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Archive for December, 2009

Extravagant Simplicity

Extravagant Simplicity

by Jeff Salz

Cold turkey. It’s not just for after-the-holiday breakfast anymore.

I imagined that this must be the way a recovering heroin addict felt when the drip, drip, drip was finally cut off.  My mind raced, my skin crawled, I paced and fretted, filled with a nameless, irrational fear. It felt like the edge of death.

It was day one of my ‘cash-only’ diet.

Challenging is a generous term to describe the economics of 2009 in the world of speaking and training.  A small minnow of unpaid credit card balance in a corner fish tank had grown slowly, insidiously into a killer whale that now threatened to consume the entire household. I had no choice. It was cash only for me, from here on out.

Who would have thought that such a seemingly minor shift would occasion such major discomfort?  The inner agony was my first indicator. Unwittingly I had allowed myself to become an addict.  I had gotten hooked by a sense of false omnipotence, the experience of strolling into any store and seeing everything on the shelves as potentially mine.  Of cruising the myriad delights of Amazon.com and, with the tap of fingertips, have anything I desired – from books to DVDs to small household appliances – arrive magically at my door within a matter of days.

Aladdin had to have a lamp. All I needed was a keyboard. And a credit card.

But suddenly the kid in the candy store discovered that somewhere along the way he had developed diabetes.  My habit was killing me. My desire for immediate gratification was having some seriously deleterious long-term consequences. My sense of entitlement had blinded me to the truth: I had been mortgaging my future to indulge my short-termed whims.  Looking at me my credit balances in shock the reality came barreling through: the future has arrived.

No more ‘master of the universe’, this holiday season is now about finding ways to give presents that demonstrate my affection without emptying my wallet. Celebrating is suddenly not about elaborate gifts and extravagant restaurant outings but about sharing time, expressing warmth and caring. It’s my friend, the architect and visionary David Lilieholm, calls ‘extravagant simplicity’.

Here’s the surprise ending. Or maybe it is not such a surprise… After the initial discomfort, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this of living-within-your-means  business.  Like a diet of vegetables and whole grains versus fast food, the rush is slowly replaced by a sense of vitality and longevity that comes from making healthier choices.

What keeps occurring to me is that I’m not alone. Most of us have grown accustomed to trading long-term well-being for immediate blast of moment to moment gratification. We have been conditioned to do so by a society that is itself a kind of addict willing to sacrifice sustainability for short-term success. This is all well and good until the note comes due.

Resolution time draws near as the New Year arrives. Excited by the adventure at hand, I begin my cash-only diet. Like any major undertaking that ultimately promises fresh vistas and vigor, the beginning is not going to be easy.

My hope? That as a people on this planet we see the error in our headlong rush to sell off the earth beneath our feet for some fleeting, illusory experience of consumer- heaven. Real luxury, it turns out is not a new Lexus filling the last place in the three car garage. It is breathing deep into our lungs the crisp air of a blue-sky winter’s day. It is hot cocoa and a fire-place with our arms around those we love.

What’s inexpensive yet durable? Infinitely satisfying, sustaining… and sustainable?

Extravagant simplicity – my New Years resolution.

My holiday wish for you.

And the world.

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