Why is it that as we get older, we suddenly feel like we need nicer and nicer things? This is the thought I had as I flipped through one of my college photo albums the other night. I came across a photo of my favorite apartment (favorite until my current place, that is) where I was only able to spend a short four months. Back then, a spacious (compared to the dorms) bedroom with a big window, a wall-to-wall closet, creaky old wood floors, a $16 potted palm tree from Home Depot, and a sizeable kitchen were enough to make it my dream apartment. I made an end table out of two milk crates and a dry erase board (and was thrilled with its functionality and my ingenuity), and decorated my walls with photos of friends and past vacations (no frames required, just masking tape). I had a nice system of carboard boxes in my closet instead of a dresser (one box for socks, one for underwear, one for belts, etc.) and $15 plastic drawer sets held all of my toiletries and office supplies. I got my comfy recliner from a thrift store for $30. I had everything I needed.
Sometimes I miss that kind of simplicity and the freedom that comes from knowing that even though you don't have much, you're don't need it to be happy. Back then, I sometimes longed for nicer things, but I couldn't afford them, so I did without.
Several months after I graduated, I wanted to have nice things, so I bought a matching new desk, bookshelf, and nightstand, a down comforter, a silk duvet cover, and matching sheets (none of which I could afford, as I wasn't employed!). Ever since then, I've upgraded more and more. Now my photos all have to have frames (and the frames all have to match). The floors need rugs. The furniture needs to match each other, and it needs to match the rugs.
I'm not actually unhappy about the money I've spent on these things--I really love the way my apartment looks. I guess what I miss is the feeling that I don't need it. Once you're an adult with a real job, most people expect your place to look a certain way. Even with all of my decorating, my place is still pretty minimal compared to most adult places, simply because I refuse to own a lot of Stuff. Places with lots of furniture and lots of Stuff always look more grown up to me.
Impressions of what one needs to fit in certainly depend in part on the company you choose to keep--if my college friends were still around, I could live in a small room with nothing but a mattress on the floor and none of them would blink, because that's how they still live (perhaps more out of necessity than choice, though since they have college degrees, I could easily argue that they've chosen to not get jobs that pay well--which is fine, of course). But my new friends all have professional jobs and the nice stuff that tends come with having that extra money.
I try not to get too caught up in the rat race, and remind myself that by keeping some of my college student survival tactics even as an adult, I can save a significant amount of money and lead a simpler life. I have managed to hang on to a few, so far, even as I feel the need to decorate and have everything match. I buy a lot of my furniture from thrift shops or recover it from the alley. I get everything as cheaply as possible. I recruit friends as movers. I sell my used books on Amazon. I drive a very old car. And I never refuse free food!
I will probably never again go back to living out of cardboard boxes and taping my photos to the wall, but I find it comforting to know that if I had to, it wouldn't have a major impact on my overall happiness.