Contentment

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.)

 

 

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.

 

How to find contentment when your season of life is just really, really awful

How can I be content when this season of my life just totally stinks?

If you haven’t slept eight hours straight in weeks (or years!), this post is for you. If you can’t find contentment because your life is a terrible, awful mess, this post is for you.


If you have bills piled high on the counter and a lot of zeros in the checking account, this post is for you.

It’s also for anyone who is being literally smothered to death by small children, health problems, marriage struggles, or relationship issues.

If every single one of those things has landed upon you simultaneously, then let’s have a nice little chat.

I know you want to have a great attitude in the midst of the struggle. I get it. You’re not trying to mope around and spread gloom and despair. You see that Pinterest meme that says life isn’t about avoiding the storms, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.


And you want to believe that’s possible, but your life is this terrible, complicated mess and all you want to do is have three free hours to nap. And then you want to be able to afford to buy some really cute shoes.

You’re not asking for much.

You just want a little bit of quiet time and a little bit of money to go further than the basics. You’d love to find contentment, but your season of life really sucks stinks and you are sick to death of it.

I’ve been where you are. I was once a young mother with little money, a little house, and very, very little sanity. I felt stuck and crazy, and this was because I was stuck and crazy. There was no getting out of our situation unless a nanny and a trillion dollars fell from the skies.

I had no choice but to plug along, day after day, making the best decisions I could with what I had. It felt like things would never lighten up.

Contentment (and a better life!) can be sneaky

Here’s the thing– while I trudged along through the endless days, things did lighten up. The kids learned to sleep through the night and eat regular food and then they went to school. My sanity returned and eventually our finances balanced out.

I’d like to offer you a miracle cure to fast-track you through this season of life, but I can’t. I can only tell you this secret– it’s the trudging that eventually makes all the difference. Trudging along is really a thousand little choices every day that feel inconsequential all by themselves. Really, no one notices if you wipe a snotty nose a hundred times a day or restrain yourself from that $6 latte again.

You might be tempted to think those little choices don’t matter.

But, my friend, you’d be wrong. It feels like we’re going nowhere, but really every single one of those actions is digging us a little bit further out of the muck.

contentment is found one step at a time

It’s the sum total of all those steps that makes the difference.

One day you look around and realize you’re in a better, more wonderful place. But you wouldn’t have gotten there without the thousands of tiny steps each day. You’ve found contentment, inch by agonizing inch.

We pay off debt with each individual dollar that isn’t spent other places.

We love our children with a hundred hugs and a million kind words. Also, many bags of goldfish crackers and trips to the park.

Marriages are healed with many gentle responses and so, so many words bitten back.

I know it feels endless and hopeless. But don’t underestimate the value of the tiny things in this very season of life. They might be the very things that change the future.

4-decisions-banner

Creative Contentment: how to have fun instead of slowly dying from despair

creative-contentment

I used to think that being content meant I was so blissfully, joyfully happy with life that I lost all desire to change anything.

I didn’t know how much room for change we have, even while living a simple life. There’s so much room in there. So much variety. So much freedom and creativity involved.

Being content is all well and good, but sometimes we get a little bit sick of the way things are.

We yearn for something different. Better.

Then perhaps we mentally chastise ourselves for allowing discontentment to creep into our thoughts. Or, at least this was the way for me. But I’ve realized something important recently– it’s possible to be content while absolutely changing everything.

It’s okay to want things to be different, even while we try to live simply, being thankful for what is.

We don’t have to live in drudgery and quiet despair for the rest of our days, relabeling it contentment and then fading into the gray. We don’t have to put up with clothes that have turned into tatters, or a 2002 Corolla that was a really good deal but makes you sigh every time you look at it.

Let’s talk about how creativity can help us be content and keep some fun in our lives.

For example, we have a house that I love, but there were some things that didn’t quite feel like home in our house. I absolutely knew that I should be nothing but thankful for that place, because millions of people would gladly trade places with me. But I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something just wasn’t quite right.

Finally I gave myself permission to start changing things. Even though the cabinets were only a few years old (and I’d picked the dang things out myself) I started painting them. I repainted a few walls for a second or third time. I went to the nursery and bought a few excellent plants to fill in the landscaping. I framed some photos of our trip to Ireland and hung them in the kitchen, right where they make me happy ten times a day.

My goal was to be content with the house. It took a lot of work and creativity to get to that point. Sure, I could have passively accepted everything just as we found it the day we got the keys, but then we’d still be living with bare white walls and really, really ugly bathroom cabinets. Who has the time to live with that kind of hideousness?

Let’s take a look at a more challenging scenario– The Corolla. My husband loves cars. He loves them fast, he loves them quirky, he loves them sporty. The Corolla is none of those things. It’s a four door sedan with four cylinders and a radio that works only sometimes.

Creativity isn’t really going to help him much here. We could get him some fuzzy dice and maybe a pine tree air freshener, but it’s not going to help the gutless engine or the automatic transmission. I think what we need is creative financing so we can trade some vehicles around. I’m happy as a clam in The Corolla, so maybe it’s time to trade the van for something jazzy for him to drive. Or maybe we can adjust some of our financial plans so a different car is on the near horizon.

Maybe he’d like to ride this bike instead of The Corolla?

I think the man needs some hope, super bad. He’s absolutely committed to being a mature grown up about this whole vehicle situation, but I see him shudder every time he looks at The Corolla. I’m not making that up. The gray despair is swirling around his ankles, threatening to suck him under. I love this man; I can’t let him die slowly of a four-cylinder engine.

I don’t want you dying slowly of despair, either. Whatever is going on in your life, I want you to live simply and joyfully. Here’s what you do:

  1. Choose your priority. Whatever it is– staying home with the kids, getting your budget under control, running the organic blueberry farm– identify what’s very most important to you.
  2. Cheerfully make a list of all the secondary stuff that’s bothering you, and then find the antidotes to those problems. Think wide. Think long. Brainstorm with your most creative ideas. Throw out any ideas that interfere with your priorities, but just go crazy with trying new things.

I can’t wait to hear what changes for you! Please, let me know.

How to get a clean kitchen and make your loved one very, very happy.

clean-kitchen-header
An alternate, and perhaps more truthful, title.

Desperate for a clean kitchen? Are you looking around with wild eyes, realizing the place is a mess and you’re about to get in serious trouble for it?

Look, now’s not the time to point fingers, alrighty? It doesn’t matter how your kitchen got to this state. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sick or busy, or cooking up a storm, or if you’ve been intolerably lazy since the day you were born.

None of that matters now. What matters is that you have a bombed-out kitchen and need to get it clean before your spouse/roommate/soulmate/parental unit loses it again tonight when he or she walks in the door.

I’m here for you. We can do this. You can absolutely get this place cleaned up and make your loved one happy and glad and joyous. You want a happy house, right?

Here’s what needs to happen:

Step 1A: Summon your will from the deepest, strongest place in your guts. This next hour is not for wimps. But you can take this place from gross sanitation hazard to sparkling, Grandma-approved glory. It just takes guts, that’s all. And some hot water and soap and a dishcloth, also.

(Step 1A2: Please go get some soap and a dishcloth if you do not own these things. Dear heavens.)

dishcloth-drying

Step 1B: Determine if you have an appliance known as a dishwasher. If no, skip to step 3. If yes, determine if this is a crappy appliance that only swishes lukewarm water over the dishes, or if it’s an actual appliance of quality that can blast crud off your dishware. If it’s the crappy kind, no worries. We can totally work with that too. You’ll just have to rinse off the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, or run it a few times. What matters is that you have a handy box to hide the dirty dishes while they get “clean.”

Step 2: Find your sink and empty it out. Pull all the dirty dishes out and pile them on the counter. While you’re doing this, rinse them off. Scrape off the crud with a spatula or a spoon or something (be careful not to ruin delicate surfaces if you have fancy stuff).

Travel around the kitchen (and the rest of the house while you’re at it) and gather up the rest of the dirty dishes, pots, pans, and what have you. Now that the sink’s empty, you can rinse and scrape those as well. Pile everything on the counter near the sink.

I realize this seems like a stupid step if you’re trying to clean the dishes– why not just wash them right away? Scraping and rinsing dishes will keep your dishwater from turning into a disgusting swamp immediately, that’s why. And it gives your dishwasher a fighting chance if you have seriously gunky dishes to put in there.

clean kitchen

Neatly fit all the dishes you can manage into the dishwasher. Big plates go together on the bottom, the silverware all needs to be put into the basket, and then cups and things that will melt in the drying cycle (like those cheap plastic containers for leftovers) go on the top, away from the heater. Make it look like an army general lined up his troops. That will get the water swished around the best, therefore you’ll get the cleanest dishes. Fill the soap dispenser (do NOT use regular dish soap– use dishwashing detergent) and turn the blessed machine on.

Do not lose your will to live just yet. We’re halfway to a clean kitchen!

Step 3: Clean your sink. All that loosened food is probably sitting in the basket at the bottom, plus the sides are disgusting. Empty out the baskets on both sides and wipe down the whole sink. Now you’re ready to actually wash the dishes that didn’t fit into the dishwasher.

Step 4: Half-fill the sink with hot, soapy water. Take the dishcloth or scrubber and get at those dishes. This will take the proverbial elbow grease. Rinse each dish off with hot water, check to make sure it’s actually clean, and then rest it upside down to drain out. You can lay the dishes in a rack or on a clean towel on the counter.

When the dishwater turns gray and the bubbles disappear, it’s time for fresh water. Drain out the nastiness, empty the basket, replug the sink, and start with new soap and new water. Trust me, you can’t just add more soap to the gross water. It’s still gross water. You may have to replace your water a few times if you have a lot of really dirty dishes.

If you have a dish that truly won’t come clean, throw it in the trash. Ha! Totally kidding. You can squirt a little dish soap in, add some really hot water, and let it soak.

Step 5: Wipe down all the counters and the stovetop with a wet cloth. Wipe the crumbs into your hand and throw them in the trash. Scrub the sticky and gunky parts until clean.

Step 6: Sweep the floor and then scoop up the dirt. Throw it into the trash.

Step 7: Take out the trash. Put in a fresh bag.

Step 8: Decide what to do with those drying dishes. If your loved one has really high standards, show them a little extra love and actually dry them and put them away. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. If they’re a little more relaxed, they probably won’t mind a tidy pile of drying dishes.

clean dishes in a clean kitchen

I figure that God invented evaporation, so why should I hurry his process? I let the dishes air dry.

Step 9: Finish scrubbing any of the dishes you had to let soak. Rinse them. Add them to the happy, clean kitchen pile of joy and delight. (Maybe I get a little too excited about this?)

Step 10: Clean out the sink again. Drain the water, wipe down the sink sides, and clean out the basket into the trash. Rinse the sink. Wipe down the faucet and the area on top of the sink to get rid of hard water stains. Rinse out the cloth and spread it out over the faucet or the sink partition to dry.

Now take a look around and give the room the hairy eyeball. Do you now have a clean kitchen? Does it smell fresh? It should feel better. Rooms that have been lovingly cared for always feel better.

But let’s think about this on a deeper level

I’m not sure why, but there’s a connection between the physical act of caring for something and how we feel about it. We can’t control much in life, right? We have job problems and relationship trouble and money challenges. But we can control how we care for the spaces we live and the things we own, and that care can change our entire outlook on our situation.

A clean kitchen means we’re doing the best with what we have. We don’t have to have luxurious homes with the fanciest things– our grandparents often had simple, old, basic kitchens but cooked wonderful meals and made loving memories. They knew the value of caring for what they had.

I hope this silly little blog post helps you do the same, and grow a little more content in the process.

And…ahem… Gentlemen, wives often really appreciate a clean kitchen. Wink wink, nudge nudge. That’s all I have to say about that.

Why we need to rethink wedding costs and find realistic expectations for the big day

We attended a lovely anniversary party this weekend. Eric’s uncle and aunt have been married for fifty years so their sons and daughters-in-law threw them a bash to celebrate. One of the granddaughters had lovingly pieced together over four hundred old family photos to make a scrolling slide show, which I happily plopped down to watch when my small talk skills grew lame.

Out of control wedding costsI was enjoying the retro photos (bouffants! poofy dresses!) when all of a sudden I noticed a few odd things in the reception pictures. Things like heating ducts and a concrete wall. I turned to my father-in-law. “Did they have the reception in the church basement?” I asked in a tone that was meant to sound curious but probably came out astonished.

They did. They did indeed. Heating ducts and tiny windows and concrete walls and all. They somehow managed to greet guests, nibble cake, and open gifts below ground level. And from those humble beginnings they moved forward to build a life together. They had good careers, invested in their community, raised their sons, and traveled the world.

What the heck has happened to wedding standards, good people of the world? Cake and punch in a church basement just isn’t done any more. It was good enough for our parents’ generation, but not for us.

I ventured this thought to my father-in-law, and he (ever the teller of truth) shrugged and said, “Eh. It could have been nicer.” I laughed out loud, because he was probably right. There’s probably a happy medium between the basement and needing to rent a lesser French estate and flying 200 people across the Atlantic, which is probably what our daughter will want when she gets married.

I did some in-depth research, and by in-depth I mean that I quizzed our moms. Eric’s parents were married in their church and then had the reception right there, but not in the basement. They also served only cake and punch. Cheryl reports that by the time she got married (in 1973) that tradition was falling out of favor and more couples were having larger meals at their receptions.

Later that same year my parents were married in a Catholic church, had the reception at a little hall, then moved the party to my grandmother’s home where she and the Polish Aunties had prepared a traditional Polish feast. Also, my father’s Ford Pinto was loaded to the gills with booze he’d brought from across the state. The merry making was quite, quite merry, I’ve been told.

Picture these guys, but in 1973 suits and hair.
Picture these guys, but in 1973 suits and hair.

Contrast that with this week, when my sister’s getting married. She and her fiancé quickly determined that wedding costs are out of control, especially if you want to have something nice for guests. Who knows if it’s even legal to drive a Pinto loaded with hooch across county lines any more, what with their tendency to explode at any moment (plus I think most of the Pintos have actually exploded and it’s hard to find them anymore), but I do know the places Beth wanted to have the wedding wouldn’t have allowed such a thing.

Grown up guests expect a nice meal and a nice bar, and those things do not come cheaply. If Beth walks down the aisle and guests are directed to the basement where streamers hang from the heating ducts, eyebrows would lift.

Because Gary and Wilma were in full party mode this weekend, greeting their guests and politely feeding each other bites of cake, I didn’t have a chance to ask them about their wedding. But I can venture this guess– the wedding was exactly what they could afford. They didn’t borrow money for it like so many couples do today. Cake and punch in the church basement was what they and their families could afford, so they joyfully celebrated with what they had.

I think that celebration might be pretty much perfect.

Could we follow their lead? Is it possible for us to change the tone of modern expectations?

The wedding is just one day, the beginning of a life together. Could we as couples, but also as family and guests, help lower the standards to a more reasonable tone? A lot of the current standards are just plain dumb (Pinterest, I’m blaming you), but so many of the brides and grooms don’t want to disappoint their guests.

Maybe it’s time to give them more reasonable options. Maybe it’s time to tell them the church on the corner has a lovely basement and the concrete is quite cool in the summer. Maybe it’s time to suggest a potluck dinner or take out from the Lebanese place across from the gas station.

I just want to celebrate with them, knowing the fun isn’t going to put them or their parents in debt for ten years.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

 

Finding contentment in renting

On Sunday we helped a young family from our small group move into their new townhouse. While we moved boxes from their old apartment to their new, larger home, I thought deep thoughts.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I thought a lot about ice cream because the day was hot and I was really sweaty. But I did think a few deep things before the sweat shorted out my brain cells.

I stood in their apartment-sized kitchen and looked around with fresh eyes. I’ve spent the last few years thinking about simple living and minimalism, so I pretended we were moving into that very apartment. It was a very exciting mental exercise, and I think I could have found a spot for almost everything we need in the kitchen. Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

Considering that I spent the first years of my marriage desperate for a real house with a real kitchen, this means I’m either mentally unstable or I’m actually learning something from all the simple living blogs I read.

While we can’t discount my probable mental instability, we can at least agree that it’s fun to look back at life and think about all the things we could have done differently. I wonder what would have happened if we’d chosen to move into a larger rental like our friends just did. They considered buying a house, but realized it’s not a good time for their family to be making long-term housing solutions. So they found an affordable option with a yard and a washer and dryer, and decided to be content with renting for the near future.

finding contentment in renting

I’m proud of them. When we were their age I thought we had no other option but to buy a home. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle over the years if I’d been content to rent a while longer.

But try telling that to a hysterical mother of a five-month-old who has to drag her laundry to the laundromat every week. Between the laundry and hauling the groceries up the stairs, I wanted a house and I wanted it RIGHT THEN. So we bought one. And we catapulted ourselves into taxes and repairs and the world’s ugliest bathroom, coupled with the world’s dumbest floorplan. Also, the house had the world’s most dangerous stairs.

Renting a while longer probably wouldn’t have been that terrible, is all I’m saying. We certainly could have solved the laundry problem without catapulting us into an ugly bathroom problem. I wish I would have at least looked at other options and calmed my nutty self down.

I’m sure there would have been other problems if we’d rented longer, because no choice in life is ever perfect. We would have been throwing money down the tubes in rent, but guess what– after we bought our house the market plummeted, so we just threw our money down a mortgage tube, instead. So even that huge point has been wiped out by the cold, hard truth of our experience.

I’ve learned a lot of things through the cold, hard reality. And that’s why it’s so fun to watch our young friends make their own decisions. I encourage them with this thought– it’s all sort of a giant crapshoot, really. You’re always benefiting somehow, and losing out somehow. Everyone gets to decide what benefits and sacrifices mean the most to them, and go from there. The best decisions can be wiped out in an instant from circumstances beyond your control.

So if you’re living in a tiny apartment, be thankful for the good parts. If you’re living in your starter house, be thankful for that. And if you’re almost forty and have already made a lot of your big life choices, watch your younger friends and offer a few words of encouragement when you can. That time of life is so hard, and every choice feels so important, and they need an old person to tell them it’s all going to be okay.

Because it is,  you know. It’s all going to be okay.