I have several polaroids from my earliest childhood years and to me, they speak to what life was like for our family. And they are very precious. There is one with all four of us kids sharing a bed and one blanket. There is one picture of me on my birthday opening a brown paper bag that had been colored by my brothers and filled with necklaces from the thrift store. I have the biggest smile on my face. There is yet another of all four of us kids at my dad’s gold mine on the Snake River. I look like a cavewoman with my dirty clothes, and my sister has an unruly blond ponytail. My brothers don’t have shirts on and look like they are up to no good. My favorite picture is of my whole family. It’s taken from the side and we are all looking at what was probably a rattler. My dad has a hole in his shirt, and his pants are too short. My mom is wearing a pink jumper and I’m wearing my prized cowboy boots. We all look ridiculously poor, but unbelievably happy. These are some of my favorite memories, and coincidentally the greatest time of poverty in my life.
I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of our status. When we lived in Oregon, it seemed like most people in our small town were poor like us. The only thoughts I remember were wanting to get out of such a small place and meet new people. My first year of junior high was very painful for me in realizing how different I was from my peers. We lived in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment in a nice side of town and everything reminded me of how different we were. I was embarrassed by the clothing my parents provided for me, so I tried to alter them and make them look “cooler”. I remember my brother getting into a fight with a boy from a more wealthy family for making fun of our poverty. In those days, it didn’t matter to me that my dad worked hard as a paramedic to provide for us and that my mother worked nights to help out. I had a new awareness that I wasn’t good enough because of how little I had and it started taking a toll on my self worth.
My sophomore year of high school, I was finally old enough to work. I remember the feeling that having new clothes and being able to go out with friends gave me. I felt invincible with some cash in my pocket, and I never had to say no a good time. Those good times led to lots of drinking and staying out all night. When I didn’t have a job, I was stealing money from my mother. I would buy the most useless things just to feel the rush of having something new. Nail polish, shirts, beer for my “friends”, gifts for my little brother, magazines… anything I could get my hands on. It was my new addiction. I loved that the same kids who made fun of me in junior high were now the same ones I partied with. I now had something to offer.
Things mellowed out with my partying and I stopped stealing from my mom, drinking, and hanging out with the cool kids. But the rush of new things didn’t stop. I moved in with my Dad my senior year and he made me hold down a job, pay my own bills, and keep a budget. Though I was much more responsible with my money, I still needed new things. I hoarded clothes, shoes, and hair supplies and they kept adding up. I would go shopping when I got my paycheck before I did my budget just so I could ensure I would get to. Because of this, I missed out on a lot of experiences. I had saved money for a snowboard retreat over Christmas break, but stole money from my dad the month before and was caught. I obviously didn’t get to go. I was also saving up for a trip to Peru that summer and because I would rather get new clothes, I didn’t save up enough and missed another great opportunity.
Ever since I went to college and got married, my husband and I have lived around the poverty line. It was really easy for me not to care about new things since we didn’t have the money for them. But the habits were still there. Because of these habits and our cultural expectations, we spent money on the things we thought we needed as a young, married couple rather than getting things we wanted, such as snowboarding passes or date nights. We had plenty of dishes and kitchen appliances, but we never got time to enjoy each other.
December of 2009 we looked at how much money we were spending on our car between gas, insurance, and car payments. It was 400 dollars a month. The decision was clear. We sold our car that month, paid off our loan, and had a great plan to take our bikes and the bus until we’d saved up enough cash to buy a different car. I have no idea where any of our money went that we were planning on saving. We saved some of it, but ended up using mostly our tax refund to get our car.
Over that six month period, we both changed drastically. From that month we sold our car until now, our lives are completely different. What started out as financial responsibility is now a better lifestyle for us in general. We’ve gotten rid of a ton of clothing, kitchen stuff, and random things that cluttered our house, and are about to embark on the 100 thing challenge. We both found such freedom in getting rid of the stuff. We found freedom in our relationship and the way we interacted with the world. There was joy in riding the bus, instead of it feeling like a burden. Bryan and I both work part-time now and spend a lot more time with each other on adventures. We have the time to think and evaluate our lives, where we are going from here. We’ve got some big plans up our sleeves for what this will mean for our future, but for now we are just enjoying the time. From my unknown poverty as a child, to my hoarding/spending habits as a teen, to my intentional simplicity today. This is the first season in life where I’ve felt content, and I’m relishing in that.