It’s been a long time since I’ve read John Scalzi’s post Being Poor written about the people of New Orleans who remained trapped after Hurricane Katrina – but it brings back some memories of my childhood and early adulthood. So I thought I’d share my own little list here. We weren’t poor, only abnormally frugal and minimalist before that was cool and I’m grateful that I had no idea what it was like to go hungry or without a place to live when I was growing up. That came later when I was a single mom on my own.
Just as today, we don’t (hopefully) have a “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality that people of our parent’s generation had, it’s also helpful at times to examine the messages you got about money from your family as much as to examine the messages that society and marketing inundate us with on a daily basis. And at the end of the day, we have to find that balance that’s personally right for us and that level of earning, spending and everything in between that makes us happy. I’ve personally found it harder to let go of the excessive frugality that I grew up with, where someone else may find that they need to stop trying to spend along with the Jones-es. In either case, it requires an examination of what we value and what kind of life we want to have.
I have some regrets about saving to such a degree that I didn’t spend money in ways that would have made my own life much easier but probably only a bit more fun. Yet I think the freedom of financial independence made it worth it too. In hindsight, these things are easy to see – not so much when you’re living it, it seems. So without further ado…
Growing up super-frugal, minimalist and dysfunctional means…
… not even thinking to ask for crap that’s on TV because you know you get your one $10 toy at Christmas and a set of clothes that better last you through all of next year for school.
… not knowing what packaged cereal tastes like because if you didn’t grow it, you didn’t eat it.
… your mom waking up at 5 a.m. to be alone, but only turning the heat from zero to 50 degrees 1/2 hour before the kids have to get up for school.
… five brothers sleeping in 2 beds in a room smaller than your master bedroom is today – and 3 sisters sharing a bed. Crazy is still sleeping in that same 50+ year old bed and feeling guilty for wanting to throw it out and buy a new one.
… having your favorite cat “put to sleep” by being picked up by the tail and slamming its head against a fence post because killing is cheaper than spaying and animals aren’t pets on a farm – they have to catch their food or starve.
… having the biggest bully at school try to give you her hand-me-down clothes so you know that everyone knows you wear the same thing every day and have all year. So please don’t extol the joys of having only one pair of jeans to me.
… having your mom get one christmas gift from your dad in 35 years of marriage – and your sister had to go out and buy it and make him pay for it. Because gifts are meaningless to minimalists.
… thinking ramen would be some kind of exotic delicacy because all you eat is what you’ve grown.
… not eating potatoes for years after you leave home because you had it twice a day, every day, all the years you were growing up.
… having the family dog get “put to sleep” with a sledgehammer to the head because he seemed to be having a seizure – and a trip to the vet might cost $50.
… being embarrassed when you have friends over because your dad pees outside to save money – and you have your own well.
… still feeling your stomach churn when you see people run water without purpose in a sink, because if you did that when you were a kid – well, you learned to never do it again.
… being afraid to leave the door open for more than 2 seconds in winter because “we don’t own shares in the utility company.”
… being afraid to go into a store and buy something when you’ve moved away from home because you’ve never done that.
… being embarrassed when your brother gets yelled at in a restaurant because he picks up a pork chop in his hands to eat it. He’s never been in a restaurant and neither have you. And you never will again until you leave home.
… remembering vividly getting ice cream after church – because it only happened twice in your childhood.
… being amazed that your parents – on the one holiday taken with their kids – managed to drive 3000 miles to visit relatives without either eating out or sleeping in a hotel.
… being grateful that you actually went on a holiday with your parents – because your older siblings never did.
… not knowing what decluttering is or how to do it because your family never actually bought anything TO declutter.
… never having your mom call you after you’ve left home because of the long distance charges.
… knowing that your minimalist mom was buried in the dress she felt frivolous about buying on the one occasion in her life that she begged your minimalist dad to go shopping with her.
But as nihilist kid says – poor is relative. Or poor is your relatives – even when they’re rich, like in my case.