What Minimalism Can Teach Us About Comparison and dreams

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There was once a big wooden table that I wanted..

A family that I followed on Instagram, often posted pictures of themselves gathered around this table and every time I saw those pictures, I wanted the table more. But along with the want, was a sad ache which I chose to ignore. Because we didn’t have a full table and a chair always sat empty, reminding me that my husband, wasn’t coming home. That sadness should have been my focus but instead, I convinced myself that I really wanted the table.

And it wasn’t that I didn’t like my table. It had served us well with its dark wood and mismatched chairs but it was becoming old and slightly unstable. Besides, I had my sights set on a better table - that would surely make me happier than mine. But first, I had to find out where it came from and sell some things to save. This wasn’t a problem because during my first year of simplifying, I had sold so many of our possessions and I continued to put away the money they gave.

I became fixated with that table, scrolling Instagram to see it again and again, convincing myself - that if I just had that table, then everything would be okay. It had benches instead of chairs and looking back, maybe I was subconsciously drawn to the fact that with benches, you couldn’t see an empty chair.

But at the time, I just saw a table I wanted, with a family sat around it laughing and living the dream. It looked a sturdy table, made of beautiful materials and stained pen and pencil marks carved patterns into the wood - a map of family life, drawn from moments in time.

Soon enough, I had saved up quite a sum but I was having a lot of trouble tracking the table down. The Instagram owners didn’t live in the UK and so I wasn’t sure, if I would even be able to find it at all. But one day I stumbled across it online, a British made table which delivered to my home, surely it was meant to be! The price however was far more than I imagined. I closed the tab and ground my fists but still, I was determined that the table would be mine.

I scrimped and saved and sold some more. Yet no matter how much money I didn’t spend, I still couldn’t afford that table. After a while I started to wonder, why that chunk of wood that had to be mine? I mean sure it was nice, really nice but it was a little large for a family of three and the colour of the wood, really didn't match anything else in the room.

It hardly made sense but the drive to have something that I couldn’t have, was stronger than anything else in my mind. If only I’d known, what the “couldn’t have’ was really about, I could have stopped chasing the physical thing but instead, I saved some more.

In the meantime I cursed my mediocre table. It made me sad every time I walked past it and so one day, when decluttering, I decided I wanted it gone. To the tip it went and the chairs sold within a day. I had more money in my pocket and extra space in my lounge. However I didn’t feel as good as I thought I would, in fact, I kind of missed my table. A surface that had held birthday cakes, one pot meals and pencil mark maps of its own.

A while passed. I started to untangle my buying habits and decided to wait it out. We didn’t have a table for a little while but the one I wanted, stuck in my mind and so I opened the saved tab once again.

I looked and I looked, until my eyes couldn’t look anymore. Because now that I could just about justify the cost of the table - I didn’t want it. It didn’t look as inviting as it once had, whilst scrolling on my phone. And it was still lovely but at the end of the day, It was just a piece of wood. I couldn’t believe what I was thinking! I had been lusting after this table for months, what was wrong with me? I frustratingly closed the tab and set off to ponder some more.

A few days later, I realised what I should have known all along. I opened up my laptop once again and still felt nothing for the table. I then opened up my Instagram feed and scrolled until I found the very same table. I put the pictures together and felt an intake of breath, as a lone salty tear dropped onto my tongue.

I realised then and there that it wasn’t the table I wanted, it was the family sat around it. It was what the table represented, rather than what the table was. Take away the family and the table lost its meaning. Because, no matter how much saving I did, a complete family was something that money couldn’t buy.

Besides, I loved my family. I didn’t want to trade them in, I just didn’t want an empty chair. And that moment - although painful, taught me something new. It made me realise, that often the things we want to buy, aren’t because we want the thing, it’s because we are trying to buy something more.

I stopped looking at other families tables and started concentrating on my own. Metaphorically anyway because I’d obviously decluttered mine. (Which as it turns out, was perfectly good enough after all.) Anyway, a month later I found a table that was similar in design to the one I originally wanted. But this time there was no family sat around it, just an empty table on a page online. I ordered it and we sat around it as soon as it came.

It was simply a lovely table, a table for our family, however that may look. And as the early evening light cast shadows around the room, I smiled because I’d gained so much, from nearly buying something that wasn’t meant for me. I wondered how often I had mistaken a desire for something physical, with an emotional want, that was always something more.

I’m proud to say that this story has a happy ending. Our family reunited and once again, the table was filled with hands intertwined and our family of four. I marvelled at how we had come to own this table, with pen and pencil maps old and new being made. The same but different, different but the same.

And I also thought of all those empty chairs in other’s houses and how things are rarely as they seem. There is sorrow and loss, hope and fresh starts, there is so much more than an image on the internet, can deem.

I wanted to tell this story for two reasons. Firstly because I think being mindful of why we want what we want is really important - especially if you are in the thick of simplifying too. And secondly because my own table now has its place on the Internet, with its family gathered round. It may make someone sad and distract them from their own hopes and needs and I don’t want that. I want them to instead focus on their own table, to mark out their own family maps and live their own dreams.

Disclaimer - our new table didn’t bring my family back together, love did that.