Learn to be generous

Willy and I want to be generous people. It’s something we’ve learned a bit about already, but are still cultivating. Working for a charity, we live off the generosity of others. We know first hand how important it is. Even before we started working with this organization, we desired to be generous people. We have benefitted immensely in giving our money away, even when we felt like we really needed it.

How I learned to be more generous

I used to be a bit stingy. One summer as a student I had very little. My job search had been unfruitful up until that point. I had rashly invited people to supper, not realizing I was poor. I was going to have to share the very little I had. Providentially, I came across this verse in the book of Proverbs:

“Don’t eat with people who are stingy; don’t desire their delicacies. ‘Eat and drink,’ they say, but they don’t mean it. They are always thinking about how much it costs.” Proverbs 23:6-7

I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to be able to enjoy the people I was with, not resenting them for gobbling up my last pennies. So I went ahead with the meal and chose to be happy about giving what little I had. To this day, I don’t think they knew I was in such a bad position financially, and I’m happy they got to eat blissfuly unaware. We had a lot of fun that day.

Just like anything, you can practice generosity. It might hurt a lot at first. You might break out into sweats thinking about the $4 latté they ordered. You might want to bail on your idea of buying theirs once you realize they ordered a Venti latte with 7 pumps of chocolate. You thought they’d get a coffee like usual. Go ahead and buy it. Maybe that $9 latte is all you can afford in terms of extra spending that month. Try it.

Consider giving $50, $100, $200 to a cause you have always valued, but have yet to give; Or, consider giving monthly to something that deeply concerns you.

What you will gain

1. You will value what you have more. You will realize that you can manage while helping others out. It helps us to be thankful and also to identify with those who give in order to make our charity work.

2. It positions you to live more simply. Some people may really have to pinch pennies in order to give to causes they value. I’m learning that penny pinching isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes I feel stressed if there is little (or no) margin in our budget. The stress comes from forgetting that we have budgeted precisely in order to save, give, and enjoy. We are working towards all of our financial goals, including the goal of “Being generous.”

3. You will be the one in control (rather than it controlling you). Willy and I don’t want to be controlled by anything, especially money. So in order to control it, we give it away. We are learning to give it away especially when we feel like we can’t. This helps remind us that it wont rule our lives, we rule it. It helps us to remember that we have it good. We have things to be thankful for. We can always be generous.

Remember

  • It’s a lot easier to start when you’re young (and idealistic). If you build the habit before you have a mortgage and kids, you will grow used to giving money away rather than spending it on yourself!
  • Check your heart. There are different strategies to managing your money. I chose to give to charities while still paying off my student loan. Not everyone would do it that way. On the other hand, it’s easy to say “I’ll give to charities when I pay off my mortgage” which is (for some) the equivalent to “Never.” Check your heart! Are you avoiding it because you’re a grinch, or because you’re convinced you need to get your financial life in order first?
  • You can enjoy life (lattés! wine!) and still give. No one says that living like a pauper in order to give everything is morally better than enjoying life and giving. You can be a grinch in both situations. “God loves a cheerful giver!” (And if you don’t believe in God, put “everyone” in its place. Or something.)

Have you experienced the joy of giving, even when you didn’t have a lot? What are your fears related to being generous? What Next Actions can you take to opening up your heart and wallet?

Watermelons and Birthdays

watermelonI used to hate watermelons. Every summer I would inevitably find myself in a situation where people were passing around the watermelon and I would let it go by. “You don’t want some?” someone would ask. “No thanks. I don’t really like watermelon.” Their eyes would widen and bulge a bit with a look of “What’s wrong with you?” I would shrug.

It tasted like water. Nothing special. Boring.

I also used to consume a lot of sugar. You may not think the two were linked, but they were.

We used to go out to eat a lot, too. In Montreal, eating out is the way to socialize. I used to eat out at least once a week (after church with friends), sometimes two, three or four times a week. Once we got married, we always went out after church with friends. Sometimes it was twice a week. We enjoyed being culinary tourists of our own city.

A year and a half ago I cut out sugar. About a year ago we decided it was best for Willy to start his Masters. You may not think those two things are linked, but they are.

Last month we celebrated my birthday. We drove to Kitchener, I got my free Starbucks drink, and we went out to Red Lobster for lunch. It was my favourite birthday ever. In some ways, it wasn’t anything special, yet it was.

It was special because I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve had Starbucks this summer. It was special because we rarely eat out these days as we had to make financial adjustments to help pay for Willy’s masters. It was special because we got to do the things that are somewhat normal for us back in Montreal: sit, drink coffee, read/write alone together and go for lunch! (I don’t know why I love eating out so much but I do! Yum.)

This week, as I found myself enjoying several slices of watermelon I realized how much more I’m enjoying life with less. Less sugar, less eating out, less shopping, less consistent indulgence in rich things. When I do get to have them, they’re so much better! I enjoy and appreciate them more.

Honestly, I’m surprised. I never imagined these two changes would impact my enjoyment of life so much. That was never really the intention. I never imagined overconsumption would lead to boredom. I thought I was just doing a lot of what I enjoyed!

Do you have a similar story? Or maybe the complete opposite experience? Have you ever done a lot of what you loved and found you loved it less?

Learning to welcome life’s interruptions

I was restless the other day. I needed a change of scenery to help me adjust to the slower pace of life. I picked the only place to go in this small town: Tim Horton’s. Have you noticed they have a different culture than Starbucks? People go to be social, and in the middle of the afternoon (like it was for me) it was mostly seniors. I felt self-conscious as I opened my laptop; I may be the only person ever to have opened a laptop in this place. I should not have been surprised that an old man sat beside me and struck up a conversation. I smiled and responded and went back to my reading. He said something else, I half-reluctantly replied. The conversation ebbed and flowed like so many coffee conversations I’ve had before with the older crowd in Tim Horton’s.

Since my work wasn’t pressing, I decided to shift my attention to him. I was, after all, the one breaking the cultural norm by trying to ignore people. We chatted about cell phones, computers and the rapidly changing world around us. I discovered he lived alone in an apartment. His wife, in a nursing home for five years. She’s his second wife. The first died in 1992. The second has dementia. She doesn’t even recognize him anymore.
“It’s hard to visit her,” he confessed. I wasn’t sure how to respond how he invited me into his life. I didn’t even know his name.

“They don’t talk about this part of marriage when you do the vows, eh?” I said.

“No,” he shook his head, “they don’t. I don’t figure they’re doing much to try and fix Alzheimer’s these days.”

“Oh I think they are. It’s a lot of work, though,” I responded.
”Really? You think?” he was surprised and hopeful. “They’re doing music therapy with her now. It might be working.”

The subject shifted to her kids who live in BC and his kids who live in town. He shared about visiting Montreal and traveling the continent in their motorhome together. He finished his coffee, his cue to leave. Gathering his things and rising laboriously, he wished me a good life and said goodbye.

He came in looking for coffee and conversation, I for a change of scenery. It appears he got what he was looking for. I got a lot more.

How’s that going?

“How’s it going with living with less?” my mother-in-law asked me. (I guess she had been following along on my blog).

I’m happy she asked. I haven’t thought much about it these days but I think that’s saying something good: I don’t miss having more than one suitcase of clothes. In fact, I’m not even wearing everything in that suitcase. I’ve been doing two loads of laundry a week – two small loads. I noticed that on Sunday when I had finished up.

I could get used to this, I thought.

So far, I’m happy with how everything is going. I have what I need. I feel pretty.

Isn’t that all a woman needs?

Don’t forget I’m running a giveaway which you can read more about here. You can get another entry every day for tweeting or sharing on Facebook or Google+

Living Simply (Part 2): What do we deserve?

Catch Part 1 here: The Difficulty of Living Simply

Thanks to everyone who left comments and gave feedback regarding my first post. There were some helpful comments practically as well as more theoretically. In the comments, Catherine said the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been helpful for her in reducing her consumption: Je pense qu’une de mes motivations premières à vivre plus simplement, c’est de pouvoir partager avec les pauvres (I think one of my primary motivations in living more simply is to be able to share avec those less fortunate.). Related to this,  Beth wrote a post that hits on the same subject from a similar angle to Catherine. As I pondered, commented, and continued to reflect, I had some insight into myself again.

Beth writes about what struck her about a conversation she had with Amelia (who writes about that same convo here). They were discussing the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh.

“By shopping at these stores, we are basically saying, I deserve to buy a shirt for $10. Instead of saying, I can’t afford so I’ll go without, we say, I deserve a shirt that is affordable, so I’m going to buy this one.”

When I thought about it, this was true of me as well. Not only that, but I feel like I deserve a lot of clothing at a price I can afford in order to fit in in a basic way in society. My price point is determined by how much I want/think I need. “I need 5 pairs of jeans, so I’ll buy $15 jeans instead of more expensive jeans.”

The living simply solution seems fairly simple in my mind if I take it from this angle: if I choose to pay (a lot) more for ethically sourced clothing etc, I will not have a choice in living simply. My budget just cannot withstand 20 pairs of $20 underwear! This seems fairly reasonable, unless you consider further just how difficult it is to find clothes that fit this category.

While this probably wont curb my desire for more it is a helpful restraint in putting that into action. It will help me contemplate at what cost more comes. Do I really want more at the expense of others?

But, as I think more about it I still wonder if having these motivations in living simply will ever completely convince me always. As The Minimalist Mom writes in this post, even when we pair our lives down to the basics and it all seems great at first, we can grow tired of it and find it burdensome. This isn’t a reason not to pursue it but a reason not to look to it to solve any problems.

The problem is in us, not in stuff. Stuff isn’t bad — it has no moral value — it’s how we use it and look to it to give us meaning or value in life.

For those of you thinking about this along with me, do you think there’s value in living more simply? Why or why not? If so, what is a helpful motivation for you. ‘Social justice’? Anti-consumer culture values? Help us keep this thought process going by sharing your perspective in the comments. If you’re interested, check out how many slaves you have.

The difficulty of living simply

Recently my husband and I have been thinking about living more simply. From my perspective it comes from realizing that I have too much choice in my life it’s come to stress me out. I’ve written before about decision fatigue which is something I am still learning to manage. My husband is realizing that we just keep getting more stuff, more books (which we love), more things and we have limited space in our 5 1/2 downtown Montreal. When it comes time for us to get a bigger place we want it to be because of a growing family, not because of growing stuff.

I recently leafed through Organized Simplicity by Tsh from Simplemom.net and found it pretty refreshing. Once we get back home from living in suitcases all summer, I’d like to take some time to start giving stuff away starting with another clothes swap (and promise myself I wont take anything unless it’s a MUST).

I posted a question on Facebook to see if people had any helpful suggestions from my friends about how to manage this. In my mind it’s not just about the stuff I have, it’s also about paring down my life to fit in more of the things I want to do and require a lot less mental energy to do it.

Working full-time while being a whole person with likes and dislikes and hobbies and friends and a husband is hard even when your husband does as much work around the house as you do!

As I read some of those responses they were all mostly helpful but I realized none of them were addressing my real problem entirely. Some shared that they had anxiety over a scarcity mentality, as if if they gave away their things they could never get something like it back. I totally get that perspective. But more real is this question:

How do learn to want less? How do I learn to care less about things that are being marketed to me as important?  Why do I want ALL THE THINGS?

want-all-the-thingsI talk about changing habits often on this blog but I rarely talk about changing hearts and desires. One does not simply just change one’s own heart. I know wanting certain things isn’t bad necessarily. In this case, sometimes I think the underlying want in my life is controlling and driving my decisions which is dumb.

This essay entitled “It’s Not Me, It’s the Mall” and a few other articles (that I’ll post later) lead me to believe that this problem of the ‘tyranny of choice’ isn’t just affecting a few of us.

Practically, since I am living out of a suitcase this summer, I’ll have an easy go of it: anything left in my drawers at home by the end of the summer is gone. Anything I didn’t wear regularly this summer in my suitcases is gone. Simple? Probably not. It will likely be embarrassingly difficult. But it’s a start.

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