, and i’m certain that yours feels that way. thanks for the reminder of what’s important. it’s so easy to forgot. i love this space you’ve got here.
Thank you, Gail! I was supposed to go to Central Asia for Peace Corps but an opportunity in San Francisco came up that I couldn’t pass up. I wish I had gone and like your parents, I would have collected so many things during my travels! I love the way you describe your childhood house — it sounds like you grew up in a warm, inviting and delightful home!
I’m happy my dad doesn’t read your blog. he’d be wanting to buy your old civic and do it up! We had one as a family car and then dad put a huge racing engine in it, flared the wheel arches to accommodate some mag wheels and took it hill climb racing!
you’re much cooler than you think Sanae! (in so many ways)
Oh! I’m laughing so hard!! The thought of our run-down Civic getting souped up makes me smile – thanks for that, Shelley!
That was a great post Sanae. Good luck on your deadlines!!! I believe I mentioned a book here once so I’m not surprised to learn you are pursuing this direction and am so pleased for you!!!
Thanks Tracy! It’s been a pretty cool development (okay, maybe a little more than “pretty cool” — I’m out of my mind excited about the book!!)
What wonderful honesty and transparency. It’s easy to make up stories of the people we find online….stories that make everyone else much more glamorous, successful, creative, patient, etc. etc… That scenario you painted with K and her friends and the sidenote of wondering if you are detecting something in her tone or are just projecting…. we are at that age and stage, too. Not in the affluence aspect…we are lucky to avoid a lot of that in our small remote little town. But in so many of the other ways that we can wonder if we’re ‘enough.’ It is new territory to watch insecurity flit across the face of a six-year-old… sigh. Anyway, so yes, lovely post!
Thank you, Monica! I totally agree that it’s almost automatic to create an ‘image’ for the people we encounter online. I get overwhelmed by all this internet perfection so I sometimes feel compelled to throw in the imperfect bits. But I strongly believe that we have a beautiful life regardless, without the brands or pristine-ness. 🙂
I am reading through all your archives (impressive sewing) and I just had to leave comment on this post. Probably because it hit the mark with me since I am re-evaluating concept of what we need (as family) vs what we have vs what we want. Such a big difference between them. I am also trying to find the reasoning behind our “wants” to see if the wish perhaps stems from comparison with other people. I am working on downsizing our monthly budget and becoming more of an example to my kids in terms of attitude towards “stuff”. One thing that works for us is that I try to be “different” with certain pride. In every community people tend to have “sheep mentality” and just blindly follow the herd in terms of “ideal home &garden”, “ideal car” or gadget. I put intentional effort into demonstrating to my kids that doing things differently is fine. I want to teach them to be themselves, think for themselves and take pride in who they are and not in what they “have”. Maybe they will still get embarrassed by something we don’t have, and that’s fine. They will get over it relatively fast but hopefully they will also remember what I tried to teach them.