Monday, January 18, 2010

living simply and appreciating what i have

I know I've been away for 2 weeks...didn't exactly mean to do that, but whenever I went to blog, a few things stopped me in my tracks. The first being my son, who is now a full-on toddler. He literally never sits still unless he is eating or sleeping. There's barely any time for me to sit down and blog when all I have is his 2-hour naptime to get things done. I mean, I can't even empty the dishwasher when he is awake, as he will climb into it. The second reason I've been quiet is that my husband reloaded my computer with windows 7, and now our really, really old digital camera won't talk to my computer. I have to figure out a way to make it work, or else use a different computer to upload photos, or something. I'm sure not going to replace a perfectly functional camera just because of stupid windows 7.

And the third, most compelling reason, is that I've been thinking. A lot.

Just before Christmas I discovered a new-to-me blog, Down-To-Earth. Since then I've spent hours prowling through her archives, reading about her simple life. And as a result, I've been devouring as many other blogs as I can find about simple living, how to make and do and make do.

See, we moved our family to Affluent Town last year because we grew up here and want our children to have the benefit of the excellent school district. Now, we are not what I would call affluent - we have enough to pay our bills, enough for a few of the things we want, and enough in savings to feel relatively comfortable. But we do not take vacations, rarely eat out, don't often purchase new clothes or shoes, etc. I started out being frugal because I had to be (I certainly was not always frugal...see: my whole life before age 26). But I'm becoming more and more frugal because I want to be.

Here in Affluent Town, high school students don't usually ask each other if they have a car...they ask each other what kind of car their parents are giving them for their 16th birthday. Yes, there are a few beaters in the high school parking lot, but there are just as many Lexuses and other fancy cars. Most of the kids have better cars than the teachers, I am not even joking.

Our house is a modest 1960s split-level, 1750 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, attached 2-car garage, nice big backyard. Around here this is considered a "starter house" by many. To us, it is a palace! We don't ever anticipate needing more room than we have, and if we are to move again, it will likely be to a house of similar size. For the foreseeable future, we intend to stake our claim here, maintaining and slowly updating this home where necessary.

I am so grateful to have this warm, dry, safe home that I want to do everything I can to hang onto it. As stay-home-mom and homemaker, I am the CEO of this place, and as such I've come to see it as my job to care for and make last the house and all the items in it. We regularly drive by much, much larger and fancier houses than ours, and just as often pass very small cottage-like houses that were built before Affluent Town became affluent. I am very, very happy right in the middle.

Conspicuous consumption has started to make me uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable, actually. It makes me a little bit sick. Take, for example, my mother-in-law: she has lived in her current home for 4 years. When they moved in she bought all new bedding and accessories for her bedroom. Now, she is completely replacing everything, including purchasing many extra pillows and accessories...and a FIREPLACE (fake). She is so jazzed to show this stuff off...but then we look around their house and see the broken fridge (it is held up by a piece of wood on one corner), hear stories of a leak in their basement that they just can't afford to fix, and eat with silverware that is destroyed from being used as 'tools' for years by my father-in-law (who does not own decent tools and can't be bothered to go find them anyway when a fork or butterknife will do).

In my house? We have had the same bedding since we got married. We have nice dishes that we received as wedding gifts, but we reserve those for guests (we do not have china, just nicer everyday dishes). In my kitchen I use the dishes my parents got when we were kids from turning in receipts at the supermarket - do you remember those deals they had back in the 80s? Well, those are the dishes I use. Some are missing, but they are perfectly functional, neutral, and hard-wearing for use with children. My flatware is my dear Grandmother's regular kitchen flatware that I remember using at her house when I was really little. She died over 20 years ago, so you can imagine how old this flatware is. I have it all with the exception of one butterknife. No one knows what happened to it - it was gone before I "inherited" the set (read: grabbed it when we packed up the house after she died). So I have plenty of plain and simple things that work, and all of our furniture and appliances are in good repair...unlike my crazy mother-in-law!

My husband also grew up in a house of "if it's broken, throw it out and buy a new one." I did not. So this past weekend I went to the store and bought a tube of superglue to repair 4, count 'em 4, toys that would have otherwise been useless.

I also sewed buttons back on my husband's pea coat - including one I had to rob from the collar to make a full set on the front. The fabric is not worn out, so I keep repairing the pocket linings and re-sewing the buttons. I was telling my mom about it today, and she said maybe he needs a new coat. When I said that would be $100, she said that's a good price for a coat. Well, yes it is, but if you don't actually NEED the coat, is it still a good price? Hubs and I have both been wearing the same navy pea coats for about 6 or 7 years. I have them dry-cleaned every season or two; they are good, warm coats that hold up well. Do I peruse catalogs and sometimes wish for a new coat? Oh heck yes. I have long coveted a red or camel tailored wool coat. But my coat is still good and who am I trying to impress? So forget it, that $100 can go toward something we need much more.

In addition to that I did something really far out - I sewed up the toes of two socks that Hubs wears all the time (work socks, not sweat socks). Whoa. I have never done that before. I mean, socks are cheap, right? You can totally throw them out and go buy a pack at Target! But if you can put that off, why not? Each of us received a Target gift card from Hubs' grandmother for Christmas. My challenge to myself is to see how long I can leave them untouched. I am hoping to use them for seasonal necessities as the weather warms up this coming Spring (shorts and shirts for the kids, undergarments, socks, etc).

I've also been spending lots of time in the kitchen - living simply, as I've read and discovered, is a lot of work - baking and preparing and storing food. Last week I made a coffee cake, muffins, and dinner rolls, and today it was cookies, pizza dough, and pizza sauce. All totally from scratch, all delicious. The freezer is stocked and I spent pennies.

The thing is, Hubs goes to work each day so I don't have to. I am able to stay in my home and raise my children as I see fit. He earns the money, but I spend almost all of it. That's really quite a burden when you think about it. How would I feel if I was the one going to an office every morning, dealing with corporate B.S., attending meetings, driving around town doing tasks...only to come home and find out my husband spent the day buying crap at discount stores, fed McDonald's to the kids, and cooked nothing for dinner? If he is going to work to earn the money and provide the food, clothing and shelter we all need, then it is for sure my job to be the best steward of those things that I can possibly be.

Does that mean never spending money on anything fun? Nope! Just yesterday we decided Hubs would take Daughter to see "Curious George Live" - her first theatre experience! Someone gave us a free ticket voucher, so we figured we could spring for the other ticket. Because I push frugality in other areas, we are easily able to absorb a little fun spending on a show. And when I'm out shopping and I decide to pick up a couple skeins of sock yarn at Joann's (with coupons, of course!), I do not deny myself that $10 or $12. I figure since I spend all my time cleaning up other people's messes, I deserve a treat once in awhile. :)

So that's kind of where I am right now. I go through my day wondering how I can simplify things, cleaning out cupboards and cabinets and closets, reorganizing, deciding what I truly need versus what I want. Shopping based on need only. We work too hard to waste. I never want to fall on hard times and look around me at piles of stuff, wondering where it went wrong. I want to instill good values in my kids, and teach them to respect and appreciate what they have. It's going to be a real challenge here in our new home, surrounded by kids who have so much. The urge to keep up will be strong. But I think if we stick to our guns and strive to keep it simple, we'll end up happier in the long run.


Louise said...

Great post-- We're trying to do the same kind of things over here. It's tough (especially moment by moment), but it's so worth it, and I'm full of pride when it works out.

Also, I totally hear you on the housing situation. We bought an older, unimproved house in a great neighborhood that many around us consider a "starter" home, too. We're hoping it will be a starter and an "ender" for us!

Beth Dargis said...

We are in our "starter" home too. For the past 10 years LOL The kids are almost out of the house now, so if we move to another house, it will be smaller as well.

Some people just haven't found out that stuff is just stuff. But, I see more and more people waking up. I love what you said about if your husband is going to work, you shouldn't just spend the money and not do any work. You are doing great!

Shari said...

Thanks for the link. I spent the whole of the baby's nap there reading. While i didn't get any housework or knitting done while he slept, I don't consider it wasted time. Now to make some homemade teething biscuits:)

Great post by the way!

HangerMom said...

I love this post. I love simplicity and strive (though often fail) to achieve it, too. I get the best feeling when I go to Target for necessities and leave with ONLY those necessities. It's hard! But totally worth it. Especially when we're trying to do the Dave Ramsey cash spending model. It's good for keeping me on track.

Not that this is about simplicity, per se, but your post reminded me - have you heard of the book "Bringing up GEEKS"? It's by Marybeth Hicks and is one of very few parenting books that I have loved. In the environment you're raising your kids, it might give you some good ideas in helping train them not to care so much about the THINGS the other kids have that they don't. Plus, she's a very entertaining writer, so it's a fun read.

Pam said...

I've been thinking along the same lines lately - simple.

I also think a lot about how hard my husband works so that I can stay home (in my pj's) and how much he truly appreciates coming home to a cleaned up house and dinner - sometimes it might only be sandwiches and chips, but hey, it's on homemade gluten free bread!

Loved everything about this post!

April said...

There is so much satisfaction in knowing you made something last, or repurposed something. I have done that exact same button switcharoo before - seems like it was for a shirt or something.

Great post, Kate. Now.... what can I make in 20 minutes before Hubs comes home and before I leave to take kids to basketball practice?