Welcome to Format Free Fridays at, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited advice.

Today I want to talk about money, materialism and our society’s endless quest for the acquisition thereof.  I know your finger wants to click off the page.  Don’t.  I’m just like you.  I may be worse than you.  My love of things is pervasive.  EveryThing.  I care about details like few others.  The water that I drink ~ it never comes from a faucet.  And when given the choice, I choose a Norwegian label which, for all I know, may turn out to be New York City tap in a fancy glass cylinder.  I’m selective about my bathroom soap, both the hand soap and the bar soap.  I’m selective about everything.  My glasses (those I look through and those I drink from), the type of sponge in my kitchen… and these are among the smallest details.  Watching me buy a gift or something for my home’s décor requires the patience of a saint.  Or the patience of my wife.  But something’s changed in the last few years.

The economy.  It sucks.  I had lots-o-money in 2007.  And then I lost it.   It was so painful to lose, and boy I didn’t want to feel that pain again, so I worked my ass off and began to build up my bank accounts.  And then I lost it again in 2008.  So, in 2009, I did it again, worked around the clock, began to build up savings, and… you guessed it.  Blew it again.  And then one last time in 2010.  I finally had to ask myself, What am I meant to learn that I’m not learning? And as we roll through the last quarter of 2011, I think I’m coming to it:  Things cannot take the place of people.  Consumption, at least at the volume in which I engaged, isn’t healthy.

In the absence of material wealth, I’ve come to rely on people. This is a rather frightening concept for me.  I fancy myself very independent.  I’d prefer to buy assistance than ask for it.  But I’ve been forced to reach out in the last 14 months in a way that I’ve never needed to before.  It’s been a humbling experience.  But lately it doesn’t feel so humbling.  It feels more human.  As though I’m finding balance.

Yesterday I was thinking of the word nothing. I never really picked it apart before, but in playing with it, I realized that it’s a combination of two words:  No Thing.  And then it hit me.  No thing can define who I am.  No thing can take the place of people.  Nothing should take the place of relationships.  We’ve been in this economic nightmare since 2007.  That’s 4 years… Maybe my lesson is more universal than personal.