When times are good, it is often difficult to remember what is essential and what is a luxury. Periods in which things are more difficult, either by choice or by unfortunate circumstance are revealing, humbling, and grounding.
Time is one of the commodities we feel that we are constantly on the brink of running out. We rush from here to there, have long lists of things that we feel that we need to accomplish, and collapse at the end of the day or the week exhausted. Illness disrupts this routine and forces us to decide what is essential and what is a luxury. Even mild illness such as the flu or cold forces us to cut back and reevaluate our priorities. Things that we may value but are not essential, such as trips to the mall, book clubs, and social activities can be deferred or canceled to make room for the essentials including sleep, groceries, the work we are still able to perform.
Material possessions are another of the commodities that we often take for granted. Similar to a squirrel we have supplies stashed in different places whether that be work, school, the car, or at home. We often buy more than we need and simply keep the rest for use at a later, undefined, time. Travel, especially backpacking, forces us to evaluate what material possession we actually need. It forces us to consider how much food we will eat, how much water we need at one time, and how many articles of clothing are necessary. Reading about ancient cultures, it is clear that more than one or two changes of clothing was, for many of these cultures, an incredible luxury out of reach for all but the most wealthy. Most of us, even the homeless and poor, have more than one or two changes of clothing.
Travel is a luxury. After traveling around the country interviewing this past winter and fall, travel certainly felt more like a job, an unenviable one in fact, instead of a luxury. However, the opportunity to go new places for education, pursue new business opportunities in far-off locations, and amazingly enough, travel just for fun is an incredible luxury of time, money, and technology. Now it is standard. On one side of the spectrum travel on the bus from city to city costs several dollars whereas a first-seat ticket to the other side of the continent may cost thousands, but they are both luxuries.
This is certainly not to say that non-essential, or luxury items are bad. Rather, the exercise and awareness of identifying what is essential and what is luxury is important. There are many things during the good time that feel essential that are in reality luxuries. Washing the car, attending boutique fitness classes, eating out, traveling on a whim, are all fantastic luxury items and should be treated as such. It is easy to make a checklist including non-essential items such as recreational activities, self-betterment classes, or shopping and then become stressed as the check next to each lines makes them appear as essential and not a luxury. As the world slows down to try to stop the virus, instead of reminiscing on the good ‘ole days and being dragged down looking around, the delineation between essential and luxury should be freeing instead! In typical glass half-full thinking, we have been relieved of the non-essential to focus on the essential.