Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Monday, October 22, 2007

Making People Understand

Ed, by Louis Simpson

Ed was in love with a cocktail waitress,
but Ed’s family, and his friends,
didn’t approve. So he broke it off.

He married a respectable woman
who played the piano. She played well enough
to have been a professional.

Ed’s wife left him …
Years later, at a family gathering
Ed got drunk and made a fool of himself.

He said, “I should have married Doreen.”

“Well,” they said, “why didn’t you?”

It can be prohibitively troublesome to make friends and family understand your need to be frugal and live a simple life. When you muse out loud that you might do away with your bed entirely, they may, for example, smile and nod gently but as they do so, a glazed look enters their eyes. They do not get it.

That is acceptable, thankfully. They do not have to completely understand, as long as they allow you to do what must be done.

Then again, instead of a blank look you might get a full blooded, two-hour long defensive speech on the necessity of furniture.

If you talk to a friend who has several cars about the possibilities of your cycling to work; or with somebody who dines out regularly that you would like to start a vegetable garden; or discuss compact studio living with a person that wholeheartedly and unwaveringly believes in positioning fancy sculptures in every corner of their luxury-carpeted house, you perhaps will run into some difficulties. That is why being sure of yourself is so crucial.

We all have different lifestyles and we enjoy them to some extent; not everyone who lives elaborately will try to change your mind for you. But some will, for various reasons of their own:

-Misguided kindness: they might think that you are somehow 'depriving' yourself of the frills of life, and will suffer badly for lack of the things they live and breathe for. It is up to them, then, to 'save' you.

-Wistful envy: despite shopping habits showing the contrary, it would be reasonable to assume we are all aware that constant purchasing of useless items does nothing to supplement our happiness. We yearn to be brave enough to throw off the shackles of a wasteful society and live burden free. Not everyone is plucky enough to live a simpler life, but doubtless we would all like to have less possessions to worry about.

If you adapt a more frugal and careful way, it becomes increasingly problematic to socialise the way you might have done. There will always be birthdays or special evenings to attend, and friends might invite you to a bar or restaurant where you're obliged to either buy a round of drinks or pay for a meal you know you could cook better at home. It's a very thorny issue and one not resolved by surrendering and going along every time. Likewise, staying home for the rest of your life watching your tomatoes grow is no more acceptable.

The trick is to first and foremost explain to your friends and family how you will be living from now on. Tell them your outlined plan, and frankly say that you can't possibly go out to dinner to spend $40 or more when you have put so much effort into saving $3 on grocery. Those do not sit very well side by side and it undermines what you are trying to achieve. You must make them believe that being simpler makes you happy and brings you the satisfaction you never had when you had all those rooms full of unwanted junk. The only real way to make people see you are happy is to be consistent in your chosen lifestyle. It is perfectly admissible, I think, to relax from time to time if social obligations spring up. If you are unflinching and steadfast, you can decide as the occasion arises how you will spend your money. It is just about impossible to say 'no birthdays' or 'no restaurants' because, of course, there are unavoidable situations that call for such sacrifices. Only the individual can judge the importance of each. Consistency, however, is the key. Unless your friends and family see a pattern in your way of living, they won't believe it and they will continue to believe you are thwarting your own life and in turn will try to 'help' you.

We all ought to worry less about what people think of us. After all, we are living for ourselves and immediate family, not for anybody else. The people who do not understand you, and show it in their actions, are most likely not worth fussing about anyway. I myself consider it a wonderful filter of a sort. As I said, not everyone has to adapt our lifestyle but at the least, live and let live.

We have a perfectly lovely Christmas tree stuffed into a closet at the moment. I want to stand it up and decorate it and leave it there permanently. What a waste, being in the closet for the rest of the year! There are some treasured decorations from good friends, decorations that we only see for a few weeks in the year. I know that at some point we will l invite friends over and oh my goodness, they shall see our tree! It might not look right at all, depending, of course, on when they come over.

I am quite torn between not wasting the tree, which takes up valuable space unused in our apartment, and risking looking silly when we invite people in, say, March. What shall we do then? One can hardly hide the tree under the bed until our friends leave. No, we have to decide what we want more. We cannot just dismiss the opinions of others but at the same time we should not concern ourselves so much with what people might think of us to the extent that it limits our ability to be happy.

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