I am clutter.

I am clutter.  I am stuff.  I collect things.

I feel good when I see a trinket that my mom and dad brought me, back in 1970-whatever from some place they were visiting.  They have travelled all over the world and brought something back for us girls each time.   I look at these things on my bookshelf and feel warm goodness.

I don’t see the dirt collecting around it or the way the books are pushed back against the wall because of it.  I just feel my parents there with me for a moment and feel loved.

I like to have things around me that remind me of the past.  It happens that we moved a bit growing up – dozens of times.  So somehow things connect all those memories together for me.  They are a thread.  Whispers of the past come back for just a moment.

Stuff, there’s that word again. Too many pens and pencils shoved together into a drawer from a past project and end of year desk cleaning at school. Pencil runts with great erasers or fully unused one with no erasers.  Extra large school erasers, so many  that they get included in the plastic army man battle in the bath!

Now, that stuff should be saved and more importantly used.  When the kids come home saying they need another binder or spiral notebook, it is all too easy to stop over at Walgreens and pick one up.  I suppose I could walk upstairs and filter through a bunch of old spirals, tear the perhaps thirty pages of used math problems out, and hand it over.

Yeah, I realize how lazy and stupid I sound. But I would do that.  I have done that.  There are a lot of moments when I think “I might have one of those here — somewhere” but I actually have no idea where it is.  I think it would take less time (and effort) to “Just Buy One.”

Just Buy One.

The antithesis of simplicity and I must repent of (as in change) this way of thinking.

Today the sun is shining and all week I’ve refused to wear a coat.  Sure, it’s still 30 degrees outside but the sun is shining people!  You have no idea how great that is unless you’ve lived a winter in the Midwest.

Spring will be here any day now.  I believe!!!!  I could easily let myself get giddy about the promise of fresh air, the anticipation of opening up the windows and seeing blooms poking up through the snow.  Oh, just the word “bloom” makes me happy after what felt like a really cold winter.

An opportunity to get things in order!

I will be decluttering, cleaning, and organizing.

[Tom is euphoric right now somewhere at work and he doesn’t even know why.  Just the possibility of me working on decluttering makes him happy.]

So, because this is how I stay motivated, I’m checking this book out of the library (Uh huh, I said that.  I will not buy it!)  Organized Simplicity, and joining something called Project: Simplify.” I’ll be sure to take before and after pictures — No matter how humiliating it feels and keep you posted.

——–

www.Simple Mom.net

Financially Together as Two Single People – Part 2

“For many years now Tom and I have felt like we’re playing the Game of the American Dream.  Although it looks perfectly delightful on the outside, the conspicuous consumption of our lives keeps us awake at night.  …  We are continuously asking ourselves how can we live more deliberately? “(From Week One.)

Week Two: Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey

Let me get this off my chest first and then get on to what’s really important.  It’s a good thing Ramsey spoke about men and women the second session because I might have over reacted asking for my money back.

SOAP BOX:

What a bunch of superficial generalizations and stereotypes about men and women and how we relate to one another!  It’s irresponsible and dangerous actually.  And it is no wonder that we don’t understand one another when a man or woman stands up on a stage, using their God-given authority and spews out a bunch of crazy old-fashioned ideas about how men are this way and women are that, with no research to back it up, except some equally ancient thinking from the likes of Gary Smalley and Dennis Rainey.   Or John Gray suggests one that I particularly loathe:  “A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results. A woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships.”

We are all uniquely different but I don’t think that these differences are broken down by gender.  And he spent too much time “being funny” about these very unhelpful generalizations.  I suppose I could have just said that without the soap box.

He did stress that the number one conflict in marriage is over money and I have seen this played out in many of my friends and relatives.  He want on to say some things that made sense.

  1. You must BOTH agree to the details of a budget and work on it or you will fail.  If you both have a say it is more likely that you both stick by it.  That’s very democratic or egalitarian.  I thought it made sense.
  2. If we look at the flow of money in our lives we will see what our values are and what is important to us.  We have found this to be true for us.
  3. For many of us, how we handle our money represents failure to us and the result is low self-esteem. Oh so true:  Money comes to equal stress, bad emotions, and so we avoid dealing with it.
  4. Dangers for falling off your budget:  time poverty and fatigue, thinking you “deserve” something, making impulse purchases, and for singles loneliness spending.
  5. You need a written plan.  This will give empowerment, control and accountability.  And something I never thought about but if you are single you have no-one to be accountable to so he suggested finding someone.  Good advice.
  6. It is the job or a parent to teach  their kids how to handle money.  (He referenced Proverbs 22.6&7.)  Ramsey has a whole theory/program for teaching kids about money.  I thought the emphasis he made on the connection between money and work made particular sense.  The value of hard work.  The result (usually) being money.

Here’s where it got personal.

Ramsey went on a bit too long about the Geek vs. Free Spirit in marriages, saying there is one of each in a marriage.  As he talked Tom and I were having trouble relating.  We struggled to find more than a one or two characteristics that related to us and neither of us were all Geek or all Free Spirit, based on Ramsey’s characterizations.

What we finally concluded is that we are living our financial lives together as two single people. We’ve been together almost fifteen years and for the most part we don’t do this money stuff as partners. Yeah, weird!!!!!  Totally!  At first we laughed! We found ourselves joking with our friends also attending the seminar that we need to “get married” financially.  But then it didn’t feel as funny.  Quite often I do my thing and he does his.  We make impulse purchases, splurges, choices and rarely face the other one because we have always had the unspoken motto: “live and let live.”  He has his musical ‘slush fund’ that he manages and I mange the day-to-day family expenses.  And luckily (or not depending on how you look at it) we’ve had enough income to stumble through. A few important choices over the last few years we made together are investing a good percentage into retirement and insurance.  We are paying off our debt “as fast as we can.”  We refinanced our home so that it’ll be paid off in fifteen years.  Debt in the next two or three.

This realization of our separate financial lives has led us to deeper discussions.

That led to an equally important discussion about how we spend our time as individuals and where we focus our energy as parents.

We are not what I would call bad parents.  We provide for physical needs.  We love and encourage.  We listen and guide.  We set limits.  We pray for our kids.  We have intentionally provided good influences.  Some would say:  good enough.

Well, I’ve felt more alone in parenting that I have wanted to admit.  Tom is a good father for all the above reasons.  But when it came to our free time I have told myself that he “deserves” to have his time free to pursue his own interests — his music — because he’s the breadwinner and I don’t work outside of the home.

And as for me, well, I had to accept it when he told me that I’ve become a bit of a slacker.  It was hard to hear and even more painful to admit but I’ve been called out and I confess that I have abused the freedom of being at home.   I suppose over the ten years the pendulum swung from being an overachiever always thinking about work and how to improve.  I was always pursuing how to do the job better and directing others toward those goals.  Applying that grit to being a homemaker?  Not so much.  I excuse myself saying I’m not that good at it.  But the crystal clear truth is that I am not that inspired by it.  So I do a truly half-ass job of homemaking.

When I left InterVarsity, I basically agreed that I was going to carry most of the load for the house and he agreed to “bring home the bacon.”  He’s been keeping up his end of the deal and I have kind of pursued a lot of other interests, many of them virtuous, but the harsh truth is that I get to the house cleaning and laundry eventually, on a good week.  Why does this matter?

  • Firstly, I have broken a commitment I made.  It was sort of an erosion of my commitment.  Those are the hardest to face but it is true.  Gotta face it.  Turn about and change.   And, financially where this connects is that I could save us a lot of money by applying my brains to careful spending.  Another thing I was going to do when I quit work.   This will require planning ahead, having a schedule that ensures that the yucky stuff gets done every week.  That’s the plain facts!
  • And Tom, well, he totally stepped up to his disappearing act.
  • And together have committed that we’re in it together so let’s do it — together.

The only way that we could see and face the crazy cycle we’ve been on was by stopping to analyse our patterns for spending money.  By backing up and looking at how we spend our time. Tom has a theory that usually a person is doing what they want, no matter how much they belly ache about something else. Except in the case of abusive relationships I agree with him.

But here’s a startling truth.  “What I want” and “what makes me happy” is not always the Godly way.  It is not naturally and easily what Jesus might have done.  It is not always based on your values.  Or convictions.  Or much of anything but old comforts.

What patterns and cycles we have seen!

It is important to say right here that there’s a spiritual dimension to all this that cannot be overlooked.  I think as we face the sickness of careless greed in ourselves we should forgive ourselves and pray:

“Give us, Lord, the same kind of faith with respect to thy ability and willingness to heal our souls.

Give us to desire the pardon of sin more than any earthly blessing or life itself.

Enable us to believe thy power to forgive sins; then will our souls cheerfully arise and go where thou pleasest.”

— Mathhew Henry’s Concise Commentary

Then and only then (Tom took the lead on this) could I be forced to say what really I want with my life.  But that I think is for another day.

Blessings friends!

Something God has slowly wrestled away from me one finger at a time …

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

— Henry David Thoreau

For many years now Tom and I have felt like we’re playing the Game of the American Dream.

Although it looks perfectly delightful on the outside, the conspicuous consumption of our lives keeps us awake at night.  It’s no secret that we must make pretty good money, since I don’t have to work but we’re not even very careful with our money.  We know we are lucky to have a such a good income and we have our retirement funds, and because of his business we’re insured up to our eye balls.   But at the same time have no short-term savings and live month-to-month.  And we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble a few times wanting a vacation or bedroom furniture or to build out a studio and putting it on credit because we don’t save for those eventualities.

I shop compulsively — like I do so many things — with more than twenty years of bad spending choices and not living deliberately.  I confess to my own addictive spending habits which have taken years to reform and I must say I am not fully there.  It has been an area where I have had a two-fisted grip on that “need” to have things and this is something God has slowly wrestled away from me one finger at a time.

In 2008 we decided enough was enough and with the help of a family member stopped spending on credit (for good we hope) by getting a personal loan to end the endless high interest chase of debt.  And we are paying that off at low-interest over several years.   So far, as it comes to credit, we are reformed.

But we are continuously asking how do we live more deliberately?

We have begun to ask each other hard questions about cultural expectations, the influence of media on our world view and our children’s minds and souls, asking what is “life-giving, important, and meaningful?” and how should that change the way we spend our money.  A recent series at church on Generosity (aptly titled Let’s Get Fiscal) has also had interesting timing  for us.  And right in the midst of this sermon series and our personal discussion and prayer about fiscal irresponsibility and generosity we had someone in our life that really needs our financial help.   We have to face that we don’t have money on hand to help.  Because of our financial irresponsibility we cannot help someone that we love and whom we want to help.  That hurts and convicts and fits right in to what God’s doing. The timing is striking and as we have sought to listen to God, because he is clearly speaking to us.  The sermon series told us startlingly that 3.6 billion people in the world live on $2 or less a day. (Passing the Plate, by Smith, Emerson and Snell)  And I heard recently on NPR that more than half of the Egyptians now protesting for a better life live on $2 a day.

I am the “Rich Man.”

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’e Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hardf to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”  The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”  Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.g” (Mark 10, New Living Translation)

Now more than ever, we are thinking about living intentionally and thinking it through carefully.  What we do and how we do it impacts, or should, how we spend, how generous we are, how we are able to make choices deliberately and carefully.  A recently blog entry by Rachel Held Evans talked about our purpose and essential living in this way:

“It seems to me that there are all of these voices telling me that I need certain things—privacy, boundaries, a 3-bedroom house, a two-car garage, clean neighbors, cool friends, fashionable clothes, TV, junk food, exercise equipment, a plan, a religion, a career, certainty, approval, stacks and stacks of books, and lotion that gives my skin a healthy-looking glow.  Rarely do I stop, take stock of how I spend my money and my time, and ask myself—Do I really need this? Is this really essential? What is its purpose?

Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, put this way:

The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories, and if we want a Roomba vacuüm cleaner, we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in life. 

Why do I write about this?  I believe it is a defining sin — conspicuous consumption and the love of money.  It is a lack of contentment — my pastor calls it a “cancer of discontentment.” He also reminded us of the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30.  It says:  

Surely I am more stupid than any man,  And I do not have the understanding of a man.  Neither have I learned wisdom,  Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One.   Who has ascended into heaven and descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name or His son’s name?  Surely you know!  Every word of God is tested;  He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  Do not add to His words  Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.

Two things I asked of You,  Do not refuse me before I die:  Keep deception and lies far from me,  Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion,  That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?”  Or that I not be in want and steal,  And profane the name of my God.

Tom and I begin a journey tonight, taking a Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey.  I don’t know where it will lead.  I don’t know what God is doing.  But I invite you to follow along, because surely, I believe, we are not alone. I am tired of this heavy and oppressive way of life.

Are you too suffocating from the weight of the “American Dream?”  Are you burdened by consumption without knowing what to do about it?

I invite you to follow along and see what we learn.