Updated: Aug 23, 2022
“And Sherry, how about you? What’s your luxury item? What is it that would cause you to eat ramen noodles, if necessary, so you could afford to treat yourself?”
My mind raced in two directions at once, which is rarely helpful. I was stumped by both my lack of answer for her question and the fact that she kept pronouncing ramen with a long a sound, like Raymond cut short. Is that really how they say it in Kentucky?
I could feel the eyes of the whole class on me. The instructor’s body position was frozen, her eyes focused on me, a broad smile on her face, her right hand extended toward me as if she were prepared to shake hands with the answer that would surely be forthcoming from my brain. It was a classic teacher technique, and a very effective one—an invitation to participate that is hard to refuse. The student feels compelled to respond and the other members of the class feel compelled to turn and pay attention. As a former educator myself, I recognized her skill as an instructor. I knew she had called on me because, in this class of only ten other appliance salespeople, it was easy to note that I had not yet smiled or nodded at any of her other suggestions of favorite luxury items—wristwatches, car sound systems, shoes, health and beauty products, horses, top shelf bourbon, autographed sports memorabilia, a Harley. Surely I must have something for which I would be willing to eat ramen (or Raymond) occasionally in order to be able to afford it.
A classmate cleared his throat softly.
The frozen hand compelled me to say something, anything.
“Uh, I can’t really think of anything that I personally consider a luxury item. I’m sorry. I don’t know if I have one.”
The instructor blinked again. I felt bad that I had interrupted the flow of her well-practiced presentation, but she was a skilled professional and moved on.
I could not move on so easily. I was distracted by more than just Raymond and the Frozen Hand (which strikes me now as an excellent name for a rock band). Could I really not come up with a single material wealth item that I desire enough that I would be willing to make sacrifices to obtain it?
This was only the first session of a four day training event for a luxury brand of appliances and the instructor was trying to help us “move out of our own cul-de-sacs” so we could better understand the mindset of the luxury kitchen consumer. I had agreed to fly across the country to this event because I knew it would make me a better appliance salesperson, and me selling appliances is how we are financing this transitional time between leaving our teaching jobs and starting our life of international overland exploration. But am I really so out of touch with basic consumerism that I can’t come up with a single luxury? Cue the Gilligan’s Island theme song. Like Robinson Crusoe, am I “primitive as can be?”
Or maybe not.
When the last of our kids left home in 2018, Andy and I moved into a 28 foot bumper pull trailer. It was nothing fancy, but we were still flip-flopping between our teaching jobs in Oregon and our home in Montana at that point, so it made sense to us to find a more flexible and less expensive living arrangement. Fairly quickly, however, we realized that we could not park that trailer in a decent RV park in Salem, Oregon, where we were teaching. The trailer was several years too old, against the rules for the nicer parks. We looked at the parks that would accept a trailer of that age and opted instead to buy a nicer rig, a 36 foot fifth wheel that would just barely qualify us to live in a nicer park. Two years later, when our home on wheels aged out of the system, we upgraded again—this time to a much nicer (but still used) 39 foot fifth wheel with an island kitchen and a fireplace and a king sized bed. It was cushy living, nicer than some apartments we have rented over the years, but we justified it because it was our full-time home and we thought we would be living in it for several years.
Then COVID. Then life got crazy. Then a series of unexpected changes led us to leave our teaching jobs and return to Montana full time. We no longer needed to meet the high expectations of an RV park. We have our own RV pad with full hook-ups at our place in Montana so we can rent out the house and the apartment on the property. Furthermore, our timing has changed and we are moving quickly toward a much smaller living space yet—our beloved Walter’s habitation box will be no more than 16 feet in length—so we knew we needed to begin downsizing again. We sold the fancy 39 foot fifth wheel, as well as the beefy truck needed to pull it, and purchased an older 30 foot bumper pull trailer and smaller pick-up truck.
All this to say, since 2018 we have been gradually getting rid of all of our earthly possessions, weaning ourselves off of any desire for material luxuries. Things just don’t matter to us anymore.
In our current set-up, we each have 18 inches of closet space and a few small drawers for our clothing. The kitchen pantry is 10 inches wide and the refrigerator’s capacity is 10 cubic feet. We have four small kitchen cupboards and a few drawers, plus a row of small upper cupboards lining the wall above the sofa and chair. It is not much, but it is still way more than we need. We could get rid of half of our stuff without too much trouble, and that is exactly what we are working on doing.
We are thinning out, narrowing down, selling off, giving away most everything that is not essential. Just when we think we have done a pretty good job, we take our purge to another level, a harder cut, and get rid of some more. I am actually anxious for warmer weather to arrive so I will be more comfortable working out in the barn, further thinning out the things we have tucked into storage out there. The whole process has become increasingly easier over the past few years, since we moved out of the house. It seems the more we get rid of, the happier we are. Go figure.
The instructor in Kentucky this week was excellent. I definitely understand the luxury appliance world better now than I did before. I think I will be a better salesperson as a result. But I don’t know that I will ever be able to personally identify with the luxury mindset—at least as it relates to material things. I have no interest in acquiring things and I really don’t see that ever changing.
I have continued to reflect, however, on the question she left dangling in the air, hanging from her frozen hand. Albeit several days late, I think I finally have an answer. Andy and I have indeed eaten the proverbial Raymond in exchange for our little luxuries and will continue to do so, but ours just look a little different than what is advertised on television. None of ours were suggested in the instructor’s list.
Rather than consumer goods, Andy and I value travel and adventure and relationships. We want to acquire enriching experiences and priceless personal connections. We want to fill our eyes with breathtaking beauty and our hearts with limitless love. We want to amass stories and photos and fill our coffers with learning and understanding. These are the luxuries we crave.
We have been moving in this direction for years and are already stockpiling our riches in these areas. We have big dreams that our wealth will be ever-increasing, spilling over onto those we meet along the way and enriching their lives as well.
For where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.