Saturday, February 07, 2009

Pulling Financial Weeds From a Neighbor's Gardens

A stunning butterfly garden has been destroyed, and I am annoyed. But my anger is misplaced and inappropriate. The ruptured garden is not my business, and I have my own weeds to pull out. Those are some of the personal and finance lessons, I learned today while walking through my neighborhood.
Here's the story: During a late afternoon walk, I strolled through the area as the sun turned into a pink streak in the sky. My meditation was interrupted by a denuded garden that a friend used to own.

We -- the neighbor, the garden and I -- have a shared history. For the last 15 years, I've walked by her home with admiration for her sprawling, English-style butterfly garden. Pushing baby carriages, holding toddlers and chasing teens, I have watched my friend -- and her daughter --work hours and hours on their garden.

Recently, they sold their home, and the new owner has ripped up a garden in which I had an emotional stake. I was appalled and angered before common sense took over.

Here's what I learned about money and life:

  • Find your value system: After ripping up the exotic, well-tended garden, the new owners are going for a sterile manicured look. They're not wrong; their value system is just different than mine. Growing up in the suburbs, I knew families who spent large sums on pools, cars and clothes. My parents placed greater value on family vacations, cultural trips and education. Other people heavily invest in antiques or arts. Some spend fortunes on rare books. I need to be clear about my value system and respect the values of others. Financially and personally, it's important to identify the values and concepts that really matter; then we should invest our time and money accordingly.

  • Don't covet: Yeah, yeah -- One of the 10 commandments makes a stand against coveting a neighbor's property, spouse or other connections. But even if you take a non-religious stance, that commandment makes an interesting point. Life is too short to waste time worrying about OPP (other people's property). It's so counter-productive to sit on a fence analyzing someone else's choices or lifestyle. It's not just a matter of coveting, but it's a time management issue. My time would be better spent working on my own garden or crunching numbers for the home budget or watching a movie with one of my kids.

  • Smell the gardenias. The butterfly garden used to have amazing flowers (Passionfruit and White Gardenias) with fragrances that scented the air for a half-block away. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time appreciating the garden, the sights and the scents while it was still there. Financially and personally, I've planted seeds of discontent in my own life by failing to be fully engaged in the here and now. When I'm more mindful about spending, saving and living, I receive higher dividends from my personal and financial investments.

  • Weed out ingratitude: My friend, the gardener, used to provide great tips about gardening and child rearing. She expressed thoughtful admiration about some of my newspaper columns. Over the years, we've had conversations that meant a lot. When I'm fully honest with myself, I understand that my annoyance with the new owners is driven by a sense of loss. I miss the gardener --with her canvass gloves and wide-brimmed hat -- (Picture Katherine Hepburn). I am sad that she and her daughter are no longer a part of my day-to-day routines. Actually, I have a list of people, opportunities or moments that are no longer part of my life. Regret tastes like a cold metallic spoon in my mouth. At times, a sense of loss can be paralyzing. But it's like the stock market, it does little good to whine about yesterday's losses in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I can't change the poorly planned or ill-fated investment decisions or personal choices that I made years ago. But I can appreciate the excellent value of my current portfolio. And I can be a better gardener by pulling out overgrown weeds and planting new seeds.


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Momma @ said...

What a thoughtful post. I feel very connected with the sentiments behind it. It's moments like these, when you really stop to take stock of your values and feelings, that help us self-correct through life.

:) Here's hoping for a new garden in your future.

rjleaman said...

Sharon, it was so good to read this post - wise, helpful, and true. We see so many changes and are affected by so many things beyond our control, it's easy to misplace the anger - or, as you point out, to let a sense of loss and missed opportunity turn into misplaced anger. I'm sorry for your loss, but envy you the richness of that longstanding neighbourly friendship and congratulate you on finding the lessons in the experience. Thanks very much for writing this.

Monevator said...

This has happened, in a way, to me.

My parents move home about 3 years ago... but they only moved a few years ago, and have had to watch their previous amazing garden go to seed.

Worse, dad's health has deteriorated over that time, too. It's hard not to see it as a metaphor.

But in the way it's also a reminder of the truth. All things pass, and we're just passing through.

And maybe that money is important... but not the most important.

donna said...

Next time maybe ask if the new homeowner is going to yank the garden and salvage some of it, perhaps?