Standard of Living vs. Quality of LifeEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about organization and about the things we value.

Summer may be a glorious season to sit and relax and soak up some sun, but I can only relax in small doses. To me, summer screams, “organize your house!”. Summer offers me a much-coveted stretch of time to finally accomplish some major housecleaning tasks. My children do not understand why a guest room which has been used as a storage room for the last two and a half years is now assigned the This Must Be Defeated Or the World Will Come to An End status, but that’s just how I am in summertime. I figure sun covers over a multitude of obsessive behaviours.

And so it is that for the last week my girls and I have rooted through boxes and jewelry racks and shoe racks and even the laundry room, shooing dust out of places I didn’t think it could accumulate, and relegating many long forgotten treasures to the charity pile.

As I gaze at this ever-expanding pile by my door, it occurs to me that each item there represents not just money that I once parted with, but time. We perhaps do ourselves a disservice when we value things only in terms of money. Sure that restaurant dinner out for four was only $65, but if you consider it by amount of time spent working, it takes on new significance. If you earn $13 an hour after taxes, that dinner out represented five hours of your life. Was it worth five hours?

When my oldest daughter started working full-time last semester she began to count things in terms of hours. That new hair straightener? Four hours. That’s worth it. That new dress? Not so much.

Little purchases can add up, but it’s perhaps the bigger choices of how we will spend our time and our money that set the tone for our lives. Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about our standard of living and not enough time worrying about our quality of life. We tend to measure things in terms of monetary value–we aim to earn the most income, have the nicest home, and accumulate more gadgets.

Yet when we make those choices, we’re simultaneously choosing to work harder and to be away from home more. Quite often standard of living and quality of life are trade-offs. When our children were small, for instance, my husband and I chose for me to stay home, even though it meant we rented an apartment, didn’t own a car, and bought everything second hand. We didn’t have a high standard of living. We did have a high quality of life.

Life is ultimately a choice–a choice of what we will value, and what we will sacrifice. If we choose to spend more time with our children, that may mean a much smaller home. If we choose to work for more vacations, a bigger home, or a summer cottage, it may mean less time to pursue hobbies, or simply to relax.

My fear is that too many of us get caught on this conveyor belt and we don’t realize we can make a choice to get off. There is no law saying that we have to keep accumulating stuff, keep earning more money, or keep buying the latest gadgets. We are allowed to choose what we will value.

Personally, I really value the chance summer offers to reorganize my life and drive my children crazy. It is a blessing. I just hope that this season reminds me that what I really want in life is more time–time with family and friends, time to knit; time to serve. And I can do that without as much stuff.

You can find Sheila cleaning house at www.Facebook.com/sheila.gregoire.books.

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