Sunday, March 23, 2008

Defending Your Life

This month's Mother Earth News came in the mail.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Mother, and interested in sustainable living,  it is a magazine well worth the subscription.  

The problem is, I sometimes find myself feeling kind of down after I read my copy, which arrives six times a year.  See, while I want to downshift, live sustainably, and eat locally, I don't always quite cut it.  I picked a pretty 'American traditional' lifestyle - we live in a high cost of living area, we have a large mortgage as a result, we both work full time, and we even finance our cars - although we're working towards the goal that the next one is the last one that isn't paid for in cash.

So all the articles about the folks who built their home for $412.17 and live on $5k a year make me feel kinda guilty.  Especially when my husband and I are contemplating yet another new furniture purchase.

Add to that the fact that my sister lives - and writes about - the sustainable living life quite admirably, I sometimes want to crawl under our lovely cherry sleigh bed and hide.  
I feel guilty.  There, I said it.  I have judged myself and found myself less than ideal.  Wanting, even. 

See, I want to be that person.  Kinda.  I'd love to be all ascetic and clutter-free.  I'd like to turn up my nose at the bedding section of HomeGoods, instead of thinking "Oooh, those sheets would be perrrrfect.  Oooh, and those..."

Yeah.  But the sheer fact of the matter is that I'm not.  Well, I am - but I'm also the person who wants everything to be perfect.  My house, my clothes, you name it.  These two sides of myself have long warred - dirt manicures vs. spa days.  What side wins depends on the day, and how far away from a store I am.  I want to live sustainably, but with those really cute end tables I saw.

I often see this internal conflict as a very negative thing.  I want the sensible me to win.  
But both sensible me and indulgent me are part of who I am, and I think I need to learn to live with both - within reason.

My sensible wants-to-be-a-farmer side drives me to make really good decisions.  We stayed renters long after most of our friends had jumped into homeownership so that we could save a large downpayment.  We save quite a bit for retirement.  We pay cash for most purchases, and when we use a credit card, we pay it off in full when the statement comes.  We keep cars for 10 years. We don't ever plan on cashing out our equity.  We bought a home we could happily stay in for a long time, and one well within our means.  We DIY instead of hiring out.

My indulgent side is one of the reasons we've gone on some great trips.  It's why we have such a wonderful home that we enjoy.  It's what allows my clothes and appearance to be professional at work, which in turn has allowed me (along with work ethic and some talent at my job) to turn my career into a lucrative one.

I think I need to do a better job of letting both sides of me have their say.  Wanting nice things isn't a bad  thing.  It's pretty human.  And I'm not sure I'd want to live in that $412 cabin anyway - I'm a fan of central heating, running water, and adequate medical care when I need it.

And yet, while the two sides can be more symbiotic than they sometimes are, I do view the internal conflict as a flag that something is out of balance.  If I start feeling guilty when I open my copy of Mother, I know it's time to scale back and focus on the seedlings in my basement, and our long-term goals.  If I start wanting too much, I chuck the catalogs in the recycle bin and go for a walk.   

Sometimes it works, sometimes I end up at the shoe store.  As we achieve more and more of our goals, the wants do go down.  And sometimes the wants are worth looking at, like when we began to notice our 12-year old mattress has two human-shaped divots in it, and begin to contemplate a new bed.  

While I admire those who have reached frugal zen, I'm not there yet.  And I guess that's okay with me.  I'll keep working on it.  

I highly recommend checking out Mother at  It's worth every penny.  

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I check you blog every so often, and in this case specifically i feel the same way. Sometimes the pull is too great towards that nice pedicure or new pair of shoes, ::shooooeeesss:: But I am aware of it and that is half the battle.