Declaring Independence from 4 things...
Independence .... is loyalty to one's best self and principles, and this is often disloyalty to the general idols and fetishes. ~Mark Twain, Notebook, 1888
This July I've been thinking about our independence...
Of course, I'm mindful and so grateful for the country we share and the freedoms we are afforded. There's a lot we could probably all complain about from political to religious to social concerns, but I think we can all agree that we're fortunate to live here. That's not the independence I've been thinking about though. I've been thinking about personal independence. I've been wondering if there are things I'm doing, decisions I'm making that are limiting my independence. It's a tricky thing though. Sometimes the very things that are supposed to make our lives better, easier, simple, and/or convenient are the things that trap us.
What if I could declare my independence from feeling like I have to make more money?
When we first got married, Patrick and I bought several homes and had them as rentals. The plan was to continue to buy homes to rent and build an empire. Over the past 10 years we've found that instead of those homes working for us, we became a slave to them. There was always damage to clean up after tenants left, bills to cover, rents to collect, and repairs to be made. Every time we tried to leave town we got a call from a tenant. One fell through a window, one started the fireplace with the chimney cap on, one had animals that infested the house with fleas, one was taken to jail, one left the house with the air running on high and all the doors wide open. One brought in boxes of german roaches that took 3 months to exterminate. I could go on. We felt trapped and we finally threw in the towel and realized, we may be making more money but we're also spending more money. For us, it wasn't worth the time, stress, work, and money to be in the rental business. There have been many other examples of this in our life and we've finally reached the point where we've realized we make enough money...we just have to use it wisely. Have you every noticed that no matter how much you make, you spend? I'm right in the middle of trying to find balance with this. There are seasons of our life that I feel like I can really tighten down and limit what we spend and then there are seasons, like now, where I want several large things and making more money would be a quick and easy way to afford those things. I'm trying to find peace and patience while working toward saving for those goals.
What if I could declare my independence from thoughtless consumerism?
Honestly, we need way less money when I don't go to stores. When I go to Target there's a 95% chance I'm leaving with something so super cute that I don't need. I'll get tired of it or it will break (because it was cheap) and I'll donate or throw it out. Wasting my money and adding to the landfill is so annoying...but I can get caught up in stores. I have to consciously decide to bypass those impulse buys. Did you know that big businesses spend big bucks on researching ways to make us part with our money. Some really cool articles here, here, here, and here describe just how much research goes into the human psyche and what makes us buy things. We are literally fighting against our biology when we say no to a product. I've noticed that it's a little easier to leave it at the store just by remembering this. Another things that helps, is if I stay out of the store in the first place. Sometimes when I'm obsessed with something online, because even practicing minimalists gets caught up ;), I put it in my shopping cart and just leave it there. It's equivalent to carrying something around the store and then putting it back right before checkout...it usually removes the desire to buy it and I can move on.
What if I could declare my independence from electronics that steal away my time and attention from the present?
It's so easy. I use my phone and laptop to work so I'm on them a lot by default. It makes me sick to realize I got on my phone to look up a beam span and somehow I'm sifting through dishwasher drawer styles and comparing which modern kitchen makes me feel happier. All the while, my kids are pulling at my arm begging me to watch their front flip on the trampoline. I literally want to throw up when I realize I've missed an hour following links and devoting my attention to complete crap that deserves no place in my head instead of playing with my kids. That's one reason why I finally left social media. I loved being able to keep up with friends, but one day I noticed how much time I spent online and how depressed I was and I just deleted everything and never looked back. It's so easy to justify our phone use. Looking up random facts, reading about our favorite people, answering texts immediately, commenting on photos...it's just too much.
It's not fun to share a meal with people and their phone. I miss the uncomfortable awkwardness of the elevator or grocery store line when you were forced to make conversation because you didn't have a phone to bury your face in. Most of us probably remember a time when we had to stop at the jiffy to use the pay phone. We also remember how frustrating it was when you just missed somebody because you didn't have any way to contact them. What about checking our bank balance? Remember when we used to keep a check register? Can we just all thank God that we can pay our bills and order Chinese food on our phone? There are a lot of reasons I love my cell phone. There are a lot of reasons I don't want to just give it up, but just like those rental houses, it makes me feel trapped. I hate feeling trapped...probably because I'm a little bit of a control freak, perfectionist, but mostly because I hate to lose that precious time only to realize it wasn't really worth it. It's like eating cotton candy for supper...it's sooooo good in the moment, but then you're sick and still hungry for real food. I'm setting limits. I'm putting my phone away at meal times and refusing to grab it when I'm bored or have a couple of seconds to spare. I want that phone to work for me, not control my every second.
What if I could declare my independence from debt?
No more buying things until we have the money in our account. Debt sucks! It's another thing that is so convenient in the moment. Yes, sometimes it's a necessary evil. Most of us will never “own” a home without debt. However, taking out multiple consumer loans for “stuff” will always be another chain around our neck. One time I really really wanted a couch. I had been shopping online for the perfect leather couch that was just the right color and texture. It was just the right size and I envisioned me and the boys snuggled up on the over-sized cushions reading stories and laughing together in our pajamas. I also had a small loan that would accrue interest in 30 days. I hovered over the “order now” button torn between whether I should pay that money on the loan or order the couch of my dreams. I knew the right answer, but as fast as lighting I clicked “order now”. It was done!! The relief I felt over the conflict rushed in. Then I went to bed...the relief and happiness were short lived. I kept thinking about the money we owed and how my first priority was to that loan, not to a new couch. It was time to be a big girl so I got up, canceled the couch, and immediately paid the same amount on the loan. Then I went sound asleep. I hated it, but I loved it and to be honest...I really haven't thought about the couch since and the boys and I have spent time in our pajamas laughing and reading stories just fine on our little couch.
I've been trapped in debt. I remember when the building and housing market crashed and I was worried I couldn't buy groceries and pay the mortgage. I remember having to deplete every dollar in our savings account to pay the minimum credit card balance that we were eventually forced to default on. I remember being one day away from losing one of our rental houses. It was ugly. Patrick and I just held hands and cried at night. I remember and I never want to be there again. That's what debt does for you. Debt sparkles with empty promises of freedom and independence for 30 days. Then the chains of 18% interest steal that freedom and enslave you to years of minimum payments. Nothing is worth that.
We've learned so much, but our biggest victory has been taking steps towards minimalism. I call it practical minimalism, because although my dad worries about the plate situation at our house and my mom has anxiety over the fact that there are only 2 coffee cups, we are never going to live in a 100 item household. I don't keep track of the number of items we own, I'm not trying to only wear black shirts, and there's no way I'm going without a dryer. We aren't trying to set records or make history, we're just trying to live with way less and way more. Less stuff, less financial and mental burden and more time with each other, more money to travel and give, and more peace in our life.
I want real independence. I want real freedom. In typical paradoxical fashion it can only be attained by sacrifice and self-discipline. We're living the struggle. We have royally screwed up budgets and made stupid purchases, but we've also saved a little money, paid off credit cards, and sold or donated over 75% of our stuff. Some days it's easy. Some days it's hard, but we've realized it works. That's what makes us try again when we screw it up; what makes us keep going.
May we all find independence from the things that trick us into regret.
Wishing you peace, love and independence.