My oldest son spends his summers working for his grandpa, my dad, doing whatever work I would have done if I didn't have my own property to worry about. My dad is an interesting contradiction, really. He grew up dirt poor on a farm in North Dakota. His dad was a penny pincher like no other. Anyone who farmed in the 70s and 80s and made money at it had to be very tight with money, and grampa ran an operation that was successful and grew substantially while his neighbors were failing left and right. Dad grew up making whatever he had work. When he moved off the farm and started working, he still didn't have much, and he spent as much time fixing things as using them. He always told me as a kid "When all you have is junk you get really good at fixing things." He still tells me that, as though I haven't yet figured that out. So my son spends his summers helping out his grampa, who after many years of working and saving now has the best of everything. I didn't know that there was such a thing as a $13,000 lawnmower, but apparently there is.
One day earlier last summer, I talked to my oldest while I was at work and told him I needed him to mow the lawn that day. He went out, my old STX 38 wouldn't start, he got frustrated and gave up. He went in the house and played XBox the rest of the day. Now, maybe I didn't handle this the correct way, but I got upset with him. I said "So why didn't you fix it?" And he said "Dad, it's a piece of junk. I can't fix it. I don't know how you make it run but I can't."
This conversation continued, and in the end it came down to this one statement, and I will never forget this because this is the central point of much of what I do.
"I'm tired of having junk, why can't we buy a new mower that will just work?"
At this point, about 2000 different ideas go through my head, specifically my recent discovery that one can spend more on a lawnmower than both of my pickups and my wife's van are worth combined.
Now, mind you, I don't have a problem with nice things. I think that people should treat themselves to good things when they can. I don't fault my dad for having a ridiculously expensive lawnmower. He can afford it and he wants it. That's his life and I wouldn't ridicule him for it any more than I'd want him to ridicule me for mine. I do have a completely different view of things, however.
In the end, this all boils down to a matter of priorities. For every dollar I make, I sacrifice something to earn it. If I want to move up in the corporate world, I need to work more, put in more hours away from my family and my mini-farm. I'm perfectly capable of making more than double what I do at my day job. I work in a field where if I was willing to sacrifice other aspects of my life, I could easily increase my day job income by 100% or more. Money has not and probably never will be my priority. I am not on a quest to get rich, and I don't have aspirations of financial wealth. For me, the price I would pay for that money is too high.
If you'll bear with me while I digress for a moment, I'm going to bring up the concept of minimalism. Now, I'm not a minimalist, but there is one aspect of minimalism that we all should take a lesson from. Minimalism, as a philosophy or lifestyle teaches the concept of "living deliberately". To live deliberately means that you have a goal and your actions support it. I have an over-arching goal for my life, I know exactly what I want. Not every single action in my life is towards that goal, but all of my big decisions are. I can't exactly put that goal into words, but it's clear to me what it is, and that is what drives me. My goal includes things like spending as much time with my kids as I can, cuddling with my wife around a fire, being an example of strength and independence for my children, earning every thing I get, because I believe this is the way things should be. Without a goal and without deliberate acts towards that goal, we drift aimlessly from one idea to another, from one identity to another.
|Is this trash? Or parts?|
Most people I know think I'm a little (or a lot) weird. I pick up free pallets, I tear apart old sheds, I cut up any tree anyone will let me have, all to save a few bucks. A junk pile is like Christmas. Cleaning out abandoned buildings (with permission of course) is even better than Christmas. A family member recently remarked with a little surprise when he saw me putting used screws in my pocket. I said "man, those are stainless, they're expensive!" to which he replied "not THAT expensive."
What is THAT expensive? Where do we draw the line? Is picking up trash on the curb taking it too far? Do you pull over on the highway when you see a bungee cord laying on the shoulder? Do you save milk jugs just in case? Do you pound nails straight so you can use them again? I think for each of us, we have our own reasons for what is too far. For my grandparents, there was no such thing as too far. They grew up in the dust bowl, and often times didn't even have a bent nail and a hammer to pound it straight. They weren't "too good" for something if it meant getting something they needed or wanted. We seem to have developed a collective social snobbishness, compelling us to want new, or at least nicer than what we had or what our neighbors or family have. It's a fundamentally flawed competitiveness that leads us down a dark road of sacrifice to all the wrong gods. What is the satisfaction that comes from spending $70,000 on a vehicle? Does such a person drive around any differently than I do in my $1200 dodge? Are we too detached to realize what that means about us?
I realize that this all could very easily be interpreted as jealousy, which, in a way only proves the point that I just tried to make. When someone spurns materialism, greed, competitiveness and finds happiness in something simple, they are labeled for it. We're usually called "cheap" or "stingy" or sometimes "poor" or worse, "dirty". If we drop out of society, those still in it assume that we can't hack it, that we failed to accomplish the American Dream. They can't imagine that maybe, just maybe, we don't give a shit.
I don't care if my "lawn" has dandelions or isn't mowed, that's all chicken feed and I don't have to spend money and time to mow it.
I don't care if my driveway is gravel, because I like it that way and I don't have to spend thousands of dollars on pavement.
I don't care if my house is an ugly color, that paint was cheap and I'm not going to spend money on more paint just so people who drive by aren't bothered by it.
I put recycled steel on the roof of my garage. It doesn't match my house and it looks like crap. But it keeps the rain out and didn't cost me anything.
I don't need to dress my kids in new clothes, or even trendy used clothes. They will ruin them all the same. Grass stains and mud holes don't care if their clothes came from The Gap.
Visitors (the few we get) always note how cold our bathroom is in the winter. I must apologize, our wood stove doesn't know how to blow its heat into that end of the house.
I suspect that many of you feel the same way. Maybe you don't. Maybe I really am as weird as they say I am (And I'm ok with that, really). I do know for a fact, though, that there are other people out there who think this way. They're not lazy or stupid or disadvantaged in any way, they just don't want to be part of the rat race anymore. They don't want to have to live up to someone else's arbitrary standard for success.
It's one thing to say you want to move towards simplicity, and it's an entirely different thing to do so deliberately. There should be no confusion, simplicity is not easier. I work more hours than most people I know, but I do much of that work on my terms. This means that when I'm building something, my oldest son is helping me. My wife and my three youngest help me feed and water chickens, and weed the gardens. We all help turning compost piles, raking up and collecting whatever we can to add to them. Everyone pitches in when we do some construction project. Yes, it's work, but it's meaningful work. That, I think, really is the key. At least for me. Wherever we go, whatever we do, no matter our age or financial situation or health, there will always be work to do. For me, it's essential that the work be meaningful. Frugality is meaningful work, because it brings me closer to my family, and further from wage slavery, making someone else rich at the expense of my family. The "sacrifices" we make don't seem like sacrifices to us, because what we're doing actually matters.