Scarcity myth

Abby and I have a tradition of Friday Lunch when she’s home from college. We both work downtown, so we meet up and walk to a nearby coffee shop. It’s a chance for us to hang out and catch up. And it’s fun.

During our most recent lunch, the two of us got onto the topic of journals and planners and how we keep track of our days. She talked about using hers to journal and get into a healthier routine; I’m sort of over my planner because it’s got a self-help aspect to it and, since my father-in-law’s death, I’ve just kind of decided I’d rather enjoy the moment instead of constantly feeling like I need to be working towards some goal.


Scarcity mindset: That there is never, EVER enough. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

And then Abby was all, Well, that’s the scarcity mentality, Mom. It makes you think there’s never enough time or money and that you constantly have to work to improve your situation. That you’re never good enough. And I was like, WHAT.

Because I’d never thought of it like that, in terms of why I always feel like a hamster on a wheel. But lo and behold, the answer is simply that we’re bombarded with messages that we are not enough as we are.

Case in point (and I’m still kind of pissed about this, vaguely): We went to the big city recently to buy an eighth grade promotion dress for Johanna. While in the mall (wow, nothing like going to a mall to remind you why they suck), a salesman called me over and tried to sell me all manner of beauty product to improve my skin in general and lift the area under my eyes in particular. ‘Cause I’m noticeably middle aged, I guess.

And then, as I was walking away, a saleswoman tried the same thing. I was fuming. Eric was like, They’re just doing their job, and I was all, Yeah, point taken, but why, as a woman, am I supposed to give literally any shits whether or not I meet some unattainable definition of beauty? They aren’t calling YOU over.

I am six feet tall (truly, that’s not program height 😉 ) and I weigh 138 pounds. And I still feel like my body isn’t thin enough in the right places. I don’t color my hair, but I keep it trimmed and thinned, and I use a flat iron religiously because it’s very thick and that’s the only way I can keep it from puffing out. And my skin care routine is basically a bar of soap and some sunscreen, but I wear makeup because then I feel presentable.

So basically I was fuming because it made me confront all the ways I DO give a shit. Self-realization is hard, yo.

But Abby’s words made it seem more … I don’t know. Like, I could understand the tendency on a fundamental level. It’s just that I wanted to actually know why this is even a thing.

So: I started researching “scarcity mentality” to try to figure out more thoroughly what it means and what it does to a person’s overall health.

Most of what I found had to do with financial issues. Finding information on the mental and emotional aspects was harder and I never really did come across anything that struck me as an explanation as to why we do this to ourselves. I did find a book called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” which I have added to my reading list. But otherwise, the closest I came was this paragraph:

Having thoughts and feelings of scarcity automatically orients the mind towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, scarcity often leads to lapses in self-control while draining the cognitive resources needed to maximize opportunity and display judgment. Willpower also is depleted, which makes one prone to feelings of giving up. People in this state attend to the urgent while neglecting important choices that will have a drastic effect on the future. (LINK)

(That was the only part of that article I found helpful, incidentally.)

What I found ironic about my (admittedly quick, we’re talking a couple of hours) research is that most articles were linked with ways to create an abundance mindset — and I have no interest in that, as it seems like one more think I need to feel bad about: My mindset isn’t abundant enough! Better add that to the list of self-improvements!

So my overarching questions did not get answered immediately is what I’m saying. What did become clear to me is that this scarcity mentality is probably why minimalism is still considered an alternative lifestyle choice (and again, easy for me since I’m not financially strapped), why I sometimes make terrible decisions on everything from adding to my closet to what I put on my plate, and why we live in such a need-based society — why we’re never satisfied with what we have and where we are (we need more money / recognition / socks / knickknacks / travel / friends / health / etc.).

My limited search did make me think of this on a grander level, as in people I know, as I’m sure we all do, who never give but always take and/or why women have such a hard time rooting for each other, as if someone else’s success somehow takes away from our own. Why sometimes I don’t want to give. Why I have to make a point to remember I want us all to win.

And that maybe, much like I shout I CHOOSE PEACE when I find myself in a negative mental loop, I need to start yelling THAT’S A SCARCITY MENTALITY when I catch myself wondering if my neck is too wrinkled or thinking that I need a certain object to make my life better or catch myself feeling angry that I have to donate $5 to that person’s office birthday fund when everyone knows she doesn’t donate herself, even though $5 means nothing to me.

Uh, I might have some unresolved issues to work through.

I find this quite fascinating and I’ll follow up after I read “Scarcity.” I would really, truly love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this after one conversation with my brilliant kid and a quick search.

Link HERE: The NPR story on the authors of “Scarcity” and what they learned in their research. It’s a quick read.

10 thoughts on “Scarcity myth

  1. sarahn says:

    So I read this right after walking upstairs thinking “I better get a job soon, I can’t live in savings forever” (been off since feb and just spent a month in Europe). Those thoughts had followed this thought “gosh, I’m so lucky at 3:30am when I’m jet lagged with a cold, that I can go make myself a cup of tea and bring it to bed and no wake or worry anyone. My little loft and my comfort”. So… both sides of the coin. I’m lucky to have my own place and be ahead on the mortgage by a ton, but also, to not forget that it comes from my work, my savings, my frugality, my privilege too.

    I grapple with a lot of thoughts and demons when travelling (hyperbole). I watched others on my tour traipse back to the bus with lemon decorated decor and internally rolled my eyes at more crap that’ll clutter their homes – I actually talked to the American Mum about how I was a minimalist, or attempted one. But I get stuck in the thoughts of “why am I such a grinch? Why do I bemoan all the souvenirs?” Not that I’m sitting here wishing I had a lemon whatever (lemons being a STRONG theme of the Italian souvenirs I saw). I welcome the souvenir shops as places to browse; as a non verbal cue that I’m in a touristy area, people will speak English, I will find something of note nearby. But I don’t really buy anything.

    The two “almost” purchases I still think about from the trip: a $300 gold cross pendant in Dubrovnik. And a more expensive Swarovski ring from Sorrento. I bought neither due to their price tags. They’d be nice to have now. But? So? They’re just adornments. Life isn’t worse without them.


    • Jenni says:

      In a way not buying those expensive items has bought you freedom from having to be responsible for them, take care of them and store them properly, not lose them etc. I tend to think of expensive and very sentimental items as a burden now. All those souvenirs that the other tourists were buying are just going to end up in landfill. And yes I feel like a grinch also!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Trisha Walker says:

      Well, financial scarcity is a bit more glaring and pressing than emotional, so I get worrying over landing a new job. Money is terrible and yet, we need it to live.

      And I agree with Jenni: Not buying those items means you don’t have to worry about them later. It’s not so much being a grinch about it as honoring the choices you’ve made on the minimalism front. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’m not a fan either. 😉


  2. Jenni says:

    I have read about the scarcity mindset, it is really fascinating and when I thought it through it really helped me to ignore all the sales and ‘what if I miss out on this great bargain?” mind set. There will always be more.


    • Trisha Walker says:

      There is always more. Way, way more! Acknowledging the mindset and being able to compare that with reality (that I’m not missing anything by a long shot) has been very eyeopening.


  3. Diane says:

    This helps explain my husband! He is convinced he grew up “poor” despite the fact that his entire schooling was at the best private schools in the country. I guess, though, if one compares oneself to the “rich” kids who also attended, one feels one is poor. Also, alas, my FIL was incredibly stingy – unbelievably so. My husband thinks he’s good with money but he’s definitely not – he “leaks” money all over the place and is constantly shopping and bringing home stuff we do not need.

    He is also very bad at managing his time, procrastinating about everything and apparently unable to prioritize things that need doing. I am still waiting for him to block and split most of the 3 cords of 6 foot logs we got over a year ago! (We heat with wood) Mind you, he has plenty of time to write poetry and take photographs.

    I think, now, that he is a product of his upbringing. I shall try to keep this in mind the next time I get exasperated because he’s sitting reading the paper when I need my garden tilled – like right now!

    I have many faults but don’t seem to suffer from this, thankfully. Heaven help us if I did too!


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Oh, yeah, totally explains it: I kept reading that there isn’t a difference in mindset between rich and poor people, it’s just that rich people have a safety net that poor people lack and therefore the bad decisions don’t mean as much in the longterm.

      Anyway, it’s just such an interesting topic, and I am (trying, I’m a slow learner and often lack the patience) to use what I’ve learned to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes I forget I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, but eventually remember. 😉

      Thanks for sharing. It truly is interesting to think about this and hear other’s experiences. When Abby so casually mentioned this, I felt like a bomb went off inside my head instead of just a lightbulb.


  4. Roberta says:

    I really like the concept of scarcity mindset explaining why I do some of the things I do, or why I think some of the things I do. I’d love it if someone would provide a tutorial on how to get out of the mindset, though! When my sister brags about the wonderful things her son is doing, and my son seems unable to pass his class because he chose not to do his homework, is that just scarcity mindset? Can I find a way to be happy for my sister’s son, and not feel competitive with my sister?

    But I’m also a grinch with souvenirs (except jam and wine), and I don’t want presents most of the time, and I feel exhausted trying to manage birthday gifts for my daughter’s party this weekend (she doesn’t want anything either, and people — myself included — feel like they can’t show up at a party without a gift aND WHY ARE WE LIKE THIS?!).

    So, you made me think. I might even become a better person as a result. But I got bit by a spider on the bottom of both feet last night, and my feet are swollen and I am grumpy this morning.


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Right?! It made me feel so much better on all the levels.

      Ha ha, not scarcity mindset, it’s just that your son values other things. Johanna is the same way — she’s never had the grades that Abby does and never will, even though she is just as smart. She doesn’t care if people like her. She doesn’t want to impress her teachers. (Two reasons Abby is such a high achiever.) But her sketchbooks are filed with absolutely stunning drawings and she’s got such a creative mind. Johanna is my miracle so I figure however she is is just perfect. Plus I already have an Abby. I don’t need two.

      And I always take what other parents tell me about their kids with a grain of salt — you’re getting the glossy magazine version. Maybe your nephew is achieving big things but is “failing” at something else and you’re just not hearing about it. I also like to say, “Good for you. Not for me.” I got that from Amy Poehler — acknowledging someone’s good fortune or choices or situation while remembering that you don’t have to feel the same / do the same / have the same. Huh. Maybe the situation itself isn’t scarcity mindset, but our reactions are? SO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT.

      (I know. With our kids, it’s hard. And I don’t have a sister so I don’t have any idea of how complicated that relationship is. I’m the oldest and my two brothers pretty much just let me do whatever I want.)

      OMG on the spider bite — I hope you’re feeling better! (!!!)


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