Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

Yes. I believe there are two ways to be “too rich.” The first is if one’s riches were obtained on the backs of the poor or vulnerable. For example, producing a shoddy or environment damaging product, not paying a living wage, capitalizing on people’s vices (like gambling, alcoholism, smoking, pimping…), or using deceitful advertizing seem dishonorable ways to become rich. Persuading people to take out a loan beyond their means to buy a house comes to mind as we all suffer from the collapse the economy due to unscrupulous banking practices. See tomorrow for Way # 2.

Yes. I was talking with a friend who grew up in poverty. She said she made a commitment then to make sure that neither she, nor any of her family, would have to face that kind of want again. In my mind there is a big difference between destitution and holy simplicity. There’s little holy about abject poverty. It wounds the body as well as the soul. When I seek to simplify, I don’t mean to live in squalor but rather to be more intentional about observing what is a “want” and what is a true “need.”

How can such a laudatory plan of giving stuff away induce guilt? Well, yesterday I bought two new turtleneck tops. I only planned on getting one but I could only take advantage of the sale if I got two – for the price of one. True, my current blue and white tops were pretty threadbare and in the winter such clothes are like a uniform to me, BUT did I really NEED them? If I give my threadbare ones away during Lent will that negate any sacrifice since I just bought two replacements? My husband knows that by nature I am frugal. He cautions that I could get too caught up in the minutia of measuring these things out. He’s probably right.

Today I bought Turbo Tax. For the last few years we’ve had a relative do our taxes but this year I decided to do them myself. We used to do our own taxes but then our job situation got complicated and it made sense to have a professional do them. I hope this isn’t a mistake. The idea is that in spending $40 or so for a tax program, we will save a couple hundred dollars. Strictly speaking this isn’t giving anything away or simplifying my life, but if I put the money saved to a good cause, maybe it’s a way of making money because I’m not spending more. Of course the trade-off is that it takes my time to do this and I don’t have a reputation for being good at numbers.
This same principle of “Spend in order to Save” could be applied to paying more for energy efficient appliances or quality goods that will last longer.

To put this “giving stuff away” into perspective, it occurs to me that there are plenty people in this world for whom giving away one thing a day would be a true hardship because they have so little. Jim and I have been helping out a teenage mother-to-be for whom it would be ludicrous to give anything away. We also have friends in Africa and India who would find my Lenten plan absurd. We’ve never been dirt poor but have had times of living paycheck to paycheck. Still it is sobering to realize that middle class folk like ourselves have the luxury of choosing what to give away. Think Haiti, again.

Today I needed two passport photos to renew my passport. Without thinking I went to Walgreen’s to get the photos. It cost about $8.50. Not too much, but only after the clerk took a digital photo and printed it out did I realize that I could have done it myself for about $.50. It would have taken a bit of fussing to figure out how to get it the right size but we already have a digital camera and photo paper. Theoretically, if I had saved the $8, I could have contributed it to a charity – perhaps the same one I will be giving my 1-A-Day household items to. Is it better to save money and give the savings away, or give the goods away? Hmmmm.

This has always been a dilemma for me. Both time and money are valuable and sometimes it makes more sense to spend money in order to save time. For example, I spend way too much time shopping for the best price for groceries, books, or air travel. Sometimes it saves money, sometimes it wastes time I should have spent working or with my family. It’s a constant discernment.

I overslept this morning. Got a new battery when I got home from the retreat. All is well. 2 ½ weeks till Lent begins and I actually have to give something away each day.

My watch broke today. It probably just needs a battery but I’m on retreat this weekend and won’t have time to get a new battery. If a time conscious person like me needs to be without a watch, I suppose being on retreat is a good time for it to happen. Even though I can just follow the group to know when it’s time to move from one activity to another, it’s been disconcerting not to know the time.

… a zipper. Finally, I’m able to actually get rid of something tangible. The zipper on my robe broke today. It’s been going bad for awhile but now it seems irreparably broken and putting in a new zipper is above my pay grade. It’s clear I need to throw out this garment. Today’s dilemma? My daughter left a perfectly good white terry cloth robe in her closet. Since she’ll be in Afghanistan for at least one more year, there’s no way she will use it. BUT, I don’t particularly like this plain robe. Do I wear it anyway rather than replacing it? I’ve put it in my closet and will see if I warm to the idea.

Today I was in the midst of writing an article. I tend to go into hibernation and not want to be disturbed when focusing on my writing. Jim was cooking dinner and realized he didn’t have any salsa. When he asked if I’d run to the store and get some, I remembered all the inconvenient favors he’s done for me and decided to let go of some of my time to help him out. (Since he was cooking dinner for us, it was really helping both of us out.)

Today is the President’s State of the Union message. I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it. I decided that today I would let go of my upsetness with the government and Congress. It’s not something I can touch, but it’s eating away at me and I can tell it’s not good to hang on to this attitude.

Today was garbage day and I noticed that Jim had put several old shirts in the trash. At first I thought that was a shame, he should have at least given them to the Viet Vets who pick up stuff once a month or Goodwill. He said he had a separate pile of clothes to give to Goodwill and that those shirts were too worn and the sweater had a hole in it. “You shouldn’t give stuff away that is in bad condition,” he said. I disagreed since I thought a sweater with a tiny hole would be better than nothing for people in Haiti who had nothing or others who were cold. This got me thinking though about the morality of giving things away to others that we think are not suitable for us to wear. I also found myself cutting off all the buttons from one shirt in case I would need that size later. Then I thought that that shirt would have been very usable if I had just left the buttons on. Oh, what to do…

Haiti is my motivation. As I thought about throwing out papers from one of our file cabinets yesterday, I realized today that even HAVING a file cabinet would be a luxury to most Haitians. Even if they had one, all those “precious” papers would probably have been lost in the earthquake. It puts my possessions and concerns in perspective, doesn’t it.

Update: Reading about the tragic Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has a similar sobering impact on me. Why am I worrying about my internet glitches and relatively minor health problems when people are dying in squalor, often without tender human care.

I planned to start this blog on Ash Wednesday and continue giving/throwing away something each day during Lent. Unfortunately, my husband just got on a “Let’s clear out some of our clutter” streak yesterday and it involved me. He decided to go through a couple file cabinet drawers and throw out obsolete files. This was also not what I intended since I find it harder to sort through papers deciding whether we should save that 20 year old list of ways to make household cleaners from scratch or that endearing letter one of our kids sent us during high school. Pruning the clothes in my closet would have been easier. I did, however, reluctantly part with many of our kids grade school and high school awards, diplomas, etc. Even if they do become president one day, I figured archivists wouldn’t care to go back that far. The silver lining of this chore was finding one son’s college application essay. I didn’t remember how good it was and how much insight it showed at age 17. It’s a keeper.