Contentment

Why Your 20s Might Be the Hardest Decade of Your Life

Dear young women,

Have you had any of these thoughts recently?

  • My children will surely turn out to be hoodlums because they are completely immune to my parenting efforts. And they might never actually be potty trained.
  • My career is in the toilet. I went to school for six years, accumulated a mortgage-worthy amount of debt, and now I work in a gray cubicle answering the phone all week long.
  • I will never have enough money in the bank to cover these bills, let alone the vacation/house/car/other-terrific-thing I want to have.
  • My romantic life is doomed.

While these things might in fact be true right now, I have a word of encouragement for you.

What you’re experiencing right now is most likely due to your current age, not your destiny.

It’s just that you’re in your twenties and life sucks right now. You’re probably out from your parents’ protective wing, you’re trying to do all the grown up things you’ve been trained to expect, and you’re finding them hard and awful and terrible and very, very expensive.

Also exhausting. We can’t forget the soul-sucking exhaustion that clouds your mind.

You women in your twenties are currently working your adorable behinds off, but it’s still way too early to see any encouraging fruit. You’re changing diapers and getting re-pregnant (I swear that’s a thing), and you’re cooking dinners that small people throw across the room.

The money is tight, if there’s any money at all.

Your marriage is new and fresh and often really uncomfortable, like a pair of jeans just pulled out of six hours in the dryer.

The work is hard. The ability to see the reward is mostly absent and the harvest is a long way off.

The work you’re doing right now will pay off, but it might take a while to see the results.

“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions,” he said (Matthew 7:17-20).

In this passage from Matthew, notice that Jesus mentions fruit on a tree, not cucumbers on a vine. Trees and fruit take a long time until harvest, which is sort of comforting when your two-year old is throwing a tantrum and you are thinking that perhaps you’re raising a future lunatic and not a responsible human being. Maybe what we see right now isn’t the final product.

Hopefully.

Good trees eventually produce good fruit. You are a good tree, if you’re faithfully seeking to obey God by living a Christ-honoring life. Are you reading the Bible? Are you focusing on who Christ is, what he means to your life, and then asking the Holy Spirit to change your heart? Then you’re a good tree. Your eventual fruit will be AMAZING.

But when you’re in an early season of planting, it’s almost impossible to remember the future good harvest. Especially if your planting season involves pregnancy AND a toddler AND a junky car AND an empty bank account.

Girls, you’re totally doing it.

Don’t lose hope. Just look for your very own resident forty-year old. Notice that she’s quietly drinking a latte while her children intelligently discuss North Korean politics text their friends about YouTube. Notice that she feels okay about life most days, or at least okayer about life than she did when she was your age.

Children eventually grow into fabulous human beings because you’re raising them with love and patience (usually).

Your marriage can stretch and grow over time. The more you invest in loving one another well, the more you’ll enjoy the whole experience as the years pass.

Eventually your finances should level off, as long as you’re sticking to some basic wisdom about saving and spending and living within your means. I know it seems hopeless right now, but I promise all the money sacrifices will be worth it one day.

The fruit will come. You’re doing what it takes to get there, and we’re cheering for you.

 

 

The day my husband suggested closing the door might be a viable alternative to a home renovation project

My laundry room causes me mild levels of despair. Here, see for yourself:


There’s nothing specifically wrong with it, unless you’re not into bare studs and exposed insulation.

And let’s not forget that one naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Some people might NOT FIND THAT ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL, maybe.

For heaven’s sake…

But all things considered, it could be worse. It’s dry, it’s relatively warm, and has electric and water going to the important places. I can’t complain, but I also can’t escape the gloom that creeps up on me every time I go in there.

I made the fatal mistake of looking for laundry room ideas on Pinterest. WHY. Why do I do this to myself? Because of course I found examples like this one:

photo courtesy of Pinterest and homebunch.com

And this one:

photo courtesy of Pinterest and estestinc.com

Good grief, America. We’ve lost our minds. Who needs a chandelier in the laundry room?That’s just too far.

A few nights ago I went for a walk and could see  into my neighbors’ laundry rooms. Most of them are bare and functional like our house, but some of the owners have upgraded to actual walls and flooring. The wheels in my head started turning.

After stalking my neighbors’ choices in a very creepy fashion, I stood in the basement and tried to imagine it with drywall and more than one pitiful lightbulb– less fancy than the American Laundry Monstrosities pictured above, but better than the utilitarian setup we have. It was a nice little idea, I thought. I got a little excited and then dragged Eric into the room to enjoy my vision with me.

Eric’s logical mind took one good hard look around the room. He pointed out the obvious things I was overlooking, like ducts and pipes and electrical outlets. “How do you even get around those things?” he dared to ask out loud. Even though he could tell his wife was unhinged with visions of laundry room glory.

I don’t even know what this is. Maybe the water connection to the hose?

Obviously the room was plumbed and wired by people who cared not a whit about the poor fools who would need to finish the walls after them. “Not my problem, Kemosabe,” seemed a likely phrase bandied about by tradesman as they installed permanent objects one inch out from the wall studs.

Good grief, guys. Could we let up on the foamy insulation stuff just a wee bit?

Since paying a professional to drywall the utility room this year clearly isn’t in the budget, we’re stuck. Eric looked at me calmly and suggested, “Why don’t you just close the door? Then you can’t see in here.”

I blinked at him, searching for a response I wouldn’t regret later. And on my way out of the room, I shut the door behind us. The very aggravating thing is that the man’s right– if the door’s closed, the problem goes mostly away.

I mean, yes, the despair and gloom reappear as soon as I step foot in there, but it’s not like laundry is my 24/7 job. I get to go to other places in the house, too. All places far less gloomy than this basement, I might add.
But for now, shutting the door just saved us about $53,292,765 in renovation costs, by my rough estimate. I guess I’ll have to be okay with it.

See? The problem disappears.

 

Letting go of what no longer works for you

Picture this. Family dinner after church, in celebration of Mother’s Day. While around the table someone made an innocent comment that was, quite frankly, hilarious and also completely and totally inappropriate if you took it the wrong way. (Which we did.) Those close enough to hear it froze, completely aware of how funny the comment was, but also aware of the kids at the table.

One of us broke down and snickered a little, then repeated the comment. Our daughter, an eighth grader, laughed and laughed because NOTHING GETS BY EIGHTH GRADERS, especially if it’s inappropriate. Soon Grandpa was yelling, “What?!” from the other end of the table and we refused to tell him because there are just some things you can’t shout cross the room at Sunday dinner.

Well, not at Eric’s family’s house anyway. My own family would have yelled it and then the entirety of us would have howled with delight, but Eric’s family is a little more proper about these things.

But let’s forget what was actually said and focus on the fact that we laughed over this silly thing with our child. We all realized it was funny.

Things change. Parenting changes.

Ten years ago we could talk about anything in front of the child and most of it went right over her head. She was sweet and innocent and really excited about JoJo’s Circus and Dora the Explorer. But we can’t parent her like she’s four years old anymore, because she’d get eaten alive in middle school.

We’ve had to let go of parenting styles that worked for a certain period of time, and we’ve embraced this new age. New responsibilities, new freedoms, new challenges.

And now let’s talk about the couches at church.

I don’t know about your house of worship, but our church building is where old couches go to die. It’s a slow death, plopped in the youth room where teenagers flop on them, toddlers leap from cushion to cushion, and old women (me) nap on them when they get too tired.

Some of the most hideous couches ever created had come home to die in our youth room. Not to mention the closet was full of junk no one recognized. Not to mention the walls had been painted in 2003 and had suffered fourteen years of abuse from hyperactive teenagers.

Yes, we knew it was ugly. We knew things had to change but no one had the guts to drag the couches to the dumpster. (Or set fire to them in the parking lot, which would have been more fun.) ((But the fire department disapproves, apparently.))

Our new worship leader arrived a few weeks ago, and he has no qualms about getting rid of old, crappy couches. He had us pile them up so they could be disposed of ASAP. He ordered a crew to clean out the closet, not really caring who donated the old costumes that were used in a sermon skit in 1985. (For the record, it was the church’s Clean Up Week, and we’d all shown up to work. It’s not that Mike is a Bossy Pants.)

The couches are gone, the closet is clean, and new paint is on the way. We’re letting go of what no longer serves us.

I don’t know why we get so paralyzed and cling to stuff that used to work but now just weighs us down.

It can be really hard to realize your child is growing up. It can be terrifying to throw out a couch, wondering who donated it and if they’ll be mad because you tossed their hideousness to the curb.

All the change is upsetting, sure. But isn’t it more upsetting if nothing ever changes? Are babies supposed to stay babies? If your kid was 18 but still in a crib and trying to nurse, you’d be freaking out a little.

If your spouse never changed, you’d still be married to a twenty-two-year old who likes thrash metal and trucks from the 1970s.

If your church never changed, you’d be missing opportunities to engage the culture that lives right outside the door.

It’s okay to take a good, hard look at your life. All of it. And it’s even more okay to accept that something isn’t working and needs to be changed.

Comfortable? Never.

But life-bringing? Absolutely.

Chasing down joy and contentment in a world gone mad.

I jogged last Friday.

But let me explain what precipitated this ridiculous event. It certainly didn’t happen on purpose.

Lulled into a false sense of security by the sunshine, I decided to go for a walk after dropping the kids off at school. I dressed warmly enough for a March morning, but not warmly enough for the sneaky, icy wind I hadn’t noticed. I swear this wind had come straight from the bowels of Canada, ripped right over Lake Michigan, then plunged into our little town as soon as I locked the van and hit the trail.

It blasted me in the face and I thought, “Sheesh. It’s going to be a long walk with this wind. Maybe (this is where things went terribly wrong, dear reader)… I could go faster.

And here’s the thing. I sort of pride myself on my non-competitive, slow forms of health. If a three mile walk takes me an hour and a half, I take that as a badge of honor. That’s ninety minutes I spent tending to my health! If I need to change my diet, I pick one tiny little thing and then master it, like “eat more fruit.” That one decision can take two years to fully implement, and then as a fruit-eating expert, I add one new small thing into my diet.

So going faster on this walk was sort of out of character. But the wind was literally stinging me in the face so I decided that since I was on the trail and no one would likely see me, I would jog.

And then I did, actually, jog.

It wasn’t actually so terrible for the first tenth of a mile. Then I walked for another tenth of a mile to get my breath back. Then I hit an open field, and the wind started howling and I started running out of self-preservation. My eyes involuntarily teared up. I think perhaps snot was running down my face, but my face was frozen so I couldn’t be certain. My legs were completely numb, so the only evidence I had of movement was that I was actually passing things.

If any of you actually saw me in this state, I apologize for not greeting you. I believe my corneas may have been frozen for several minutes.

I jogged for two tenths of a mile that time. Breathing raggedly, like a marathoner who has accidentally run for two solid days, I turned the corner on the trail and was blasted in the face with another round of ice-oxygen.

That was it. I was done. I turned around immediately, putting the wind to my back, and started for the van. My rear was now taking the brunt of the cold but that is far less bothersome than frozen corneas, so onward I went at my usual walking speed.

And because I was walking, taking in the sights, I was able to notice the tiny green leaves just starting to push out from the smallest of the branches. Small shoots of woodland greenery were just beginning to poke tips out of the dirt. A robin shot me a dirty look, like I was somehow responsible for his discomfort.

I couldn’t have seen any of this if I was still jogging. There’s beauty and joy all around us, just waiting to be noticed, but too many of us are missing these small things. We’re chasing contentment and joy, but chasing it is the worst possible way to find it.

We’re running hard after our dreams and our desires, filling up our calendars with more obligations, our carts with more plastic doodads, and homes with more shiny screens. And we wonder why joy and contentment remain elusive.


This world has gone mad. It’s made us a million false promises, enticing us to believe that more stuff, more fun, and more money will eventually lead us to what we seek. We just have to catch it.

This is ridiculous. Joy and contentment are decisions. They’re willful states of mind, choosing to be joy-filled and satisfied right where we are. They come when we slow down enough to notice the people in our home, the new signs of spring, and the pantry with enough food to make dinner.

I’m not saying the world will ever be perfect, or if we slow down enough that perfection will present itself. I don’t think it works like that. I think we find joy and contentment when we decide it’s time to be unreasonably thankful for what we already have, even when there are other things that remain difficult and unchangeable.

Two hours later, I decided to be joyful about the warm blanket around my legs and my home that kept out the wind. Yes, my lungs were revolting from the jogging incident and I coughed for three hours. Yes, my butt stayed frozen until lunch and unwarranted tears kept slipping out of my thawing eye sockets. I’m not saying the situation was ideal.

But it was enough. I chose to slow down and notice that I already had exactly what I needed, and it was enough.

 

 

 

The tax refund has arrived. What now?

Today is one of the happiest days of the year. Our savings account jumped by several thousand dollars this morning thanks to a tidy little deposit from the IRS.

Thank you, IRS, for giving our money back to us.

And yes, I know all the wisdom about not letting the government hold our money all year long, therefore and thusly, we should adjust our withholdings so we can use our own money properly.

But #1: We don’t trust ourselves to actually use our money wisely. I’m pretty sure that cash would go for falafel and hummus at our favorite Lebanese restaurant instead of retirement or something else smart.

But #2: With my writing income, I’m never really sure how much we’ll get back or owe, so it calms my nerves to give them a little extra so they don’t throw me into tax prison, or whatever happens to people who upset the IRS.

This year we plan to do nothing with our return.

You read correctly– nothing. It’s having a quiet time in the savings account until later this summer.

This means we shall not be buying: new carpet, curtains, trips to the water park, fancy diamond earrings, treadmills, baby bunnies (Audrey’s new love), or electric drum kits (but Lord have mercy, our son is learning the drums and those things are looking like a wise investment).

Just saving it.

And this pains me a little, but Eric has this whole financial plan for the year, and it involves waiting patiently and not buying stuff right now.

Do I want to pull the carpet off the stairs with my bare fingernails and order new? Of course!

Do I want new earrings that sparkle in the moonlight? Honestly, no. But I could buy them if I wanted to, instead of restraining myself like a grownup who is married to a man with a financial plan.

I’m sure once the summer is here and we finally put that money to good use, I’ll be glad. What about you? Are you getting a tax return at all, and what do you do with it? (Falafel and hummus are perfectly valid answers, by the way.)

 

 

Romantic Ideas for Every Budget and (Every Kind of Couple)

Dearly beloved, Valentine’s Day is nearly here again, and of course we’re panicking. We have no idea of what to get our loved ones and we’ve saved no monies. This means we’re clueless AND cashless. We need some romantic ideas and they need to be very, very inexpensive.

Every year I ask Eric what he wants for Valentine’s. Every year he responds with the same answer, and I will leave you to your imagination because this is a family friendly blog and I cannot type that sort of thing out.

So I guess we’re not completely out of ideas when it comes to special, romantic events. But sometimes we’d like to spruce up the usual festivities, yes?

Yes.

And this is where a normal blog would give you a list of great ideas for your special night. But I’m not a normal blogger, honestly. Assuming I could come up with a hundred romantic ideas, they could all be terrible for you.

Here’s the thing about being in a relationship– what counts as romance and caring varies wildly from person to person. What speaks love and delight to me might make a normal woman throw her husband out of the house for the week. I’d probably clap my hands with joy if Eric came home with the vacuum I want.

(Note to Eric: don’t actually buy it. It’s $500 and once I’m done being happy I will take that thing back to the store for a full refund.)

So we’ll skip all my crazy ideas and get right to the point where you find what your spouse needs, without my interference.

How to find romantic ideas for your beloved:

Sit down casually with a magazine or two. Be near your dear one.

Casually peruse the magazine and pretend like it’s full of very interesting articles.

Say something like, “Picnics. Such a nice idea,” like the magazine has an article on them. (See how tricky I am?)

Notice how your lover responds. If he wrinkles his nose and starts lecturing on ants and food spoilage, then you know he’s not into picnics. Move along. Find another “article” and gently murmur something about trips to San Francisco, the temperature at the top of the Hancock Center, or how delicious the new restaurant in town sounds.

(I found this blog post, and it actually has some pretty good ideas if you have zero of your own.)

Continue suggesting completely random things until your help mate finally, finally indicates some interest in a subject/event/activity.

You are now getting closer. You’re discovering what this wonderful creature in front of you finds exciting and romantic. Now you just need to dial it back until you can afford it this year.

But wait. We’ve already determined there’s no money this year.

Okay, maybe you can’t actually get what your beau wants this year. But you at least have an idea, the slightest direction, to head. If nothing else, you can say, “Honey, I love you so much. And I’d love to buy you a monster truck for Valentine’s Day, but it’s not in the budget. Here’s an adorable toy version!”

Of course this isn’t as good as a real monster truck, but it’s waaaaaaaaaaay better than a tie he doesn’t want.

But wait again! Now you know what he loves, and you hate it!

Ah, here’s the terrible truth about being in a relationship. Sometimes you literally loathe what they adore. This is where the love comes in. The love part goes with what makes them happy, not you.

I know. It’s painful.

You may mail me hate letters when you’re out in a deer blind, freezing off your toes because your husband wanted a “romantic” hunting date. Or, feel free to mentally shoot darts at a photo of my face while you hold your wife’s purse and wait outside the women’s dressing room at Macy’s.

I’m sort of sorry. But the whole point of this exercise was to make our loved ones feel loved, right? Some times that means you freeze your butt off in a deer blind or have to go shopping. But here’s the thing– if we do this right long enough, then eventually we become those sweet old couples who hold hands and walk through the park. It takes lots of sacrifice to get there, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.

Eventually. Maybe not today. But a thousand small choices on their behalf will eventually lead to a life of love.

Want to be truly content? Memorize these 5 Bible verses.

5 Bible verses on contentmentToday I present some Bible verses on contentment just for you, my tender internet reader. You might want to bookmark (Pinterest!) this post for the days you hate everything you own and you want to set fire to the house and move to St. Thomas to live in a yacht with no screaming children.

Not that I have ever personally fantasized about this. I have no idea of where this extremely detailed dream originated.

Moving on, then. Let’s get to the verses that keep me from lighting the fuse and looking for yachts.

1 Timothy 6:6-8

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content (NLT).

1 Timothy 6:6-8. ContentmentI love how this passage reframes our expectations for us. We worry endlessly about the future and material possessions, but after having food clothing (and a safe place to live, I would add), what do we really need? Not much.

Philippians 4:11-13

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11. ContentmentThese particular Bible verses on contentment have been bandied around for years, right? We tend to gloss over them because we’ve heard them so many times, assuming Paul was a nut who lived so long ago his opinion hardly counts.

But Paul wasn’t some Super Christian with Super Strength. He was just a normal guy who had been totally transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who now lives in us. He was, however, totally focused on one goal: glorifying God and spreading the good news to anyone who would listen. We could benefit from his focus, which would put our discontentment into perspective.

Hebrews 13:5

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

Hebrews 13:5. ContentmentYes, Lord. Yesyesyesyes. I will try to remember. Amen.

John 14:27

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

John 14:27. ContentmentJesus came to bring us abundant and full lives, but we often miss it because we’ve taken our focus off of him and his provision and put it on… well… everything else. Setting our minds firmly back on Christ with these sorts of Bible verses on contentment will always lead us back to where our desires should be.

1 Chronicles 29:13-14

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!”

1 Chronicles 29:14. Gratitude and contentmentThis passage comes from King David’s prayer of praise as he surveyed the materials gathered to build the Temple. Everyone had given willingly to build this glorious place, which was still just a shadow of what God deserved. With joyful hearts everyone sacrificed to show their gratitude for who God was and what he had first done for them.

David and his people recognized God’s abundant blessings in their lives. I guarantee we’ll feel more content when we do the same.

***
I could go on and on if you had hours to read this post. What ones did I miss? What Bible verses on contentment are your favorites? Let me know where you turn when you need a good reminder. I’d love to know!

 

The Nester vs. Melissa Michaels: An Epic Battle of Christian Home Decorating Books

Christian home decorating books
Home decorating books have moved into the church, my friends. Consider Joanna Gaines, the Nester (Myquillyn Smith), and Melissa Michaels, all women who love Jesus and hate ugly rooms.

And frankly, this is a welcome relief. I’m a little tired of fighting over the big theological issues like predestination and the dumb things like the temperature of the women’s bathroom. I think we’re all ready for a little neutral territory, a little bit of fun in the middle of this crazy church lady life. So while some may roll their eyes at Christian home decorating books, I’m all for them. 

Christian home decorating books
So let’s take my two favorite home decorating books and put them head-to-head in an epic literary battle, shall we?

(This is probably where I should apologize for many of the pictures in this post. I’m guessing photos of book pages are probably some sort of copyright infringement, but since I’m basically begging readers to go out and buy these books from legitimate sources, I’m taking my chances with the Christian publishing world’s legal teams. Please don’t sue me. Amen. Also, be prepared for affiliate links below.)

The Nesting Place: by Myquillyn Smith

Quirky. The Nesting Place is quirky, and hand to the heavens, that is my favorite part. The Nester (because Myquillyn is hard to say and– apparently– impossible to type) is fond of using stumps for side tables and deer antlers for just about anything.

Her rooms are goofy and fun and she’s not afraid to show you the dark underside of her decorating, like chairs that are missing a leg or fabric that’s frayed.

home decorating books
It’s old, okay? The poor sweet chair has some issues, but we still love it.

My own house looks like this, so I feel right at home in her book.

But wait. There’s more. My other favorite part of the book is where the Nester goes explains all thirteen homes her family has lived in, why they moved, and the financial challenges they faced. Real life, in other words. Home decorating books don’t have to be full of fantasy and debt!

The Challenger: The Inspired Room, by Melissa Michaels

I didn’t think there could ever be a decorating book that might come close to The Nesting Place, but I was wrong. The Inspired Room landed on my front porch last week and I was smitten. Her decorating style is freakishly similar to my own, and now I’m desperate to use old maps to wallpaper (I use that term loosely) a small wall.

christian home decorating books
Maps as wallpaper!! Genius! She also has practical things like color palettes, a resource list, and seasonal decorating.

The Winner: Both of them.

I know, that’s cheating a little. An epic battle can’t come out in a tie, but this is my blog so I get to set the epic battle rules.

I love both books because both authors have a firm commitment to decorating with contentment and joy. I refuse to accept that I can only love my home if I gut the kitchen and then borrow money for a $70,000 remodel. That’s dumb and irresponsible. Both the Nester and Melissa understand that our homes are places of refuge, and that comes slowly.

They understand that a beautiful, welcoming home comes one little step at a time. We slowly work our way to something prettier, more functional, and valuable– we don’t just run to the store and buy it all on credit.

But please do run out and pay cash for these two books. You won’t be sorry!

Bring back the everyday tablecloth: Get more mileage from your old table.

everyday tablecloth
Dear Fellow Lovers of Home Things,

I have been shopping for dining room tables. I have shopped and shopped and shopped until my eyes crossed. So I finally came home and threw a tablecloth on my table, and saved myself $2,000.

Not that our table is really the problem. I love the thing, but with two kids and a ton of guests, it takes a lot of wear and tear. Our chairs are really the problem– they’re getting so rickety that we stand a very high chance of dumping a guest to the floor here pretty soon. One day Eric (who is not a large man) sat back, a spindle popped out, and he handed it to me across the table.

We weren’t sure what was going to fall off/down/apart next, so I started looking for different chairs. (But more about that in an upcoming post.) I found plenty of chairs, but they were either very expensive, very ugly, or just as rickety as the ones we needed to replace. I started to realize that solid chairs often came with solid tables, and I might as well replace everything at once.

Why is this taking so long?

This whole process took months because 1) I am picky, 2) we need just the right size table to fit in our kitchen, and 3) I am cheap.

In the mean time, my tablecloth collection came in handy, protecting the table from further scratches, looking pretty, and growing on me.

Audrey pointed out that our tablecloth was getting so filthy that we were starting to sit at other spots on the table to avoid the crumbs. She was right– you can’t wipe off cloth very well. I tried. It didn’t work. And then I started looking for vinyl, wipeable options. (Like this adorable retro one from Amazon!— (affiliate link.))

The unspeakable cloth: Vinyl

If tablecloths in general aren’t in style at the moment, you can imagine that vinyl tablecloths are even less popular. The options are limited and most of the patterns look like they’ve been on the shelves for thirty years. If you look long enough, you can find some good ones.

They work so well, once you find a pattern you can live with. They cover and protect the table, and you can wipe off spills and crumbs. My own mother has had several high quality ones over the years, often cut from huge bolts at the fabric store. Her table is forty years old and still looks perfect. She had those vinyl covers on for most of our early years (because three children are h-e-double-hockey-sticks on wood). But now that my siblings and I can be trusted not to gouge the furniture with forks, she keeps it uncovered most of the time.


I say it’s time to bring back the everyday tablecloth! They keep our nice tables looking nice, but also, they give us time to save and shop wisely if our table is in rough shape. You could cover a table for eternity and no one would be the wiser if you become dedicated to the Art of Tableclothery (totally a thing).

They aren’t expensive; I’ve found my favorite ones at garage sales and discount stores. And every thrift store I’ve ever visited has about a million of them. Why can’t we get creative?

Sure, our families might wonder about them at first. They might feel like they’ve wandered into an episode of Leave it to Beaver, but they’ll get used to it. Maybe you’ll feel like putting out the good plates, sitting down with friends, and sharing a little longer over your pretty table.

pretty tablecloth

Living within your means: Is it possible anymore?

Is it possible to live within your means? Why would you even want to try?

Living within your means is a nice idea, right? Like staying married to one person your whole life, or working thirty years for the same company, or being able to fit into your old uniform at your fortieth reunion. Nice, grandma-approved ideas, all of them. They worked fine for her generation. And for most of the generations before them, honestly.

Eric and I want to live within our means, we really do. And we’re mostly successful at it, if you take a broad, modern-day approach to the idea. If you take my step-grandmother’s approach, we’re sort of huge failures.

This is what I mean:

Housing

Yes, we have a mortgage. We borrowed money to buy this house because we didn’t have $140,000 in the bank to buy it outright. We could have bought a cheaper house but we didn’t have $90,000 or $40,000 or even $10,000 in the bank, either. And if we hadn’t bought a house, we’d be paying the same amount in rent (for a far less pleasant living situation).

However, when we bought this house we crunched the numbers mercilessly to make sure we could afford not only the mortgage, but everything else that goes with the house:

  • taxes
  • utilities: heat, electric, garbage, water, HOA fees, internet, etc
  • distance to our jobs: car maintenance, gas, etc.
  • exterior stuff: gas for the lawnmower, a lawnmower, landscaping supplies
  • interior stuff: curtains (America! Stop using blankets as curtains! It hurts my friggin’ eyes!), furniture, etc.

This is important, because we’ve seen some friends who’ve forgotten about all the extra stuff, and it’s a huge shock when a person realizes a propane tank can cost $800 to fill, several times a winter.

Vehicles

We have about the same story here. We do borrow for cars, almost every time we buy one. But we stay away from the $50,000 land yachts and head for the $10,000 used section of the lot. Eric spends (literally) months researching each option until he’s happy with the engines, the frames, the recall notices, everything.

AND I MEAN EVERYTHING. And then we buy the car. To date we’ve paid off every vehicle loan years ahead of schedule.

Moment of transparency: As of this writing, we’re seriously considering buying a brand new car. We’ve never done that before. But we like the idea of buying something with no mileage on it, then taking excellent care of it, and driving it for a decade or two.

College

Once again, we borrowed. We could have done a lot better, but we could have done a lot worse, too. I left school with about $8,000 total in debt, and Eric graduated two years later with $22,000. Because we soon had babies and a mortgage, it took us the full ten years to pay Eric’s loan back. This grieves me still. But honestly, there are only so many ways you can spread the resources in early family life.

But compared to today’s graduates who are leaving with over a $100K in college debt and then finding jobs that pay the same amount Eric and I made at our first jobs, we had it easy. I am not at all comfortable with the automatic assumption that going to an expensive four-year school is the best way for most students.

I’d be a lot more comfortable if these kids were forced to do a mock budget for a $30,000 salary that includes a $700 monthly student loan payment.

living within your means, budget

Everyday Purchases

This is where Eric and I don’t do too badly. We track every penny, and I mean that. Thanks to budgeting software we can tell when we’ve overspent in our grocery, eating out, or gift budgets.

We’ve been married for eighteen years, and I can tell you this– it’s a combination of the very large purchases and the everyday stuff that keeps you living within your means.

Obviously, if w’ere going to go with the old definition (and probably the wisest definition), most of us probably don’t live within our means. If we did, we’d be living with our parents and walking to work until we had enough saved for a house and vehicle.


But if you use the broader definition, I think most of us could make it. If we’re able to save wisely and give generously each month, pay our bills, and then add in a few wants, I think we’re on track. It’s not easy, even with the looser definition of the term. But it’s possible with some planning and discipline.

Here are some of my favorite resources for helping me stay on track. I hope you find them helpful!

  • frugalwoods.com: The Frugalwoods have an amazing challenge going on in January of 2017! You’re going to be living within your means by February, if they have anything to say about it.
  • daveramsey.com: The ultimate king of debt-free living isn’t going to take your excuses. Rice and beans, beans and rice, until your debt is gone. Amen.
  • hisandhermoney.com: Tai and Talaat will have you cutting your expenses or growing your income with their podcast and blog.

 

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