I recently finished re-reading Little Women the other day. As a child, I always related more to Jo than any of the other girls–she was like me…she was a writer, she had a temper, she preferred male friends, she loved her sisters, and she never really quite fit in anywhere. Fashion and fuss were not her thing…she liked books and longed to go to college. I found that not much had changed–I still very much relate to Jo. Only this time, I felt like I understood the poverty aspect of her life in a way I never had before.
We have always been working to get out of debt but last month, we made a decision to get really aggressive with it…aggressive in a way we had never attempted before. This level of aggression requires a level of sacrifice and self denial that my husband and I have never really done. Homeschooling helps by keeping me busy and off the computer and online shopping–although it’s easy to get distracted by all the cool things that would be “perfect” for the kids. Minimalism keeps me under control in that area–I don’t have the space for all of the things, so that also helps me to say no when faced with cool looking things. I thought that I already understood being content with what I have but with this new commitment, I am realizing that I’ve actually been very discontent and still mindlessly consuming. If I had truly been practicing minimalism the way I believe in it, we wouldn’t be in the financial strap we’re currently in.
Thus begins the practice of telling myself “no”. I can’t impulse buy the things I would normally convince myself I needed under the pretext of “it’s for the kids”. There is literally no room in our budget for impulse spending. There is literally no room in our budget for anything but the barest of essentials. This is a new realization as now I truly have to make a solid effort to make sure that we have a home-cooked meal every night because we genuinely cannot afford to eat out like we used to. We HAVE to eat at home. It is the difference between getting out of debt and not. It’s the difference between being able to afford Christmas presents for my kids this year and not.
I confess that this sudden lifestyle change is difficult. Now instead of just buying something and tell myself that we’ll figure it out later. I have to evaluate each and every purchase. Is it necessary? Is it needed? Things that I thought I was already doing but not at this level of conscientiousness. Every time I think I have minimalism and frugality all figured out, I find that I can still evolve.
So I’ve been watching videos and reading books by people who live a simpler life. People who are content with rice and beans and who make their own bread and live life more self sufficiently. Where the priority is not what’s fashionable but what’s truly essential. The tagline of my blog is “quality over quantity” and in my head I’ve always associated that line with material objects. I’ve always sort of understood as if you buy something, buy something high quality! It was never about maybe just appreciating what you have. This summer I spent a lot of money redecorating our house and feeling discontent with our furniture and angry that we could not afford to buy anything new and serious “quality”. My failure to grasp that our current furniture, while plain and unfashionable, is sturdy and perfect for our life with three young children. It is also warm and welcoming because it is worn and indicates that it’s not a big deal if you spill your crackers on the seats.
The process of grasping my failure to truly understand the concept behind minimalism began gradually when I started homeschooling our children this fall. When I made purchases, there was a voice in the back of my mind asking, What if you need that money for something for the kids’ education? Then my husband brought up the idea of really getting aggressive with our debt. I jumped on board, not truly understanding what that was going to entail. I don’t think either of us really knew what it meant when we made the decision–it was only about a month later when we found ourselves with a depleted emergency fund because we kept tapping into it that we realized we were going to have to make a fundamental shift in our behaviors.
So we made a budget. It’s tight, I’m not going to lie. There is no wiggle room for splurging in that sucker. Every expense must be evaluated–every penny must be tracked. I’m squirming a bit under the level of self control I must now exercise but I have a strong accountability partner in my husband. I have homeschooling, household chores, and cooking to occupy my days. My priorities are shifting from–does my house make me look like I am leading a minimalist lifestyle to is my house a good learning environment for children and do people feel comfortable when they come over to hang out? Ironically, minimalism is not completely free from consumerism and I fell for it.
When I read about Jo and her family and their life of poverty that was centered on work, study, and service–I felt a kinship to that. I empathized with Meg for wanting nice things…it’s an easy trap to fall into. But I also loved Marmee for serving others who were even poorer than she was and for her strength of character in raising her four girls to be grateful for their situation. And I felt like I understood Jo on a new level when she decided to turn Plumfield into a school and continue that life of work, service, and study. That is a life well-lived and I wanted it to reflect in my own. Money doesn’t solve anything and having more just makes you want more. It makes you more frivolous with the stuff you already have because you can just go out and buy another one. But when every penny must be evaluated, you are more careful with your decisions.
And so our journey to being debt-free continues…