Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Lesson in Less

I live in America. Being a U.S. Citizen, I have great opportunities and over the years I have learned to take advantage of them. I have gone from someone who made a minimum wage after school to an income I was well-satisfied with. I was able to afford things I never dreamed of and had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Of course, you'd think that made me very happy but it didn't. When I went from married woman to single mom suddenly, the pace and the effort it took to keep up with my appetite for living made me grow weary. I wanted more free time, I wanted less stress. I wanted less bills. I wanted less results of wanting more.

The pinnacle came as I was driving my brand new Mercedes into the city where I worked. My office was in a prestigious building right in Boston's financial district. I wore beautiful tailored suits and ate nice lunches with my coworkers. As I sat in my latest purchase, staring at the traffic and being frustrated by the wait I started to cry. I called my mother and told her that I just wanted a simpler life. I didn't want all that I'd worked for any more. It was making me miserable. If this was "it" then life could have it back. I wanted to quit my job and write a book. Her unexpected reply was "so do it". And, the next day, I did. I packed up my desk, had a few long meetings with my supervisor and Vice President and left with a box and a smile.

The time I have spent in shorts and flip flops since then has been great, mostly. I don't have to be up before dawn, I spend time with my daughter in the morning making breakfast, putting together puzzles, discussing what we'll do today, fixing her hair and leisurely getting her off to pre-school. I come home and eat breakfast and fire up my laptop to get writing. Sometimes, I don't even shower until after lunch. Easy, some would say. I sit in my tiny shoebox of a condo on the second floor in a small Key West neighborhood. I call it The Tree House because my balcony is surrounded by flowering trees and palms. My condo could have fit 4x into my old house. There is no lawn to worry about mowing, no landscaping, no nothing to do maintenance wise. I was doing okay financially. I didn't have the freedoms to spend like I did before but it was kind of a novelty to not just buy anything on a whim. I think I was playing with the idea of having less but actually seeing it in action was going to be another story.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. Getting a lesson in less was coming. It is a long story but with the social security benefits I am living on plus the proceeds of my investments that I have used, I never gave a second thought to money being tight. I had enough and that was all I cared about. I was still able to get pedicures and massages, that mattered to me. I needed to get the car washed once a week, it's an unwritten rule. You need to get your car washed regularly or people will think badly of you, didn't you know that? One thing led to another in my checking account. Money went this way and that and a cash out on my investment proceeds somehow never ended up being sent like they said they would the day I called and I didn't realize that the check they were sending me wasn't coming and it had somehow been mistakenly voided and couldn't be reissued for another 30 days. Did Mr. Customer Service on the phone just say 30 days?!

I immediately logged in to my bank account to see what cleared and figure out what I absolutely needed to spend in the next week and a half. That left me with a whopping 40 dollars. I had 40 dollars to my name, for the next 10 days. How in the world does anyone live on that for what seemed to be an eternity. Impossible I thought. It can't be done. I moped, I complained to God, I felt sorry for myself, all kinds of negative things. I started to resent my decision to quit my job and be down here at the very end of Florida.

What was I going to do? I decided to give it a try. To live on my 40 dollars and not use my credit cards until my next deposit. It was great challenge but I was willing to see how little I could live on and still put food on the table and gas in my car. I took inventory of what was in my cabinets and freezer. I determined that we'd probably be okay. Instead of just going to the grocery store because it was Wednesday and that was grocery day I decided to use what ever we had to make meals. I couldn't just make what I felt like having. I had meal plans and had to stick to them. Carli wasn't getting her choice of what to have for dinner. She had to eat what I put in front of her. Quite a feat for a very picky little toddler. We had a couple of nights of crying at the table but she rallied quickly when I didn't relent and told me she was "better now" and got down to eating. Who knew? She could overcome her finicky eating habits.

The gas I had in the tank of my over-priced crossover was going to have to do. I had to fight the urge to bust out the American Express and just drive by the gas station. Gasp! I couldn't wash the car for two weeks. To top it off, I had to park my car under a tree for a couple of days and we all know what birds in trees do to cars that are underneath them. I had to drive around in shame. You know what? No one pointed and laughed. No one looked at me in disgust. It was okay. I did it but the morning my deposit hit, I was right to the car wash, no questions asked.

So where are we in my lesson? I didn't go to Starbucks, walk to the corner to get Carli ice cream or pick up any trinkets. I did go to the dollar store for trash bags and to the grocery store for the essential things that couldn't wait like milk, bread and vegetables. I had seven dollars left over after my trips to the store. The last part of the lesson came when I pulled into a gas station with my last 7 bucks and put what I could afford in cash into my car. No one starved over the last two weeks. I got to where we needed to go. I consolidated trips to places and we walked when we could. Where I ended up was leftovers in my fridge and a little less than a quarter of a tank until I got to the gas station this morning and twenty six dollars still in my checking account. I lacked nothing I needed over the last two weeks. No one went without and no one suffered anything. When we ran out of convenience breakfast foods we made pancake batter. It was fun, Carli loved it and she ate pancakes almost every morning. That is heaven to a 3 year old. When we ran out of snacks, we made sugar cookies. Fun times had by all and what beats homemade cookies anyway? I invented entrees with unlikely ingredients that I will definitely make again.

My life is much simpler. The lesson in less was not easy but it was very necessary. Even with the less that I had, I had so much more than other people right here on this very island I am hanging out on. I am blessed, still. I don't mourn the loss of shopping trips and online purchases any more. I am happy with what I have and content to make great and appreciate what I call mine. I have too much. I am thinking of ways to trim what I can to make it easier and not worry about trivial things that don't really matter and excess is definitely one of those trivial things.

1 comment:

  1. Love it!

    Take the trash to the dump and move on!!

    You smell good!