Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Rut of the Glut

Doing more with less is this month's NaBloPoMo theme on BlogHer.  And though I've barely had a chance to contribute to it, this theme couldn't be a more perfect way for me to end this year.

As of this December, it has been two years since I left a job that provided financial stability in order to pursue a bit of happiness.  It has also been two years of seriously lean-living.  I have made an effort to occasionally buy myself something nice, but most of the time I have just enough to make ends meet (and even then I make a lot of compromises).  I do not say this regretfully, though.  Hard as it has felt, I feel like I have improved myself quite a bit.  When our habits are so commonplace, it's hard to see gluttony for what it is.

There are things I have learned to live without, like cable TV.  I think it's a complete ripoff and there is a lot of free programming out there.

There are things I have realized I never needed, like a different skincare or makeup item every month when I hadn't used up the last of a similar item.  (Sephora must miss me.)  Not to mention this need we have for the newest, shiniest, prettiest thing is silly and detrimental in so many ways.

There are things I discovered I could do differently, like cooking more and really emptying all the cupboards before getting more groceries.

I guess I'm just one of those people who has to learn everything the hard way.  I've met a lot of people in the past two years who have never thought twice about simple living.  I have also realized how wasteful a lot of people are, including some I know well and have even lived with.  The amount of spoiled food at one house I lived in was soul-crushing.  But you can't force other people to understand something they don't find important.  What is amazing is that I finally realized it for myself.  And I've barely even scratched the surface.

It's funny because excess was something I always did well.  I never felt like I had enough money and I always wanted to buy everything.  I just couldn't see how spoiled I was.  Buying more really just meant throwing more away later.  Food that spoiled, clothes that never got worn, cosmetics that I eventually gave away (at least they didn't all go in the trash), and money down the drain on countless dining out experiences that went from being something fun and special to the expected norm.

I like going to the grocery store these days.  Every time I have this challenge to make complete meals by knowing what I have at home and figuring out what components might work with those things.  When I run out of free stuff to watch on my computer, I read a book.  Or I break out my latest craft project.  On the rare occasion I get to buy clothes, it's honestly not a lot of fun, but I come home with things that I know I'll wear and even wear often.  I don't have the buyer's remorse that so many people are probably suffering from right now.

In addition to not really being able to afford new clothes (I've actually started wearing through a few things, which I'm pretty sure never happened before), I have the advantage of some crafting skills.  I've learned to sew by hand well enough to fix the occasional tear in clothes that are otherwise still wearable.  And I've learned to crochet, which has not only covered my own accessory needs, but given me the ability to make gifts for other people.  Now, here you run into the problem of the cost of yarn, which I hear about all the time.  I just happen to be fortunate enough to have a mother who left a lot of yarn behind when she moved out of the country.  I haven't bought a skein of yarn the entire time I've been crocheting.  Of course, that will change and so may my thoughts on the matter.  We shall see.

My mom also bought me a knitting class on Craftsy and the tools I'll need to make that happen.  So maybe I'll be able to knit myself a sweater by next winter.  ...Maybe.  Either way, gone are the days of binge shopping at Old Navy, then realizing half the clothes I bought don't fit right, but still hanging them in my closet for months on end, avoiding them every time I look for something to wear.

There are lots of ways to lead a more simple life and, again, I've just started paring down my own.  But I think we all could do with a bit of simplifying.  Sometimes it's as simple as recognizing that turning the heat up to 74 degrees in your house so you can wear shorts and a tank top is a little excessive.  Then again, some of you will have already made a lot of changes.  And so, for you, I recommend checking out things like foraging and maintaining your own garden and/or animals - my friend Wendy is part of this amazing blog about homesteading.  Sometimes it's just about finding what will work in your life, starting small, then taking the next step when you can.

Happy New Year!  May your lives be simpler in many ways in 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Little Weak in the Kindness Department

Working over forty hours a week in retail this time of year has done two things for me.  It has reminded me why I left many years ago for an office job.  And it has given me the strong impression that many people believe that kindness is a weakness.  Something they can't respect.  They seem to think that when they encounter a nice person, they need to exploit that supposed weakness for all it's worth.  Whether it's getting something for free by bullying someone at a small shop or thinking that your overly nice supervisor doesn't deserve any respect and their requests for you to do your job should be ignored at all costs.

I find this behavior reprehensible, but also baffling.  Even more so that some people seem to glory in the results of their negative actions.  Like they've just won some kind of game instead of made another person utterly miserable.

Look, exploiting people's weaknesses and/or abusing their kindness is no way to live.  Whether it's the Christmukkah season or any other time of year.  This is not "the order of things."  When you are unkind or act like a bully it does not make you the stronger person, it makes you the shittier one.  And I'm not saying that you can't stand up for yourself or that there aren't times when you need to be a little less nice to get through something.  But the strongest people I know are the ones who can keep a smile on their face no matter what people throw at them.  The ones who can make it through this season still feeling good about themselves and still treating everyone around them with a gentleness that seems forgotten in the pursuit of finishing a shopping list.

I have a hot Italian/Scottish temper, but even I have learned to blow off steam when and where it can effect no one else adversely.  Sure, I have my moments - we all do and that's okay, but overall I don't see the benefit in being an asshole.  So you got a 50% discount on that scarf you wanted because you were a total dick to that salesperson?  Was it really worth that money to ruin someone else's day?  Is that salesperson not a human being to you?  Do any of us truly believe that treating people poorly doesn't have an impact on the world we live in?

Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, this is outwardly a very happy time of year.  We get to gather with people we don't often get to see.  Be extra snuggly with the people we love because the cold warrants it.  There are twinkling lights everywhere, happy music, brightly colored decorations and we're all a little crazy.  But we can enjoy the crazy together.  It's a hell of a lot better to be kind and let things roll off your back and smile even in the face of the bitterest adversary than it is to engage in the same kind of behavior.

So if you are a truly strong, amazing person, you will smile even when you don't feel it, you will say nice things to people whether you know them or not, you will find a way to deal with anger and frustration that doesn't make everyone within a mile run for cover.  And when you most want to tell someone off, you might stop to consider that you don't know what they're going through.  You don't know their story.  Maybe all they need is to be shown a bit of kindness.  And even if your kindness doesn't seem to change them, at least their lack-of didn't change you.