Until recently, I used to daydream about leather couches. Long, cushy plump ones I could sink into, stretch out on, where I could read a book, fall asleep. The leather couch represented several things to me: comfort beyond our basic needs being met, hospitality toward others, and the time and space to rest and relax.
But back in reality, a leather couch, as well as these things it represents, just aren’t part of our life right now. We’re live, on assignment glamping in the tiny house! Our job is to work! And cook! And split wood! And find a new career!
Even mundane purchases like an outlet cover and a new shower curtain, much less countertops and leather couches, are put on long-term hold, as every available dollar that comes our way is being funneled into our wild student loan payoff.
But it’s beginning to dawn on me that this is all a good thing. I don’t want to be so soft that I need luxury (or even new) furniture, clothes, shoes, or vehicles to feel good about where we are in life.
Simplicity can be beautiful . . . if it embodies creative resourcefulness, abounding gratitude, and meaningful generosity to others.
I know now that I can be happy with little. And I’m at the point now where I don’t know if I will ever go back. Leather couches will always be nice. But in my daydreams of a future home, a cozy leather couch, acquired at a discount from Costco, Craigslist, or a friend, is simply one part of a welcoming home of mismatched curb finds and motley hand-me-downs.
In our abundant society, when people are looking to move or upgrade, they often set coffee tables, desks, couches, and whole entertainment centers out on the curb in hopes that they will magically disappear! And you and I can make this happen, to everyone’s benefit.
Sure, there is a fair share of junk not worth your time, but if you have an eye to what can be easily painted or re-purposed (not to mention re-sold) you can essentially outfit your home very cheaply.
If living near a university, mark its final weeks on your calendar, typically in mid December and early May. This is the time students jettison everything to the curb: furniture, appliances, office supplies, dishes, excess clothes, you name it. My own college roommate even set out potted plants, candles, lamps, and books. Take advantage of Millennials’ obsession with downsizing!
The Power to Wait
It’s a powerful thing to exercise restraint. To be able to do something, but to choose not to do it . . . yet . . . or ever!
If we really see the money that flows through our lives for what it is – an increment of precious time and life energy it took to earn, a tool to steward or to waste, a means rather than an end . . . well, that changes everything.
When a particular need arises, it is so satisfying to exercise the power of waiting. Find another way to solve the problem, do without, substitute. Put it in the Amazon cart and forget about it for awhile. Oftentimes, the perceived need will evaporate, or it will come into your life secondhand, or you’ll problem solve and live without it, for free.
While other ladies laugh about their hobby of frequenting Target, Kohl’s, or some other establishment, I almost completely avoid physical brick-and-mortar stores because of:
1) the stress and noise of shopping,
2) the wasted time and gas involved,
3) being visually presented with appealing products I didn’t intend to search for, and
4) being forced to make a purchasing decision immediately, usually meaning that it gets purchased. Because who wants to go back to the store later?
Pallets and Pinterest
Farmhouse tables to bohemian beds to cool world map decor . . .
Nearly everything you can dream up to problem solve and improve the functionality and comfort of your home can be found on Pinterest. And many projects can be simplified and modified if need be to save on materials. Lumber, paint, and basic hardware are fairly cheap, and pallets are often free; we get ours at a local bike shop.
Friends, Community, and the Share Economy
Perhaps the biggest philosophy shift when embracing a life of simplicity is our perspective on stuff vs. people.
People are to be sought after, cherished, and respected. Things are to be used, maintained, but ultimately used up.
Once, in the summertime a decade ago, I house sat for some friends, a couple in their fifties. Their home was cool and comfortable, but very simple. In place of a TV, a large world map tacked to the wall. Travel magazines. A sparse, shared closet with a handful of shirts, dresses, and flannel shirts.
Later that year, they came, carefree, to Big’s and my wedding in flannel shirts, and nobody cared. And furthermore, few realized that they were a veterinarian and a pediatric neurosurgeon.
When we value our relationships much more than the acquisition of stuff, and seek friendships with like-minded people, we take part in a community that mutually shares. We can be more receptive to the needs of others and more accepting of hand-me-downs of all kinds into our life as needed . . . and perhaps more accepting of other people as well.
So, the million dollar question:
How to be open to a happy hand-me-down life, community, and the greater share economy?
Know your Currencies
Ask, what can I give? What are currencies I possess that may be able to be shared and bartered? You may be surprised just what you can offer that’s of value to others.
Your time, labor, expertise, experience, or native language. Your home, vehicle, garden, apple tree, puzzle collection, extra clothes, tools, or leftover wood from a project. Everything can be capitalized and turned into something useful and beneficial for others and yourself, as well.
You’ll never know if someone’s up for bartering until you ask. Physical items to share and trade could be anything in your home, garage, vehicle, or property or something you make or obtain.
From time immemorial, people have been swapping things they grow or make themselves: garden produce, flowers, eggs, raw milk, venison, baked bread, jams and jellies, salsa, chili, kombucha, home brewed beer and wine . . .
Website design, massage therapy, house cleaning, hair cutting, pet sitting, babysitting, clothes mending, lawn mowing, snow shoveling, English lessons, music lessons, you name it!
Join a Local Sharing Group
Little Free Libraries
These adorable little neighborhood boxes house a rotating motley assortment of children’s and adult books, an excellent way to both share and refresh your own collection. Libraries in general provide fabulous, free, unlimited entertainment, and you could even start your own miniature sharing club on social media.
To work, to Costco, to the mountains, to church, to school. When we went vehicle-free for nearly two years, we weren’t shy about politely asking friends and neighbors for occasional rides, and you know what? They were enthusiastic to help and share. For bigger trips, even cross country, check out BlaBlaCar, a free, safe carpooling service for longer distances.
If you’re expecting a baby, ask a parent with older kids if they have maternity clothes or baby hand-me-downs. If you’re homeschooling, ask an experienced friend for insights on good, cheap resources and field trips.
We tend to forget that giving is also a gift. We bless people when we give of ourselves. But we also bless others when we graciously receive what they have to offer in kind.