The Last Rant You’ll Ever Read Here

If you’re wondering why there was no blog post last week, we took a few days off to relax in the Smoky Mountains. Although short, it was just what we needed. You see, the past couple of weeks have been a real struggle. I’ve questioned just about everything in my life – from quitting my job last September to writing this blog. I wouldn’t call it depression so much as I would call it frustration. The job-free life I had imagined was far from what we were living, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

I thought being free from a 9-5 job was going to be life-changing. I admit, I had very high hopes for all the extra time I was going to have – like spending it cooking, gardening, and traveling. Moreover, I thought having some extra me-time hours would help me better balance my role as a caregiver – something I have long felt I need to learn to do. But none of that actually happened. Other people/obligations/situations claimed that time instead.

I know that I’m partly to blame for this. Boundaries have never been my strong suit. So trust me when I tell you this – I feel so much guilt even writing this post. I love my family to the moon and back but sometimes being the designated caregiver is so time consuming and stressful that it makes me want to curl up on the couch and binge watch I Faked My Own Death – while taking a lot of notes. I want to shove my Kindle and a few clothes in a backpack, toss Angie and Caesar in the car, and drive off into the sunset. I want to hide in a closet until a sibling I never knew existed knocks on the door to tell me that they are on their way to the pharmacy to pick up Mom’s medication so I can take a nap. And on a really bad day, I want to shut my computer for good, stop deluding myself into thinking my life is my own, and move all my family into the same house so I can dutifully care for the ones who need me. Because truthfully, that’s why I left my job in the first place!

They say expressing oneself is good for the soul. If that’s so, why do I feel like crap for typing that last paragraph?? In fact, I feel like I should hit delete right now because what if my family does read this? What if the wrong folks think I’m talking about them? Or better yet, what if the right folks know I’m talking about them? Sadly, this isn’t a Hallmark movie or an episode of This is Us. The truth isn’t going to suddenly wake people up and make them start expecting more from themselves and less from me. This is real life and people get hurt and angry when you tell them that you love them but you just can’t help them, at least not right now.

My family thinks that I quit my job because I was frustrated with my employer. They are baffled by the fact that I haven’t found another job yet – and by job, I mean a career-path that will take me to retirement. They say things like, “I’d rather just write you a check than have you out there doing something like that” and by “like that” I mean putting up a seed display at our local co-op. They ask me questions like, “when are you going to be over this phase?” as if I didn’t spend 3 years of my life thoughtfully planning out and practicing for the day I would leave my job for good. But they don’t know that…because the last time I tried talking about living on 50% of our income with anyone outside this blog, it caused too much yelling and a good bit of foaming at the mouth.

It was at that point that I came to truly understand that the people closest too us are not always the closest ones to us. Being part of a family does not mean that everyone in it shares the same beliefs, values, and ideas. And sometimes, when your beliefs, values, and ideas are drastically different than theirs, your best bet is to just shut up and avoid the drama. Neither of you is going to change the other’s opinion. Right now, I like to believe we’re doing something avant garde, trying to create our version of the good life from scratch. My family thinks I’m floundering and as such, they think they need to help me fill my time (at least until it prompts me to get back on track.)

So that’s where I’ve been these past few weeks/months/years. Despite the fact that I try to focus on happy things in this blog, life isn’t always happy. We have bad days, frustrating days, and full-box-of-Kleenex days just like everyone else. A lot of times I try to put a positive spin on caring for an aging parent, but the truth is; folks, it’s not easy! Especially when that parent is in a mean mood (her words, not mine) and wants to berate you for not making  Kool-Aid the right way.

Getting away for a few days didn’t dramatically alter any of this. It did, however, give me a chance to rest and reset and that led me to reconsider a few things. Yes, I’m going to spin this now. Don’t shake your head, you knew it was coming…

My family can be needy, yes, but I had to ask myself if they were actually being more needy than normal, and the answer was no. In fact, in some respects, the needs have been less. And the drama? Well, that’s pretty standard too. Is it right? No. But my family has been challenging me at every turn since I was 6 years old and told my mom I was going to be a writer when I grew up (not a nurse). In short, the real change here has been me.

My stress is caused in large part because I think deep down I want someone in my family to understand what we’re doing, to support it, and to maybe even brag about it to their friends. I want that level of encouragement because it will help keep me motivated. And I really could use some motivation sometimes! I also think I’m stressed because in some respects that are right, and that is a super hard pill to swallow!

Being job-free has been harder than I expected. I didn’t think things would just fall in my lap because I quit, but I figured, with a little effort, I’d be able to make enough money to afford this simple life we were trying to live. Some weeks are better than others, and so are some of the gigs we’ve accepted to help facilitate this journey. But sometimes I feel like I’m spending all my time chasing down the next gig and other times, I feel overwhelmed doing all the gigs I’ve scheduled. All this chasing/working leaves little time for anything else – like all those things I hoped to be doing instead – and it makes those otherwise normal family obligations seem so overwhelming.

While propped up on a big fluffy bed in our hotel in Pigeon Forge, watching Property Brothers and scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post from one of the companies that I often accept gigs from. It wasn’t anything profound, just a simple post about a job opportunity, but it sparked the kindling in my brain and I suddenly saw a way out of the frustration. It was an avenue of work that I had not really considered (get your mind out of the gutter!) but it was right up my alley, so I applied. Now, as of this post, I have yet to hear from that job but…a quick Google search revealed about a dozen other companies hiring for the same type job and to me that was all the inspiration that I needed.

These past five months have taught me something I never knew about myself. I need some structure in my life to make the good parts function properly. I’m not able to fully retire right now so some work is still necessary, but creating that work by stringing together different gigs is not…well, working for us. So, I’ve decided to try to find one steady freelance gig (or part-time job) that I can do from home and put away when I’m done. I know this sounds similar to the job I just left but I assure you, it’s not. I’m not looking to be in charge of anything this time. I’m not looking for a growth opportunity, benefits, or anything like that. I’m simply seeking a task-based job (think editing, proofreading, etc.) in a field I’m familiar with, that I can spend a few hours a day on, and I believe I’ve found several good ones to apply to. I’ll definitely keep you posted on the progress.

So there’s my rant…

You will (most likely) never read another one like it. Not because it’s not okay to express yourself – it is definitely more than okay – but because I hope to have a lot of other, more interesting, topics to discuss going forward.

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.