Friday, January 29, 2010

Superpowers 101: Provident Living; Part 3

How much do we need? Really? When it comes to things, where is the line? I used to think it was the same for everyone. I mean, third graders learn about needs in social studies. The basic human needs are food, shelter, clothing, and love. So why do we have so much...junk?

I ask myself this question all the time. Even when I have gotten rid of several car loads of clothes, toys, books, and garbage, I still look around my house and think "too much stuff!"

One reason I feel this way is that when you have a lot, you have to take care of it. "Where much is given, much is required", right? I look at the mountain of laundry and think "If we had less clothes maybe there would be less work." I know that isn't true. I would have just as much work because I would be forced to wash the clothes more often in order to keep everyone covered.

Another reason I ask this question is to try and keep our desires in check. If we are not careful the line between need and want can get seriously blurred. Allow me to illustrate.

When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a townhouse. My husband had been very clear with the Realtor that we wanted a place that fit within the Basic Housing Allowance we received from the Army. She found us a tiny little place that just barely met the requirements. We could pay all of our bills on my husband's income but we had almost nothing left for extras. I worked for several months to supplement our income so we could get necessities like a table and a crib. We were very careful and did without "extras" like long-distance, a second car, and a washing machine.

There was a couple from church who lived just a few doors down. They were in a similar situation, same rank, same size home, expecting their second child. The wife worked from home doing transcription. She complained often about how much they had to do without and how she had to work just to keep their heads above water. At first, I related to her. But as I got to know them better, I realized how different we were.

They had 2 cars and were making payments on both. They had a dog and 2 cats who "required" a special, expensive kind of food from a specialty pet food store. They both had cell phones. She explained that she saved "so much" by keeping up her cosmetology license so she could buy her salon quality hair and nail products at a discount.

For the most part,  I thought it was their own business what they spent their money on and I didn't really judge them...until one day... The wife asked me to watch her little girl, who was about 8 months old, while she went to a doctor's appointment. She gave me strict orders not to change her diaper unless it was "stinky". She explained that "Diapers are so expensive. I just hate wasting money on something like that. I can't wait until she is potty trained." I agreed to her request and she left.

Soon the baby started crying. I realized that her diaper was about to burst with wetness so I changed it. When her mother returned, I told her what I had done and why. She gave me a sour look but said it was fine. She also told me that her daughter was very prone to rashes and had been seen by a doctor several times for the rash and even a suspected urinary tract infection. "No one can figure out what her problem is?" the mother said in frustration. I had a pretty good idea!

This experience gave me a glimpse at what life could be like for us. Yes, they seemed to be a more elegant and accomplished couple on the outside, but at what cost? We were using hand-me down furniture and going to the laundry mat. That was what we felt our situation required. We were paying off debts and getting a few things we really needed. And no one in our household was actually suffering!

A few years before this, I attended a single adult fireside given by the stake. A young couple from another ward spoke to us about the struggles they had when they were first married. It was a little humbling because she was the daughter of a well-known and respected member of the stake. They were very open about their struggles and how their parents allowed them to struggle in order to help them grow. It wasn't that they were mistreated or that they were making bad choices. They were just young college students who had nothing.

They also explained that they wanted to follow the counsel of the church leaders so they decided that the wife would not work. She would stay home and care for their family. They had several children in the years that followed and continued to struggle from time to time. But things always worked out in the end. They shared sincere testimony that they always had everything the NEEDED for their family, even though they couldn't afford the luxuries. They knew the Lord had blessed them in ways that could not be measured.

I was deeply touched by their faith in this commandment. As I said, I worked for several months after we were married. As the time approached for our first child to be born, I became concerned about whether or not I would have to work and put our child in daycare. The answer was a mixed blessing. My husband was deployed 5 weeks after our son was born. The extra money we received from that, along with the reduction in gas and food costs, balanced out to almost exactly what I was making at my job. A few months later my husband was promoted, giving us a little more than we had before.

I have never HAD to work since then. Sometimes things feel a little tight. Sometimes it is because we have made poor choices in how we use the income we have. Sometimes it is just part of life. Any time I start to feel the pinch of a tightened belt, I remember those two couples. I think about which example I want to follow. The choice is easy. Yes, it may be a little humbling and even painful to choose the right path but the rewards are immeasurable.


Amy said...

Lately I have been feeling the need to de-junk!! There is always so much stuff everywhere!! I went through the toybox where we keep stuffed animals and got rid of a whole trash bag full! But I still feel like I need to do that in every room in the house! I know what you mean, although I haven't had to work since Toby graduated from BYU. I feel like it is a great blessing to be able to stay at home fro the family!

Emily said...

Thanks for this. This pretty much describes our situation right now. My husband is in a Master's program, and I'm a stay-at-home-mom of 5 children under 5. When I was pregnant with our first, we made the decision that I would not work, which was difficult since my husband was only working part time at minimum wage at the time. I have always felt that my "job" was to do whatever was necessary to stretch my husband's income to meet the NEEDS of our family.

I can definitely see how we have been blessed by those decisions, and that our rough patches have always come when we weren't constantly striving to live within our means. Though we are currently seeing a light at the end of the tunnel... I hope and pray that we will continue to live as frugally as possible, and be very careful about what we call NEEDS in the future.

Cha said...

Amen to this post. Not only do I relate to the laundry and cleaning implications of this post, but in helping get food to several families in our area, I've been sensitive to how much we NEED. It's not as much as I've often planned for; I realize how much I've wasted. We're still living under a budget with Clint in school, and you can do a lot with a pot of beans...and they still taste good. Love you and your ideas. Cha

Diann R. said...

Always have wonderful things to say! Hope you and new baby boy are doing well!