The secret of fortune is joy in our hands.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Everything costs more, but the paycheck stays the same.
Sometimes, it’s not as much as last week, even, and it’s quite a bit less than it was last year. I worry about how we will pay for heat this winter.
To join family at the beach for the Labor Day holiday, I had to dip into the money I have saved for Christmas presents. Maybe we’ll make that back up. Or, maybe we’ll be giving a lot of homemade gifts this year.
My husband wants to go out to dinner. We can’t. We can’t afford it. We can’t justify it. And he sighs dramatically and say, “I hate being poor.”
We are not poor.
How could we be poor? I have been a stay-at-home mom for over ten years. Ten years. I got to watch our babies grow into children. I was able to be a constant influence, see all the changes in their abilities and countenance. In addition, my kids are healthy and happy. If that doesn’t make me rich, I don’t know what does.
Oh, but wait. It doesn’t stop there. I also live in a historic farmhouse. By historic, to be sure, I mean “old and ugly and drafty and in serious need of work“. But I also mean that it sits on old farmland, where my kids can play freely and be a part of nature.
And the house is coming along, slowly but surely. We do all the work ourselves, and the majority of the materials we use are salvaged from other people’s renovations and yard sales. We are enhancing the set of skills we already have, we are learning new ones, we work together as a family to realize a vision of a home that is, in essence, an extension of ourselves.
That’s not all! Sure, I shop at Goodwill. I’ve always shopped at Goodwill. I think of Goodwill as the cheapest fabric store ever. I buy things, I take them in, let them out, change them around. I have a sewing machine and I (sorta) know how to use it. No one has clothes like mine. I value being an individual. I always have.
We don’t have the money to throw away on Tastycakes and frozen pizzas. That’s OK. I learned to bake tasty cakes and pizzas myself, from scratch, for pennies.
We make too much to qualify for the school’s free lunch. 23 dollars a week too much. Can I make three kids lunch for $23 a week? Yes, I can, and it will be more nutritious, too.
We don’t put out money on expensive, chemical-laden cleaning products, opting instead for vinegar and baking soda for most of our needs. I don’t buy paper towels, napkins, or tissues anymore either. This frees up enough room in our grocery budget that I can buy organic produce and dairy, and ethically farmed meat.
We have the most basic of cable, mostly because it comes bundled with the internet. There’s nothing ever on worth watching. (Well, there’s House. And Lost. But that’s only two hours a week.) Instead of sitting mindlessly in front of the TV, I read. I write. I go outside and take pictures. I indulge creative impulses. I have the time to do things that I actually enjoy.
A man is rich
in proportion to the number of things
which he can afford to let alone.
-Henry David Thoreau
There are so many ways that, in spite of our financial standings, perhaps to some degree because of them, our lives are rich, I can’t even go into them all. I fear I’ve bored you already.
Suffice to say, we may not have the money to buy everything we want, but we have enough to have the freedom to make choices about where that money should go. We redefined our needs, but we continue to meet them. We have the luxury of living in alignment with our principles. And we are aware that this puts us in a position where we are capable- morally obligated– to do what we can to make easier the lives of those who are not so lucky, so rich.
The point to all this? Well, as I have mentioned before, I signed on to be a part of the APLS community. Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. Predictably, I had a problem with the “affluent” designation. I don’t argue that on a global scale I am affluent, downright wealthy.
Top 5% worldwide, as a matter of fact. How about you?
(Quick digression: when my mother went to Vietnam to visit family there, a tangential relative went into labor; a breech birth. That woman could have died, her baby probably as well, if my mother had not been wealthy enough to cover transport and the hospital bills. The cost? Two hundred dollars. Two hundred dollars to save two lives, as a result of a breech birth, for christssakes. The things we take for granted are mind-boggling.)
Fellow APLS, I object to the affluent bit because I think it contributes to the notion that a “green lifestyle” is something you need money to achieve. I think it makes sustainable living seem faddish and elitist rather than practical and responsible.
But I don’t deny that my life is rich. In fact, the more “stuff” I cut from my life, the richer my life becomes.
Indeed, the more you have of such things
the poorer you are.
-Henry David Thoreau
Oh, heck. Who am I kidding? What I really want to do is spew Thoreau quotes. He’s so much better at this than I am.
Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.
In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
The town’s poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any. Maybe they are simply great enough to receive without misgiving.
Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.
One more quote.
You’re being so patient with me. I thank you for it.
Wealth is what Nature gives us
and what a reasonable man can make
out of the gifts of Nature
for his reasonable use.
The sunlight, the fresh air,
the unspoiled face of the earth,
food, raiment, and housing necessary and decent;
the storing up of knowledge of all kinds,
and the power of disseminating it;
means of free communication between man and man;
works of art, the beauty which man creates
when he is most a man, most aspiring and thoughtful-
all things which serve the pleasure of people,
free, manly, and uncorrupted.
This is wealth.
Wish I’d written that.
So, told in my characteristically clumsy and labyrinthine way, that is my idea of affluence and how it fits into my life. APLS all over are also musing on the concept of affluence, and links to their posts will be compiled via the carnival hosted this month at Green Bean Dreams on September 15th. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.