I’m Sorry Our Life Sucks

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Coming Out Minimalist. In it, I talked about how hard it is sometimes to explain minimalism to friends, family, and co-workers, especially when you’re talking about the intersection of minimalism and money. Back then, I struggled in helping the people in my life to understand how living with less meant having more (money) and more specifically, how it was okay to be a one-income household.

Folks, let me tell you something – if you thought explaining minimalism was hard, try explaining downshifting, early retirement, or just plain quitting that job that was the one source of income for your one-income household. Let’s just say, you might want to brush up on your advanced calculus skills, because you’ll have an easier time getting people to grasp those concepts.

If you’re new to this blog, I quit my job last September, after 8 years of telecommuting as a grant writer for a non-profit in Denver. It was something I wanted to do a long time before I did – not because I was unhappy with the work I was doing, but because I saw greater opportunity in other areas and being tied to an employer was keeping me from pursuing them. Not all of those opportunities produce an income and I think that’s where my friends and family really struggle; but instead of asking me how we’re making things work, they say things like: “I’m praying for you to find a job you enjoy.” or “Maybe you were meant to do x, y, or z. Have you considered any of those jobs?” or my personal favorite: “I’m sorry your life sucks right now but I’m sure it will get better when you go back to work.”

I do understand that their sentiments come from a place of concern. I also understand that in our family/community/world, you are often defined by what you do for a living. I imagine it’s hard for them to define someone who might write a grant one day, count houses the next, and take the rest of the week “off” to paint their mom’s kitchen or babysit their great-niece and nephew – all without worrying about how the rent is going to get paid.

And on that topic, I want to dispel another myth. We are not rich. We didn’t get here through FIRE. We have investments but they are not paying our bills – at least not yet, and we don’t want them to until we are truly retirement age. We didn’t have a stash of cash when I made the almost rash decision to quit my job. We literally make ends meet by having fewer ends.

Our friends over at Decluttering the Stuff, mentioned the phrase “practice living for retirement” in a comment earlier this week and it struck me – that’s about the best explanation I can offer for how we can make do without a steady job. In 2016, we spent the entire year “practice living”. We diligently tracked our saving and spending and made every effort to live on 50% of our income. We never made it all the way to 50% but we came pretty close, and what we learned from this “practice living” was that we could live a really good life on a lot less than what we made from my job. The next year, I cut back to part-time.

For the next three years, we continued living on less, while also reducing the number of financial obligations we had. We paid off two student loans and our car; got rid of miscellaneous things like cable, contact cell phones, and subscription services that we weren’t using; and took a long hard look at how simple things like shopping less, eating better, and being more mindful could help us to better our personal and financial health. It wasn’t an easy path. It’s still not an easy path.

Sometimes the bread we spent all day on doesn’t rise. Sometimes that 30-minute job takes us an hour to complete. Sometimes the phone rings and whatever plans we made for the day are thwarted. But then there are days when the recipe we made comes out lip-smacking delicious, the 30-minute job only takes 10 to complete, and the person on the other end of the phone is calling to invite us to dinner. This is life. Make no mistake, it’s going to happen this way regardless of what you do (or don’t do) for a living.

Yesterday, we spent 15 minutes on a side-hustles that earned us $25, Afterwards,we ran into the thrift store next door, where Angie happened to find the exact pair of garden boots she has been looking for for over a year! Then, we picked up a few groceries (with the $30 gift card we got from our insurance company for doing all of our wellness activities last year) and stopped to check on my mom (who had made us some fudge!). We even enjoyed a delicious dinner of spaghetti, made with tomatoes from our garden last year, and were right in the middle of working hard on the never-ending jigsaw puzzle we started two weeks ago when we heard the news that our life sucks. Needless to say, we were shocked. It’s never easy to hear such devastating news.  But…

After much prayerful consideration, we’ve decided we’re okay with it. In fact, we’re pretty happy to have a life that sucks this much.

Make it Do or Do Without

Minimalism isn’t necessarily about stuff…except when it is.

There are a lot of opinions out there on stuff, especially in the minimalist community. For some, the ultimate goal of minimalism is to own less stuff. For others, it’s all about owning the right stuff. And still others say minimalism isn’t about stuff at all. No matter what camp you fall into, one thing is certain – you probably own some stuff.

We have stuff too – not nearly as much as we once did but definitely more than enough, in my opinion. Some of our stuff is second-hand. Some of it was purchased new. And some of it, a lot of folks might consider to be downright OLD.

Our dinner plates were a gift from my grandmother in 1991. She got them back when grocery stores used to let you collect points to purchase things like dinnerware. My mom bought the quilt on our bed from a quilt shop in the Smoky Mountains sometime around 1996. I’ve resewed the seams at least a dozen times. But the oldest item in our home is also the one that we use most – our flatware was a gift given by First & People’s Bank to folks making regular deposits to their savings accounts in 1969! For the longest time, my mom kept the 32-piece set in a drawer in the China cabinet, still in the original boxes. When she gifted it to us in 2015, we put it right to good use.

But, before you think I’m only talking about our heirloom stuff…

The one television in our home is a 32″ RCA that turns 10 next month. My favorite winter boots – they just turned 10 last month.

Across the room, I can see the heating pad that Angie uses all the time. It’s covered in electrical tape and probably should have been discarded years ago. Then there’s the curtain that we turned sideways to give it a new look.  And the thing that started this whole train of thought in the first place – our vacuum cleaner. It’s the only one that Angie and I have ever owned.

Yesterday, as I was changing the belt on the vacuum cleaner, I started thinking about how often things are discarded rather than repaired these days. That led me down the rabbit hole of thinking about how often perfectly good things are discarded because they are no longer in style (or their technology is out-dated). Take that TV in our living room. It is heavier than a brick, can’t be mounted on a wall, has older-LCD technology, and is considered “small” by today’s standards. We probably should have upgraded it already. Except…it still works.

Same for that quilt. I mean, who in their right mind sits atop their bed and uses a headlamp to see how to hand sew all those tiny little seams that keep coming apart in the washer. Me. That’s who.

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without is something our grandparents used to say. Basically, it was their mantra for saving money, because let’s face it…it isn’t ever really about the stuff, it’s about the money. Every thing that we own costs money. When we are constantly upgrading our stuff to keep current with trends or technology, what we’re really doing is running on a never-ending treadmill. We trade our time to a job to earn the money that it takes to trade for the stuff that we think that we need, and around and around we go. By learning to be content with what we already have – to make it do, or do without – we can step off the treadmill.

Yes, there will be times when we need to replace something we own. One day, I will have to break down and buy a new computer, but right now, I’m okay with one that’s only slightly faster than a turtle. It gets the job done, and in the end, that’s all I care about.

As a minimalist, I’m building a life that isn’t based on the amount of stuff I own (however large or small that amount might be). It’s based on how I get to spend my time. If I can lessen the amount of time that I have to spend chasing money simply by choosing to Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without, then I’m going to fix the vacuum, sew the quilt, and put another piece of tape on that heating pad. Every. Single. Time.