Tools of Their Tools


There’s never enough of the stuff you can’t get enough of.
Patrick H.T. Doyle

There is no memory when I first came across the website, but it became an addiction for a few weeks. Before you jump to a conclusion, let me tell you the site is an on-line auction of estate items in Southern Ohio. I’ve had “auction-fever” before but that was at a series of live antique auctions over a decade ago. Back then the realization arrived that buying for no particular reason except ‘I could’ was not healthy. It was easy then to think the necessary lesson had been well learned. In time that teaching feel dormant and needed waking up.

It was the feeling that I just had to win a particular auction that I noticed and jolted me back to reality of what was learned years earlier. I thought “you have too much stuff already and now you’re buying more. What’s up with that? You’re retiring soon. Shouldn’t you be a little more careful with your money?” The answer was an emphatic “YES”. At least the balance on my credit card stopped at about a thousand dollars!

Henry David Thoreau said “Men have become the tools of their tools…” I can relate. My symptom is similar.

…in affluent societies, where most have more than enough to live well, Thoreau would ask: ‘are the more pressing wants satisfied now?’ The suggestion is that, unlike the wise and prudent primitive societies, we are satisfying less pressing wants (for superfluous comforts, luxuries, and tools) and neglecting what are for us more genuinely pressing wants, such as a flourishing inner life. Thoreau claimed, ‘Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind… a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone’.

Redemption for my buying spree was the realization that items purchased could be redirected as gifts to friends and family for future birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Once I decided many of the items and some I already had could be a gift appreciated by loved ones I began to feel better.

All my life I’ve been told I am too hard on myself and I have come to see that is frequently true. The difference now is I don’t beat myself up (as much). Instead when the self-examination begins I start to ask “where is this coming from” and “what can I learn from it”. Answering those questions softens my self-adminstered treatment.

The days are filled with many opportunities to educate myself about how to live a more fulfilled life. While I miss more than I grasp, an awareness of how frequently the chances to learn come is helping me grab onto an ever-increasing share of them. I am grateful for every opportunity to be a better person in my own eyes.

Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire.
Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford,
we grow poorer, whatever our resources.
And every time we feel satisfied with what we have,
we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.
Alain de Botton